JOHNNY FUTURE by Steve Abee
ā My name is Johnny Future and I care about whatās gonna happen and whatās happening and what has happened and everyone that it all has happened to and right now itās late at night which is when I care the most and Iām sitting in my favorite chair at the window of my apartment drinking Nyquill, and Iām looking out onto the roofs of the world, and Iām thinking about all the people sleeping and dreaming.ā
Review by Doug Bruns (JAN 13, 2010)
Steve Abee has created, in Johnny Future, a character with a unique voice and energy. He represents a blend of a hyper-urbanized Holden Caulfield, sassy and street-smart, with a big-hearted and wide-eyed Huck Finn. It is no small matter that I compare Johnny Future, the character, with these two icons of American literature. I find him that compelling, his voice that unrelenting. It is a voice that becomes less concise and more shrill in the latter half of the novel, but that is to be expected, given the course of events. What else would you expect from a guy named Future, with a hooker girlfriend named America, a buddy named Jesus and sidekick called Beast? But I am getting ahead of myself.
We meet Johnny on this 30th birthday, kicking back a Nyquil cocktail. āI drink a shot of Nyquil and pour myself another and drink it and pour myself one more and sit back and wait.ā He goes on:
āI donāt know what Iām waiting for. My mouth is dry so I put down my Nyquil and stumble into the kitchen to get a drink of water. The clock on the wall says 4:15 in the morning. Iāve been up for a couple of days, doing drugs, if you really want to know. I like doing drugs, any drug. I do them any chance I get, but I try not to buy them cause I donāt have a job. Iāve been doing speed which I got a hold of from a chick who was staying down the hall, but sheās gone now. She was having a little moving party. So sheās gone, and so is the speed.ā
The tone and voice of Johnny is that of someone on the cusp of despair. He is thirty years old, has no job, is strung out on drugs, no family, except for his Grandma Dolly, who raised him and has now been removed to a nursing home. ā…I should go and visit her but I donāt because itās probably freaky there, with old people lying on the floor in the hallway, moaning in a puddle of pee and I donāt want to see that. I just donāt.ā It is Dolly, and his memories of her, that bring him a humanity. Without Dolly he would be just more literary existential roadkill. His guilt, and his effort to address it, propels the narrative. It was Grandma Dolly who told the child Johnny that his mother had killed herself and took care of him from then on. Getting to her, to rescue her and somehow rebuild the only home heās known, is what brings Johnny focus. It is, as he calls it, his āmission.ā But in the best picaresque fashion, our young hero must have adventures, most of them unseemly, before he can execute his mission.
He gets a job at a porno store, owned by black and gay Maurice, called SEX LAND. Here he peruses porn magazines to pass the time, while trying to avoid the repugnant customers, particularly those emerging from the back room, where the booths are. Johnny voices his opinion, which is harshly skeptical, about the booths to Maurice. Like most of his thoughts, he says it out loud without realizing it. Maurice tells him, āSex is love, my friend, Mr. Johnny whatever your name is.ā The porno business is then summarized: āAnd only Love will set us free. Read your Bible, itās in there. Jesus was a Love Man.ā
It is this technique, the irreverent placed in the thick of the absurd, which makes the novel funny and at the same time poignant and relevant. It is a technique Abee uses repeatedly and the juxtaposition works well. For instance, in a passage reminiscent of Yeatsās famous line, Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold, (a line, which brings illumination to the entire novel), Johnny wonders āabout Dolly and what happened to her and I wonder what it was like when she went down, got the stroke I mean. She was in the kitchen, I know that much. What was she thinking? You know, itās all falling apart. Whatās happening to me? How did she get to the hospital? Who called? Then I think about Jesus, not Jesus Chang [his friend], but the other one, and how he got nailed to the cross. What was he thinking? Itās all falling apart? Whatās happening to me?ā
