In Case We Die, Danny Bland, 235 pgs, Fantagraphics Books, www.fantagraphics.com, $26.99
Ah, the romantic doomed junkie as literary hero. Rhapsodized by everyone from Hubert Selby Jr. to Jerry Stahl, this brand of protagonist is so overused that it’s almost boring. Danny Bland is certainly not a boring writer, however. The Seattle musician’s debut novel throbs with enough black humor and filthy veracity that we can mostly forgive the well-worn narrative turns that come with the territory.
Bland’s hero Charlie Hyatt tells us the book’s story from rehab, his memories filtered through the painful clarity of a post-detox perspective. He used to work in a porn shop – “the only business in the world where the customer is always wrong,” he quips – and spent the rest of his time staggering through Seattle bars, parties and rock shows fuelled by cigarettes, booze and various narcotics. There’s plenty of sex too: dirty, fucked-up, bloody, boozy sex, and to Bland’s credit, he makes it sound pretty fun. Overall, Charlie is having a good time, with only the occasional twinge of conscience. His collision with the lissome young musician and fellow addict Carrie Finch is when things take a turn – Carrie has a death wish, and Charlie is easily swept up in her thrall.
Bland, who used to play bass in the Dwarves, was addicted to drugs for a decade and used to work at a sex shop. Although this is a fictional work, there is a dirty, hungover, lived-in feeling to his writing that feels utterly true. His depiction of pre-grunge Seattle is, I imagine, fairly accurate – Charlie’s city is bleak, but it’s also teeming and electric, always on the verge of something bigger. Also, Bland is a funny writer, which is essential when dealing with such dark subject matter. Charlie is a remarkably quick wit for a drug-addled souse. It’s in the depiction of Carrie that Bland falters. She feels more like a series of character traits strung together rather than a figure that is living and breathing, so it’s hard to empathize with Charlie when the inevitable occurs. Overall, In Case We Die is a fun and diverting read – and I hope its buzz will encourage Bland to write down the true story of his fascinating life in an autobiography. (Alison Lang)