Pain Killers: A Novel Hardcover – Feb 23 2009
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Dig it: Perv--A Love Story is a beautifully wrought and twisted ode to freaks, beatniks, hopheads, and the wild-assed and strange everywhere. Jerry Stahl is the American hipster bard. (James Ellroy, author of L.A. Confidential and My Dark Places)
“From the opening gut punch this book had me laughing and turning pages. Jerry Stahl is Thomas Berger’s wicked stepson and his new novel is a tour de force.” (Tom Franklin, author of Smonk, Hell at the Breech, and Poachers)
From the Back Cover
From the acclaimed and controversial author of Permanent Midnight comes one of the most vividly subversive, savagely funny, and explosive novels yet unleashed in our tender century. Pain Killers is a violent and mind-wrenching masterpiece in the gonzo noir style that has earned Jerry Stahl his legion of avid fans.
Down-and-out ex-cop and not-quite-reformed addict Manny Rupert accepts a job going undercover to find out if an old man locked up in a California prison is who he claims to be: the despicable—and allegedly dead—Josef Mengele, aka the Angel of Death. What if, instead of drowning thirty years ago, the sadistic legend whose Auschwitz crimes still horrify faked his own death and is now locked up in San Quentin, ranting and bitter about being denied the adulation he craves for his contribution to keeping the Master Race pure—if no longer masterful?
After accidentally reuniting with ex-wife and love of his life, Tina, at San Quentin—they first met at the crime scene where Tina murdered her first husband with Drano-laced Lucky Charms—Manny spends a bad night imbibing boxed wine and questionable World War One morphine, hunched over a trove of photos showing live genital dissections that plant him in the middle of a conspiracy involving genocide, drugs, eugenics, human experiments, and America's secret history of collusion with German believers in Nordic superiority.
Manny's quest sends him careening from one extreme of apocalypse-adjacent reality to the other: from SS-inked Jewish shotcallers to meth-crazed virgin hookers, from Mexican gangbangers to Big Pharma–financed prison research to an animal shelter that gasses more than stray dogs and cats . . .
Pain Killers captures one man's struggle against a perverse and demented scheme of global proportions, in a literary tour de force as outrageous, compelling, and dangerous as history itself. Not for the faint of heart, the novel hurtles readers into a disturbing, original, and alarmingly real world filled with some of the kinkiest sex, most horrific violence, and screaming wit ever found on the page—proving yet again that Stahl is, as The New Yorker described him, "a better-than-Burroughs virtuoso."See all Product Description
Top Customer Reviews
Stahl is a phenomenon, the fellow has been dubbed "a better than Burroughs virtuoso." I'll not deliberate whether that's true or not - simply want to illustrate Stahl's genre (Permanent Midnight; I, Fatty). But then, describing his writing isn't an easy task - he's a total original, an author who will leave you anguished, amazed, and chuckling.
How's this for a scenario: sick Nazi Joseph Mengele is still alive and at the ripe old age of 97 is in San Quentin continuing his experiments on the living? He wants his due recognition, and is determined to prove to the world that he is a genius.
Former cop and addict Manny Rupert is more than down on his luck - he's out of it and about to be evicted from his house. He's approached by a very odd man (who approaches by breaking into Rupert's house). He wants to hire Rupert to go undercover in San Quentin and find out whether Mengele is really Mengele or just some poor delusional soul who couldn't come up with a more attractive identity.
Well, what's a guy to do? It's the only job offer he has and it's either take it or wind up living on the streets. He's given a fake "state certificate, proof of status as a licensed drug and alcohol counselor" and a diploma from Steinhelm Life-Skills Institute. His first stop at San Quentin? The gift shop that boasts a variety of prison oriented wares, must-haves such as paddles and handcuffs.
Perhaps his biggest surprise is running into his ex-wife, Tina, his great love. (They met after Tina murdered her first husband with Drano-laced Lucky Charms). Who can figure male-female attraction?Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
A recovering polydrug addict, Manny (who is also Jewish) is pretending to lead a drug addiction recovery group that includes Mengele. Just why was he hired for this operation, and what do those in charge actually want him to do with the proof that Mengele lives? And what will they actually do with Mengele? Bring him to trial? Kill him in prison? What does Mengele deserve once he's revealed as the monster of the Holocaust? Was he a brilliant scientist or an evil instrument of death?
