Entertaining comedy of excess.
Not recommended for minors.
The concept of the alienated boho artist may be an outdated one in our culture. After all, the Internet has given millions of alienated weirdos the illusion of belonging, of "community." Psychos post their deranged art online, self-publishing largely has become as easy as posting a blog. This makes the strangeness of a book like PERMANENT OBSCURITY stand out even more. This farcical novel by Richard Perez, featuring out-of-touch, isolated "artists," reads like a throwback to a pre-Internet era. But that's not necessarily a bad thing.
In all fairness, the time frame of the book is during the mid-00s, during what might be one the most isolated and paranoid times in American history. Hatred for everything American was at an all time high and we were paranoid (paranoia accurately reflected in mainstream movies like HOSTEL). George W. Bush was in the White House riding this crest of fear, with Dick Cheney, a military contractor, as war consultant VP. The idea of universal health care and insurance was then an impossibility; according to George Bush something that was "available" yet out of reach to 45 million Americans. There were cell phones then, but smart phones replete with obligatory Facebook apps and Internet access hadn't yet arrived. In this climate of fear and self-loathing and isolationism, PERMANENT OBSCURITY tells the seedy yarn of Dolores and Serena, two East Village archetypes, who puff and snort their way to infamy after committing an act of Abu Ghraib-style one-upsmanship with a perverted twist.
Isolating the main narrative thread in PERMANENT OBSCURITY, it's mostly a comedy of excess or a "cautionary tale" farce. Dolores Santana, writing as the author, tells the story of her rise from obscurity to freak infamy, which begins with her meeting Serena Moon, a would-be rock-and-roll goddess at age 19. Together they form a rebellious alliance while indulging in drugs and drink and more drugs. Serena has been taking out Craigslist ads as a dominatrix as a way of getting by; then lucks out as a fetish model with Dolores as her primary photographer. Soon, amid puffing and snorting binges, the two concoct a fantasy of making a string of fetish movies. But, in the degenerated drug-addled condition they're in, just shooting the first turns into an epic nightmare neither one of them could have imagined. (The subtitle of this novel gives some clue of the direction the story is headed-minus the irony.)
PERMANENT OBSCURITY is definitely not a book recommended for minors, with its shocking level of F bombs and fetishistic pornographic situations, many unheard of by most readers. The dominatrix scenes with Serena are more about testing male/female psychological boundaries, but no less dirty and disturbing. In the end, the last real bohemian mentioned may not be Dolores Santana or Serena Moon, the would-be arty Thelma & Louise of this novel, but the alienated character of Dick, the self-reflexive, self-sabotaging author of this drug-demented descent, who crashes and burns in spectacular fashion, even forecasting his own unsettling fate with surreal accuracy. For the surprising, twisted ending alone, PERMANENT OBSCURITY may be worth seeking out.
A bold and darkly funny book worth reading.