So here's the deal: The Complete Lockpick Pornography is actually two short novels, Lockpick Pornography and We All Got It Coming, which has been described as its "thematic sequel." I picked it up at Indie Lit Night at the Starlight Lounge this past Tuesday, where Joey gave a hilarious reading, and we had a great chat. (We hate all the same people, and all the same sports-related cultural touchstones!) There are some great, whaddayacall, blurbs on the back of the book that cover a lot of what I'd like to say, but I'll see what I can do to add to them.
The unnamed narrator of Lockpick is a pretty intense guy. Like all of us, he's got expectations about the world, about what he thinks it is and what it should be, but none of them match up to what it really is, in ways that are both good and bad, and he seems to be tearing himself apart trying to figure out who he is and how he fits into it all. He's got a lot of rage and fear built up inside him, and a lot of the tools he's turned to help him understand himself aren't necessarily equipped to do that in the way he thinks they are. He's right, for example, that "tolerant" can be a profoundly condescending word, and that us straight folks can be completely oblivious about our privilege, but the theoretical language he's learned to talk about these problems only provides, er, problematic rules for dealing with those issues, alternating between being vague and crunchy on the one hand, and absolutist on the other. (It was a fun coincidence that a great little parody site called Is This Feminist? emerged as I was reading Lockpick, because it so expertly satirized what happens when a set of tools developed to open up the world to new ways of seeing becomes, at certain times and under certain circumstances, a rigid ideology all its own.)
What he really needs is a way to understand himself, to connect with who he is so he can figure out who he wants to be. But how can you figure that out if all the touchstones we've ever known are just constructs? That's actually been one of the primary arguments against the whole collection of isms that make up postmodernism—when taken to their logical extreme, so many of them have the potential to devolve into nihilism, because they refuse to admit there's any reality at all that we can agree upon. One of the central questions he keeps coming back to, is: if gender is just a construct, why isn't he attracted to women? Look, I'm a straight white male, the Easy Mode of life, to paraphrase John Scalzi, but does that mean I understand everything about who I am or what I like or whatever language you want to use to talk about identity and sexuality? Fuck no. That shit is slippery.
I'm losing track of what I want to say. Let's try this again.
The blurbs on the back of the book are right: there's a lot of anger and fear and tenderness and a tremendous amount of humour in Lockpick, but at its heart I see sets of contradictory ideas spinning around each other throwing off sparks. I see the joy of community conflicting with the limitations of relying on one to stabilize your identity. I see the conflict between understanding social constructs and how they shape (or warp) us, seeing the logic in basing both social theory and one's political stance on that knowledge, and wanting to touch and understand something real and unencumbered by all that baggage—and even the need for it—deep at the core of one's self. And yet how that knowledge forces you to reject that such a thing can even exist. I see a character feeling trapped by things he can't control and reaching out for things he can, only to find that most of those things are outside his control as well, not really understanding the best most of us ever get to do is pretend, for a little while, like we have some. In a lot of ways I see Lockpick as a sister text to Nelly Arcan's amazing Exit.
Joey told me that he likes We All Got It Coming better than Lockpick (maybe just because he wrote it more recently), and at first I was ready to agree with him. Lockpick is far more bold and aggressive, and funnier, too, but in We All Got It Coming it feels like Comeau has a few more things figured out about how to do this whole novel thing. His writing is less brash, but more confident. He will, to be metaphorical for a moment, slap you across the face with his cock if he thinks it's necessary, but he's no longer doing it just because he can. Arthur, the narrator of the second book, doesn't have all his shit together either, but he hasn't let it make him manic and desperate. He's going to go through some bad shit because of it, and he's not always going to know what to do when it happens, but he's not going to punch a stranger in the stomach because of an ideology he hasn't fully assimilated or slash someone's tires because he's afraid of connecting with someone who is shattering his expectations. Arthur is less fun than the unnamed narrator in Lockpick, but he's more complex, and an easier narrator to spend time with. I understand and even identify with the man with no name, but half the time I just wanted to get the hell away from him. He and I are different in so many ways, but the darkness and rage in him looks and awful lot like the darkness and rage in me. And I don't imagine I'm the only reader to feel that.
Like the blurb from Maximum Rocknroll says on the back, you can put this on the Gay Literature shelf if building canons is your thing, and it has certainly earned a pretty solid spot there, but it belongs on a whole bunch of other shelves too, and I damn well better see copies on those shelves the next time I go to check.