These questions and the ensuing encounters with a score of bizarre characters take the reader on a trip through the past and into the present with a resounding jolt. The revelations of what Mengele did in the death camps are not particularly new, but the excuses and reasoning that he offers to his audience on a hair raising van excursion, are both shocking and repellant.
I have never read a book quite like this and found it difficult to write a review of it. I can't honestly say I "liked" it, but wow, what an incredible tale this author weaves. The motley crew of associates and characters in the novel look like a circus freak show. The chapter titles read like a sociopathic menu - nothing is left untouched from drugs, sex and torture to animal -- human organ transplants and big pharma conspiracies. Each page brought a new astonishment - what imagination and what a deviant mind this ingeniously demented author has! The style made me zip through the pages, turning them to see what in the world would be offered up for my digestion on the next one.
It was quite a book - took me from laugh out loud to the brink of nausea.
If you like to step out of your comfort zone and be transported into the strangest prison book you've ever read - take a chance. I guarantee you'll spend most of your reading time with your mouth hanging open and your brain forming the word -- WHAT!?!?!?!?
With a solid set up, extraordinarily strong main character and pitch perfect first act Pain Killers seems like it could be an absolute break out book. The book takes an extreme left turn about mid way through that completely derails the initial momentum and narrative. Stahl seemed to have a choice, either follow the arch of Manny Rupert or go for Mengele. He chose the latter and the final act of the book is so absurd and ridiculous that it decimates everything before it.
Stahl's writing peaks early on with descriptions that leap off the page, but as the book goes on he loses touch with the world he's created in order to revisit the theme of the politics of the Holocaust and how maybe human experiments aren't such a 'bad' thing. To most this theme will be distasteful enough to completely skip this book, I found it pretty hard to stomach. The real audience for this book are Stahl fans, perhaps people who've already read Plainclothes Naked, otherwise readers looking for something edgy would do much better with Chuck Palahniuk or Bret Easton Ellis.
This is probably not a book that I would have selected on my own - having hated the movie "Permanent Midnight." In the end it was an enjoyable read - if not a bit preposterous.
The Good Guy - Manny Rupert: an Ex-cop, on again off again junkie with a bad liver, who married a woman he met after she killed her husband and he responded to the police call. He's down on his luck, and not doing himself much good - then a strange old Jewish man shows up in his house, beats him with a walker and hires him to go undercover in San Quentin
The Good Girl - Manny's ex-wife, soon to be ex-ex-wife he hopes, is a neurotic bulimic on again off again junkie/prostitute/opportunist. Her morality is questionable but somewhere under all that sex and junk - there's a heart of gold (at least we're told)
The Bad Guys - Oh there are so many of them, but to keep from giving too much away I'll only list our target, the 90 year old blond German man in San Quentin who swears that he's Dr. Joseph Mengele (Nazi Death Camp Doctor at Auschwitz).
So, crazy Jewish man with walker hires Rupert to go undercover as a drug councilor at San Quentin to determine if the crazy old German actually IS Mengele. Things go bad quickly as Rupert's ex-wife shows up with an Aryan Brotherhood leader who also happens to be Jewish. The people on Rupert's side might actually be more dangerous then the convicts.
The writing is verbally simplistic, a lot of people rant and rave about how grotesque this is - but as a horror fan, I've got to say - it's not that bad. Most of the disgusting parts are simply people recounting what Mengele had done - which IS gross, but it's not extremely explicit in that respect. There is a lot of sex, drugs, racial slurs, anti-government garbage, and a whole lot of the German guy arguing about the good he did in the death camps - like slaughtering babies to cure cancer... that part gets old fast.
To be honest, this isn't the best or worse book I've read. The characters are all fairly despicable in one way or another and the plot only holds together loosely. At times you will find yourself shaking your head trying to figure out just how you're supposed to buy all of what's being sold to you here. If you are looking for something comparable - try Tim Dorsey- ADHD writing, spastic plot, and a lot of material to make your average reader cringe.
Rated R - Do not hand to the kiddies.
