The tradition of the slacker/bohemian goes way back to the original author of La Vie de Boh?�me, Henry Murger (1851), later turned into a famous opera by Puccini and later given a modern twist in Rent (with the Latin Quarter of Paris updated to the East Village, NYC). Permanent Obscurity, the novel by Richard Perez, pays homage to that tradition and those same misfit slackers/dreamers/losers with Dolores and Serena, two would-be, wannabe, too-f'cked-up-to-be downtown artists.
Like anyone familiar with the tradition of La Boh?�me, this genre is steeped in failure, and strangely that's part of the playfulness and attraction of it: we know we're in Losertown, witnessing a slow-motion derailment from scene one. Dolores and Serena are hopelessly lost from the beginning with no future in sight -- more into nurturing their drug habits than at working at their art. Dolores is a photographer or at least she used to be; Serena is a singer and performance artist or at least she used to be. These two 22-year-old 'has beens' fear an endless future of floundering. So, aided by a publisher from LA, they take up fetish photography and modeling, bringing Baby -- Serena's 'sub' (or boyfriend variation) -- into it. Before long Serena is cooking up bigger schemes that Dolores wants no part of: shooting a fetish video -- or line of videos -- that might sustain them financially while they call their own shots. Meanwhile, dealers come a'knockin', wanting to be paid, and things get progressively worse, with debts leading to threats leading to poor judgment calls, theft, physical abuse, finally an accidental death. Or two.
Permanent Obscurity spins its way through this hazy nightmare with true slacker wit and style. In control of this narrative, coughing pot smoke, is weedhead Dolores Santana recounting the whole sordid tale starting from when she and Serena first met. Serena remains a chameleon-like creature; beautiful and built like a Russ Meyer sex bomb, she becomes the evil sister always luring Dolores to dark places, not that Dolores needs much coaxing. At some point, it becomes clear that the two are more than friends and their passion for each other infuses the narrative with more intensity. As the story progresses, their behavior takes on a do-or-die desperation, and they become like renegades, even sharing a.38 Caliber weapon.
This book is not for the faint of heart: the sexuality is kinky, constantly dipping into BDSM culture, tops and bottoms, dominants and submissives. The writing is raw, urban, rough. It's a slacker comedy and a bohemian homage that even references Trainspotting. At the same time, Permanent Obscurity remains unique in its attempt to depict the dark side of love, friendship, and heartbreak.
This book is listed under the full title: PERMANENT OBSCURITY: Or a Cautionary Tale of Two Girls and Their Misadventures with Drugs, Pornography and Death by Dolores Santana (as told to Richard Perez)
Review by Linda McCabe
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