Thursday, 23 November 2017

Suspect Device - Edited by Stewart Home


He's joking, right? He's got to be fucking joking. Someone please tell me that he's joking. I'm talking about Stewart Home, the person responsible for editing this collection of short stories published under the title of Suspect Device.
The cover's eye-catching and the title's good also, bringing to mind Stiff Little Fingers and their song of the same name, of course, and that's no bad thing. The contents, however, are a whole other kettle of fish that leaves something to be desired to put it politely. I mean, for fuck's sake. Did Home actually get paid for compiling and editing these stories? Did the publisher Serpent's Tail actually give credence to Home's judgement regarding what qualifies as 'hard-edged fiction'? Is it just me? Is it just that I don't recognise great, cutting-edge writing when I read it?

So what have we got? Well, it starts with a story entitled Blind Date about being bound up in rubber and fucked up the arse, and then progresses from there really. Bound up in rubber and fucked up the arse? Hmmmm, nice idea, you might think? Except when it reads as though it's been written with all the wit, flair and insight of a thirteen year-old boy.
Then there's some horse shit of a story entitled Vegan Reich, about a Khymer Rouge-style group of eco-terrorists who kidnap a bunch of bands at a music festival and ceremoniously burn them alive like in the end scene of The Wicker Man. Hmmmm, yummy, you might think? Same as before, however, except this time it reads as though it was written by a sixteen year-old? Maybe it was?
Then there's The Suicide Note, about some bloke who climbs down into a sewer to kill himself with an overdose of whisky and codeine, and it's at this point I just about give up on the will to live myself. Like the trooper I am, however, I persevere thinking it can't get any worse, can it?

'At last he'd found something that could approximate the alienation he felt from late capitalist society' it declares in the story Zyklon B Zombie, regarding the story's main protagonist. And that was? Throbbing Gristle's Second Annual Report LP. Really. And then the story Tradesman's Entrance which as might be guessed involves more anal sex but with added vomiting.
Fuck it. Out of twenty stories in total they can't all be rubbish can they? And indeed they're not. Law of averages, I guess. Three of them (to my mind, at least) are actually quite good and I'm happy to name them: St Andrew's Arena by Berholt Bluel (which I suspect might actually be Iain Sinclair writing under a pseudonym), Pig! by the late, great Steven Wells, and Last Train Home by John King. I must admit also that bits of Stewart Home's own piece are quite amusing as well.

The thing about Stewart Home is that the Richard Allen books of the 1970s that he emulates and parodies are actually far better than his own books. When they were first published, Allen's pulp chronicles of skinheads, boot boys, knuckle girls and suedeheads found their way out onto Council estates throughout the country where they were eagerly devoured by working class kids. So popular were they and so controversial at the same time that schools banned their pupils from reading them, or at least bringing them into school and reading them. Home's books have never found their way out onto Council estates in the same way and we all know they never will.
Richard Allen's books didn't pretend to be anything other than what they were. Stewart Home's books, on the other hand, are Richard Allen parodies with a wink, as if to say "Yes, we know this is sub-pulp fiction and because we know, it means it's art".
Richard Allen's books, though written in a supply and demand manner, were honest. Stewart Home's books (or if not all then a fair number of them) are dishonest because they're pretending to be something that they're patently not. They're trying to be brutal, they're trying to be extreme, and they're trying to be clever all at the same time but they fail and miserably so. As do seventeen of the twenty stories Home has selected for publication in Suspect Device but then I guess that's no surprise because if Home's own work is a reductive imitation of Richard Allen's, then any story emulating Home is going to be nothing but a pale shadow of that reductive imitation. Which means they're going to be even worse than Home's own stories. And that's the case (as I shake my head despairingly) with this book.
John Serpico

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