I ordered Pain Killers because of some solid reviews, and because the plot sounded suitably off-the-wall and fun: on-again-off-again drug addict Manuel (Manny) Rupert gets hired to pose as a drug counselor in San Quentin to figure out if someone incarcerated there is actually who he claims to be: the uber-evil Nazi Josef Mengele. Along the way he crosses paths with a crazy television producer, a Jewish member of the Aryan Brotherhood, a prison guard that wants a sex change operation, and more than a few other oddballs. Now, I'll admit that the plot sounds a little contrived (o.k., a LOT contrived), but I thought that if the author could pull it off, it could be a fun read.
No such luck.
Pain Killers comes across as nothing so much as an attempt to channel Chuck Palahniuk (using characters you might find in an Elmore Leonard novel), and it fails miserably. The first-person narrative, written in Manny's voice, feels incredibly forced; the author seems far more concerned with thinking up wacky characters and finding quirky ways to phrase things than with writing a good story. The plot falls apart almost instantaneously, with absurd twists and character behavior that require superhuman suspension of disbelief. And Stahl begins more than a few plot lines that he simply walks away from. I don't want to post any spoilers (though if you're smart you'll avoid the book, so it wouldn't matter) but I can think of at least half a dozen events in the book that are major issues to Manny, none of which are ever resolved; Stahl appears to simply forget that they were ever brought up. And then there's Mengele's past: perhaps to make the book "edgy" Stahl also includes copious descriptions of hideous Nazi experiments. But, more often than not, they just feel like fascinated voyeurism rather than devices designed to advance plot or character development. Look, I'm not squeamish in the least, but I do expect passages of any sort to serve the story rather than give the impression of an author simply trying to gross me out or build a reputation.
Finally, there's Manny, whom I found completely unlikeable. I don't have a problem with flawed characters: let them shoot dope, let them have weird quirks, the more the merrier - but that's not the problem with Manny. Because while Stahl seems to be trying to give us a fallible tough guy, maybe Hammer or Marlowe with a dope problem, that's not what we get. Manny is neither a tough-guy nor a man driven by doing the right thing, he's just a creep. Stahl seems to be trying for oddball black humor and satire (both of which I love), but has no skills in either. Pain Killers is neither funny nor satirical, it's just bad.
So to sum it up: forced narrative + poorly drawn and unbelievable characters + ridiculous plot developments + Nazi medical experiments + forgotten plot points + unlikeable protagonist = too many hours that would have been better spent doing almost anything other than reading Pain Killers.
PI Manny Rupert is an ex-cop, ex-junkie, and ex-husband, though just how "ex" he is in any area is tested in this book. When a peculiar old tough bullies Rupert into a mission involving prison Nazis, reality TV, heroin, the Holocaust, and Rupert's nympho ex-wife, he has no choice but to get involved. The star of this drama is Doctor Death himself, a baffling old man claiming to be Nazi fugitive Josef Mengele.
This putative thriller farce is unfunny, unsuspenseful, unengaging, and unappealing. Stahl thinks using cuss words is the same as being edgy. His protagonist is a putz who never acts, but is only acted upon. Stahl introduces events and forgets them, even events our protagonist is obsessed with right up to the moment he forgets. And his novel doesn't so much end as run out when he has no more to stuff between the covers.
Stahl's slipshod arrangement is so poor I wonder if he was writing while high. He forgets the order of his own story elements. Rupert talks about wanting to assassinate Mengele, but pages later says his ex-wife has him "half convinced" Mengele is who he claims to be. And he packs a truly unbelievable number of events--murders, plane trips, jail breaks, Nazi experiments, and more--into twenty-four hours.
Stahl starts threads he doesn't finish. Who had doll hands in the pimp van? Why did Dinah deserve her fate? What did Mengele install in Rupert's package? Each of these takes up many pages, and much angst from our our protagonist, and then they just stop. Boom. Stahl seems to forget he even started these threads. Again, was he writing while high?
And his humor is painful. He reminds me of that amateur nite comic we've seen whose jokes demand twenty-minute setups, then when he finally gets to the punch line, he keeps talking when he should hold for the laugh. He seems to think mentioning ironic juxtapositions is the same as saying something funny. Jewish Nazis and Christian prostitutes are mildly funny once, but Stahl dedicates dozens of pages to each, until my hair hurts.
I have this honor-bound demand that I read the whole book before reviewing. What a chore this turned out to be. This size of book should take me two nights; instead, it took a week to plow through this morass. My conclusion at the end of the process is that you shouldn't even begin. This book is a waste of paper and a waste of time. You can't be bothered.