Introspective and flatly observant, Johnny does what he can to address the only aspect of his life about which he feels he can influence. While partying with his friends, Willy the Bag, Junior, Baby Juice and Jesus, his mission settles on him, prompting him to action. With everyone passed out or too stoned to move, he decides to steal his buddy Juniorās purple Thunderbird, āTrouble Love.ā
āJust then Willy the Bag and Junior come running around the corner of the house naked, headed right for meā¦.The neighbors start cheering. Canāt tell who theyāre cheering for. They should be cheering for me because I am incredible…I run for the car. Americaās in the drivers seat. The engineās running. Junior and Willyāre right on top of me, practically on my ass, right there, right behind me, gonna grab me. I turn around, gonna sock both of āem in the head. Theyāre right there, theyāre running at me and Iām about to sock āem when Baby Juice swings her good leg and cuts both of them down at the knees and they just stop, cold, hit the ground, boom, thud moaning, dirt flying. The neighbors cheer louderā¦I open the door, get in the car. āLetās go save your grandma, Johnny.ā We drive off. Juniorās naked and screaming on the lawn.ā
I quote at length to demonstrate the frenetic nature of the narrative. Like Trouble Love, the Thunderbird, the story is outsized, over-powered and comes at you fast. Johnny escapes the party with America. They make their way to Dolly and kidnap her from the nursing home. While making the get-away, Johnny passes the headquarters building for Western Exterminator, with whom he had had an altercation early in the novel. ā…the picture of the Exterminator, himself, yelling at the rat: youāre a bad apple. Iām gonna take your happiness and smash it. Iām gonna win.ā Itās as if itās directed to Johnny directly, But he will have none of it. āI aināt listening to him,ā he says. āIām on a mission, a mission for all the rats, all the bugs, holding fork and knife, living with hunger, oblivious to doom, not playing his game, Iām making a new one, my own game, where I win and everyone I know wins and I am the King of Life, the King of Time.ā
There is a bounty of symbolism in this novel, most of it in-your-face and overt, which makes me wonder if itās symbolism at all. But that is just a technicality. He wants the American dream, to win, to be, as he says, the āKing of Life.ā His escape down the highway with his Grandmother and girlfriend, America, comes late in the book. Though driven by his mission, by which he presumes all will turn good in his life, Johnny realizes in short order that it cannot be. His grandmother is ailing. She is incontinent and occasionally incoherent. At one point he worries that she has expired. The police are giving chase–he did kidnap her, after all. With helicopters overhead and sirens behind him, he makes his way to the Kingās house, another character with hyperbolic attributes. And here, as the King reveals a family secret, Johnny closes in–as close as he will get–on resolution. It is not apparent that he āwinsā or becomes the King of anything, Life or Time, but he settles, as if life is nothing more than that–not winning or losing, but just to accomplish something, or in Johnnyās case, anything. By this measure, he meets with a degree of success in his mission. His Grandmother recognizes him and appreciates his effort. He delivers her āhomeā and the King congratulates him, that he done good. By one measure, he did do good. He reconnected with the little family he had known, took control, albeit briefly, of his life and became momentarily a person who makes something happen, rather than be a cog, a subject of action. He held on while the centre gave way.
Editor’s note: Ā Doug reviewed this from a MacAdam/Cage advanced review copy (ARC). Ā We were expecting MacAdam/Cage to release this last fall, however, it still has not happened. Ā I decided that this book is worth letting others know about… and of course, Doug’s review is worth reading. Ā Since the book is available in Kindle format, that is what I linked to. Ā You can read a Kindle book on your iPhone, iPod Touch or your PC, even if you do not own a Kindle.
|AMAZON READER RATING:||no reviews on Amazon|
|PUBLISHER:||MP Publishing Limited (October 1, 2009) (Kindle)|
|AMAZON PAGE:||Johnny Future|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Poetic Diversity on Steve Abee|
|EXTRAS:||Salon.com review of Die for Love|
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||This book makes me think of:
Lowboy by John Wray
The Financial Lives of Poets by Jess Walter
Humpty Dumpty was Pushed by Marc Blatte
The Song Is You by Arthur Phillips
- Johnny Future (October 2009)