I re-read my 2012 memoir VODKABERG while on various bus and train rides here in Peru in the last week. I already discussed my authorial intention in another post, but I'll share some of my thoughts on it.
Damn, that shit was dark! Maybe it seems doubly dark to me, since I was there, but it was even darker than I remembered. Like buried-alive kind of dark. A dysfunctional cast of lunatics fucking like rabbits and drinking themselves stupid between muggings in a shattered, bleak, frozen, blood-and-vomit flecked landscape. (That's how I'd pitch it to a movie studio, anyway.)
My editor hated the book and remarked on the first edit, "You're hardly in this book!" and I fucking loved that statement. The idea of writing a memoir that I wasn't really even the main character of appealed to me greatly, and that's just what I'd intended. This is a book about Vodkaberg, not about me.
I thought I did an excellent job of bringing the First Putin Era to life. People have occasionally called it tedious and repetitive in its focus on endless fucking and drinking, but honestly, that was generally the focus of life in those dark days before fast internet for a good percentage of the population.
I think I did a good job in accurately portraying those various English groupies I knew, and girls like that were probably the rule rather than the exception. And all in all (I thought) I write about the female characters in a fairly sympathetic way. I hope my affection for them (albeit an exasperated affection) came through.
And call the sex scenes anything but tedious and repetitive. The ones that are fully described range from the weird to the downright cringe-inducing. (I'd somewhat forgotten how graphic I'd gotten in describing some of the acts, and I actually found myself sort of embarrassed reading some of them.)
The writing I thought was pretty good in that it didn't call much attention to itself; it just rolled out this cast of lunatics and nightmarish landscape in clear unaffected prose. No referring to myself in the third person here, no sarcastic asides, and not much rationalizing my bad behavior.
And god damn, the ending? Just fucking wrenching.
The drunk stories do indeed become repetitive, in the middle part with Slappy; that was somewhat my plan, though I realize that's a pretty fine line to walk when you try to antagonize the audience that way. I wanted to try to make the reader think, "Jesus, stop fucking drinking so much!" -- a reaction I remember having when I read Lawrence Block's WHEN THE SACRED GINMILL CLOSES -- but I think I might have carried that a bit too far in the middle and might better have cut a bit of it.
Of course the Skype transcripts with Dark Angel were a controversial addition, and I agree upon re-reading I could have probably cut about half of those out and left the important stuff. (Because there is some important stuff in there.)
From the standpoint of somebody who was there, I thought I also didn't write about my cat enough. That fucking cat kept me sane, and if I'd added that the cat was sleeping comfortably on my neck purring happily during those grey hungover mornings, it might have lightened up the middle sections a bit.
My style of writing it -- everything chopped up into two or three paragraph sections -- is perhaps also a bit controversial. Obviously that happened because I recycled blog entries, but I've always liked books written like that -- Kurt Vonnegut, Bret Easton Ellis, Andrew Vachss -- and I guess it suits my writing well enough.
There are a few times when I take my internal monologues and put them into the form of a vague conversation with other people over drinks; this trick occasionally seems a bit too obvious.
Yeah, again, I found it interesting as a time capsule. That we used to have bottled beer that cost about the same as bottled water in Russia struck me as pretty quaint. I didn't write about things like property prices; the apartment that I lived in would have cost about $25,000 to buy in 2000 and was probably worth $150,000 by 2009.
It's a real Russian novel -- a lengthy list of characters and dark and morbid as hell, an unflinching portrait of an unflinching time and place. I suppose it will be considered my Magnum Opus, and probably rightly so.
Read reviews at these links:
30 DAYS TO X / MATTFORNEY / GOODREADS / SOVIETCITY
DISCUSSION OF THE BOOK (AND ME) ON ROOSHV FORUM