Like a dog with a bone, I’ve been racing through Eric Bogosian’s three novels and raving about them on this blog. The first one I came across was his most recent, Perforated Heart, while the second one I read was Mall. Sandwiched in between these two, he wrote Wasted Beauty (2005).
All three novels focus on American culture, and I think it’s safe to say it’s a fairly scathing perspective. Or as Hillary Frey says, “this is the stuff of ugly American living.”
Do you hear a “but” coming? Okay, here it is … But I’m not sure I like all this ugly anymore. I do like “dark.” Dark is delicious. However, I think Wasted Beauty leans more towards “bleak.”
It focuses on two people. Reba, who at the age of 20, is left parent-less, penniless and without hope for the future:
Reba digs out an icy brick from the freezer and runs hot water over the pink and yellow slab of frozen flesh, letting it soften under her thumb. Above her head the rolly-eyed Felix-the-Cat clock swishes his stiff tail, marking time, second by second. The fridge growls just as Frank’s car starts up outside. So that’s that. I will swab the green and dirty-white linoleum tiles, thaw and fry the food, sponge Billy’s [her brother] pubic hairs off the toilet, iron his work shirts. And I will stand behind a counter at the bank all day, just like Mom did. I’ll take my cigarette breaks, a half hour for lunch and all the peppermints I can eat. Maybe someday I’ll grow a few tumors of my own. (p. 6)
A stumbling series of events find her in the big city, and working as a highly successful professional model. Okay, I know you’re thinking, “that sounds like a happy ending.” No, no, I’m afraid we’re heading into very dirty territory here — heroin addiction. An addiction described so well that you can almost feel the heavenly highs, as well as the sickly lows.
Rena’s life ends up intersecting with Rick’s, a doctor going through a major mid-life angst session. He, like Rena, doesn’t hold much hope for the future:
Just get on that old conveyor belt of life, pal, enjoy those golden years and reserve your space in the assisted community (with the attached Alzheimer ward), where you will wander anonymous corridors until you lose your mind completely. Senile and incontinent you will lie in bed day after day after day, a few photos of unrecognizable grandchildren taped to the wall beside you, TV set aflicker, a world spinning on without you. (p. 132)
I’m 156 pages into Wasted Beauty, and I know I’ll keep on reading until the very last word. I have this gnawing feeling though, one that I didn’t get from the other novels, that all this achingly talented writing (“beauty”) might bring me no where worthwhile (“wasted”).