Daniel Allen Cox’s novella, Tattoo This Madness In, chronicles the punk revolution of a group of disaffected teenaged Jehovah’s Witnesses (selfnamed “Jay-Dubs”). Accompanied by a sound-track of The Dead Kennedys and The Pixies, Damien Spitz gathers his flock of undersexed Jay-Dubs and brings them to their new God: anarchic hedonism, documented on film and on the skin in tattoos of Smurfs (long hated by Jehovah’s Witnesses) and purple triangles. Along the way, Damien comes to grips with his sexuality and even manages to find love for Seth (whose suicide marks the turning point of the story) and Alicia, the mostly-selfless mirror of Damien’s ambitions. Cox is at his best in long stretches of narrative prose where his images betray the harsh glare of (un)reality. South Florida, through this lens, loses any lushness and instead becomes a gritty scene of suburban decay, one which is all too familiar to the reader. Still, this vision holds its own as do the flashes of violence in Damien’s darkest fantasies. Revolution is necessarily a violent act; in Tattoo this violence is nearly always self-directed: in the tattooing ritual, in the self-mutilation, and ultimately, Seth’s suicide.
What is left mostly unexplored is how the new regime mirrors that against which it revolts: Damien replaces one set of rules (those of the Kingdom Hall) with another (obey every impulse) and supplants Jehovah with the gods of punk music. It’s an irony lost on these teenagers who think everything they do is naked–raw–and new. These characters speak to each other in the (often clunky) dialogue of conviction and purpose. That Cox spares them all the discomfiting tragedy of being re-introduced to the society which they abandoned (in contrast with James Merendino’s SLC Punk, for instance) suggests that perhaps the irony was lost on him, too. (Jennifer Armentrout)
Fiction, 98 pgs, by Daniel Allen Cox, $10.00, Dusty Owl Press, P.O. Box 1401, Stn. B, Ottawa, Ontario, K1P 5R1, dustyowl.com