JUNK CITY | Kirkus Reviews

A volume of poetry and prose documents the dark lives of San Francisco’s drunks and strippers.

Life in San Francisco is a seemingly unending series of unpleasant incidents and disappointing outcomes. In one story, a bouncer must cope with the suicide of his father and his on-again, off-again relationship with a woman plagued by mental illness. In another, a man watches some amateur basketball at Kezar Stadium before barhopping and, later, drinking beer with his adult paperboy, a former basketball player. A drug dealer tries to win his wife back after his stash is discovered in her house, resulting in her losing her job and spending six days in jail. A man who has lost his job and his driver’s license rides a bicycle to get drunk at a bar, but once there, he’s forced to deal with the probing questions of an older man. The tales, often no more than a few pages, are filled with neighborhood characters and local geographies, sliding up and down Taraval Street or haunting the environs of Columbus and Green. Four of the stories follow the romantic adventures of the stripper and poet Eskimo and her locally famous brawler boyfriend, Joxer. They participate in billiard competitions, attempt to drop off poems at City Lights Bookstore, witness shootings in the local watering holes, and get arrested for crashing cars while drunk. Interspersed are poems supposedly written by Eskimo on similarly dark and mundane topics: pop songs, stains, tea, physical abuse. A sense of fatalism inhabits each piece, whether it ends in tragedy or merely the suggestion of tragedy. These are characters who will never escape their plights. In fact, many of them seem not even to want to.

Boilard’s prose deftly evokes the gritty minimalism of Thom Jones, Denis Johnson, and other bards of self-destruction and substance abuse: “The deejay introduces her as Eh, Eh, Eskimo. Joxer sits in the front row. She dances slow and sexy and sad to Johnny Cash doing his remake of Hurt by Nine Inch Nails and Joxer can’t believe it. He loves that version. It must be some kind of fate. When she finishes her routine, she sits on his lap and rubs cocaine into his upper gums with her index finger.” The poems are sparse and Beats-inspired. “Blackout” reads: “I was drunk / & / forgetting things / & falling / down & / we both / hated me / then.” They seem to exist mostly to supplement (and break up) the stories. While the tales are the main course, they feel no less derivative or overreaching. The men are mostly violent nihilists, the women mostly sexual ones. The San Francisco in which the stories are set—the eponymous “Junk City,” as one character calls it—seems to be simultaneously that of the 1950s, ’80s, and the 2010s: one in which bohemians still pay for rent bartending and dream of making enough money to “get out of this place.” While there are occasional moments of epiphany or stark imagery, such a book feels a bit outdated in 2020.

A bumpy collection of booze- and pill-soaked tales of desperation.

Pub Date: today


Page Count: 225

Publisher: Livingston Press

Review Posted Online: July 10, 2020

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