Written by Ken Leek – Despite its clunky title, The Origins of Disgust, Self-Hatred, and Hostility has a certain raw appeal. Punk rocker Ken Leek delivers a loosely connected bundle of transgressive tales centred on fictional runaway Mike Hollister and Hollister’s experiences with drugs and drug dealers. The Origins of Disgust, Self-Hatred, and Hostility plumbs the depths of the 1980s, and recounts those depths in vivid, perhaps gratuitous, detail.
Mike Hollister is a suburban kid with an abusive father and an enabling mother. Hollister hates his father and runs away from his mother. At first, Mike seeks refuge in the canyons on the outskirts of San Diego, but fellow runaway Steve introduces him to the lucrative opportunities presented by selling drugs. Hollister begins by dealing small amounts of meth and marijuana as an alternative to burgling suburban houses, but business grows.
As Mike sells more drugs, he falls in with Steve’s neglectful father, Rich. While Rich was indifferent to his now-resentful son, he and meth-dealing partner Jay take Mike under their wing. With Rich and Jay, Mike Hollister has a close-knit, if highly unconventional sort of family, and the author is at pains to differentiate a near-idyllic ‘drug culture’ from ‘addict culture’, which lacks any redeeming values.
Mike begins his slide from one to the other when he is introduced to heroin. Rich and Jay kick him out, and his life becomes a merry-go-round of getting high and then searching for the next high, occasionally punctuated by painful withdrawal symptoms. Heroin leads Mike to the young junkie prostitute Charlene. Charlene becomes his partner in crime, and Mike professes his love for her. Again, Hollister achieves a modicum of happiness and companionship given the relatively low standards of drug addiction. But watered-down happiness is easier achieved than kept for Mike Hollister.
Mike’s ups and downs are likely to register with readers, if they can put up with the superfluously scatological and violent digressions that distract from the descent into disgust, self-hatred and hostility. The author is likely aiming for (and certain to receive) high marks for deviance. But there is the sort of hardboiled detail that enhances atmosphere and bolsters the narrative, and then there is the sort which distracts and thus detracts from the book. Leek indulges in too much of the latter.
The author, via the first person narrator Hollister, also takes a while to get to Hollister’s own story. The Origins of Disgust, Self-Hatred, and Hostility is less a cohesive novel than a meandering, if fictional, series of recollections. Various degenerates wander into and out of this book. Despite the workmanlike prose, the author’s characters are all colourful enough. Nevertheless, the various stories are not always very focused on the generally overarching theme of Hollister’s coming of age in the grip of addiction.
As a result, The Origins of Disgust, Self-Hatred and Hostility lacks focus. At its heart is a potentially noirish tragedy of excess. But characters go undeveloped in lieu of gross-out anecdotes. This is unfortunate – Mike Hollister’s story is compelling, and would be more so if it did not have to compete for readers’ attention. Still, if you’re seeking unrepentant transgressive fiction, this book offers dissolution in abundance. The human depth and plotting of Leek’s first novel may be nascent and unrealised, but the author nonetheless holds some promise.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars
Thanks for such a great review! I would be honored if you would be willing to review the follow up novel, in which I tie together all the loose ends, in spring of 2013. Your insights are valued!
I enjoyed the book and would love to review the sequel. Keep in touch and let me know when it’s published next year.