by Tim Brown
If Michael Hemmingson is not yet the high priest of transgressive fiction, then he certainly is among the church's leading members. The author of several novels and story collections and editor of the recent What the Fuck: The Avant Porn Anthology (Soft Skull Press), he has spent the past decade pushing the envelope in literary fiction. At first glance his latest effort, the novel Wild Turkey, departs from the transgressive mode. It takes the form of a contemporary noir thriller with a murder to solve, a conflicted hero, and a beautiful woman who leads the hero along a path of self-destruction.
Philip Lansdale is a disbarred attorney now living as a stay-at-home dad. He becomes infatuated with a gorgeous woman, Cassandra Payne, who lives across the street. His neighbor Bryan, a retired cop, shares his interest, and they spend their time boozing and observing her comings and goings, fantasizing about sex with her, and wondering why mysterious strangers visit her at all hours of the day and night.
Not long after she captures their attention, Cassandra's husband is ambushed and killed. Convinced that Cassandra is responsible for the murder, Bryan and Philip join forces to investigate. The watchful neighbor soon turns into a voyeur as he peers into her bedroom window and spies on her activities. Infatuation grows into obsession, which begets midnight trysts after she discovers him peeping. Ignoring the obvious dangers of tangling with a possible murderess, Philip yields to her seductions, and the couple embarks on a twisted relationship:
"Friday night, Mr. Lansdale," she said, "come back Friday night at the same time, and let's see how we shall transgress our little affair."
Affair. I guess this was what it was--I was being unfaithful to my wife, in certain ways. In many ways. I was committing adultery and I wanted to keep doing it and I wanted to "transgress."
As the plot further unfolds, it becomes clear that Hemmingson has somehow hybridized Mickey Spillane with Kathy Acker. Additional death and mayhem ensue, involving Las Vegas gamblers, counterfeiters, transsexuals, hit men, pyromaniacs, treasury agents, armed showgirls, paraplegics and desert rats. The bloody resolution to the story would make Spillane proud. Acker, the late queen of transgressive fiction, would have loved the bizarre characters that burst from the shadows.
Despite the potential for lapsing into utter nihilism, Wild Turkey is fundamentally a story of transgression, punishment and redemption. With sentences firing straight as bullets into the reader's brain, Hemmingson fashions scenes full of steamy sex, exhilarating violence and unbearable pain. Transformed into voyeurs themselves, readers share Philip's most intimate experiences--the pleasure, the pain, and the guilt for enjoying both.