Book Reivew: Basement of Wolves
Basement of Wolves
by Daniel Allen Cox
Daniel Allen Cox's work has always explored outsiders. In his debut Shuck, it's hustler-writer Jaeven Marshall. In Krakow Melt, it's pyromaniac-in-Poland Radek. The people are rarely likeable at face-value. They have attitudes. They are loud. They are warped. Yet in their confrontational tone comes intimacy. And this is what make Cox's characters sympathetic however damaged they are.
The same goes for his third novel Basement of Wolves. But unlike the marginalized characters of his previous novels, Michael-David is a superstar. In the first scene, we see him partying in a fancy Hollywood bar under a potrait of Miss Piggy in a boa. He's not shy about his drinking, nor about his self-proclaimed talent. He reeks of arrogance as he signs autographs, talks to fans, records messages on their voice mail and watches them giggle with excitement afterwards.
Yet it's downhill after he loses a role to rival, never named, but only called Pinchable Cheeks. Seeing his career on the verge of obscurity, he takes the next role he manages to find, from a volatile director known for his unorthodox shooting techniques. For anyone else, the role and filming is too experimental, too much of a chance to take. For Michael-David, it becomes his salvation. The script isn't even written as he steps on the sound stage and once the plot unravels Michael-David sees his career's final end. To cope, he runs to a downtown LA hotel to hide for the next five years, "to fade off the star radar so [he] could endure [his] misery alone."
It's a lonely novel in the age exposure: internet, celebrity, 24-hour television. His search for connection leaves him more disconnected. "They reveal tone," Michael-David comments on a conversation between a potential hook-up he meets via internet chat, "but not genuine emotion, so they did not transgress into the personal and I felt safe." Even in the company of a newly befriended hustler-scientist named Tim--who is both beautiful and like "a young David Koresh," there is an emptiness: they are not together alone, but more accurately: alone together.
For all of its loneliness, the novel is also filled with extereme paranoia and lucid dreams and dream-like ponderings and conjectures. Cox does stylistic acrobatics that readers will double-take at, even question their effectiveness and logic. Yet it's a fantastical journey told with humor and eroticism and an exploration of identity loss in a society that is hell-bent on breaking it down in its white noise. Welcome to the 21st Century! Welcome to a no turn-off society! Michael-David can't even turn on the TV without seeing himself in the midst of his failure or read a tabloid without his name: here he is stumbling over interview questions and here's a review of his last failed film appearance.
Yet would a return to primitive lives solve our loneliness? Cut off to pre-Hollywood, pre-internet era? Not quite. In scene near the finale, Michael-David sits in his hotel room, watching a nature documentary. In it, a pack of wolves is shunning a weaker one of their clan. They ignore him, they feed without him, they nearly smile as he eats their scraps. "Wolves are not lonely like people think, but they know how to create loneliness like no other beast besides humans."
Cox overs no solutions, but instead begs us to look at an evolving condition.
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