Crooked little vein is a vicious, shocking attack of a book. Reading it is like being attacked by a rabid chihuahua with an erection. It is a nasty little pocket-sized novel, but I’m not sure I would trust putting it in my trousers as it would be dangerously close to my penis and may cause mutations, genital warts or some other indescribable problem simply from its proximity.Ostensibly this book is about the adventures of private investigator Michael McGill, hired by a heroin addled, amoral member of the presidential staff to hunt down an artefact – a ‘magical’ version of the US constitution – that he doesn’t really believe exists in the first place. The government wants to use this secret constitution to stave off what they see as the moral degeneracy of society and an end to their view of civilisation. McGill’s talent – that the white house aide is tapping into, is that bad, weird, perverted shit just seems to happen to him, so who better to find this missing document than this down and out ‘shit magnet’.
McGill’s investigations trawl him through some of the worst and most horrible perversions imaginable, he gets his testicles forcibly inflated with saline, mingles with necrophiliac beast-fuckers and otherwise trawls the depths of depravity in his search for the missing secret constitution before turning – like the aforementioned rabid chihuahua – on his masters and biting the hand that feeds him, he also finds true – if peculiar and very 21st century – love on the way.
The story doesn’t really seem to be the point though, the story is rather secondary. What you get here is a lot, a massive amount, of trademark Ellisms (though he seems to avoid snatching defeat from the jaws of victory which is a common theme in his comic work). You have the misanthropic, unsympathetic, almost Dickensian hero (and despite being set in the US this is very much a British novel) and you have the trademark sarcastic, biting, wicked wit that makes Ellis so great. If you’re familiar with his Internet Jesus persona and postings, badsignal and the like then you’ll spot various familiar things, including Falconer’s brief cameo during an air flight, and that will give you more of a sense of connection.
The real themes here are familiar, the power of the internet and its effect on social change, a deep questioning of ‘what is normal’, criticism of the way things currently are and satire on the conservative attitudes that are rapidly tarnishing and spiralling into self destruction. The big question in this book is ‘what is mainstream?’ After all, with the internet so accessible and so full of perverted desires laid bare and one google search away from anyone, with such a big audience, who is really to say what is normal and mainstream any more?
The novel isn’t without problems, it is… self indulgent, the story is almost incidental to the point being made by the book and there is a harsh cognitive dissonance in reading such a story printed on a dead tree, but it still works. It is entertaining, excruciating and intelligent, it is pure, distilled essence of Ellis and really, what more could you ask for?
What I’d really like to read from Ellis next, apart from Dok Sleepless, would be a non-fiction book. Ellis is very plugged in to the world and the technological/social zeitgeist, the ‘stuff’ that bubbles up from the underground, through the net and from some more obscure points of science and academia. I’d like to see a grimly humorous version of ‘The Shape of Things to Come’ done by Ellis, I think it would be fascinating and accessible and, in many ways, I can see Ellis as a much more nihilistic and less racist version of HG Wells. I think that’d be fascinating.