MY DEAD BOOK, a novel by Nate Lippens, reviewed by Shane Jesse Christmass

Nate Lippens’ first novel is an instant classic and personal favorite, an honorific remembrance of people who have passed, collections and fragments of memory, where shower curtains look like used condoms, and clothes are more sealant than fabric:

The bathroom was tiny and had a shower stall with a plastic curtain that looked like a used condom. The lighting was sallow, making my bruises pop for inspection. I’d known they were there but hadn’t realized how many there were. They were in various stages of blooming and fading.

Shane’s clothes were more sealant than fabric—sprayed on, shiny finish. He wore them like the hard shell of a toy animated to life by others’ imaginations. I was more like a hologram, a cheap illusion. He told stories about yearning to be tough, scraping his knuckles on cement until they bled, cultivating calluses and rough spots, the pride he took in scars, lowering his voice and moving his mouth less beneath a slit-eyed gaze.

The book depicts a smudged world where, in the end, it is our love for other human beings that matters most, and not the result, death, however much death maybe a fitting conclusion to our journey. This work is a deep-thinking meditation on the nature of what it means to be human and the idea of a “real” place, a real place within someone’s arms, a real place within a society that doesn’t accept, or doesn’t even want to entertain the idea of acceptance, real places and feelings which can at times feel quite abstract.

At one stage the narrator refers to a breakdown, but the horror of the breakdown isn’t that things shatter, it is that the breakdown points to one clearly defined conclusion, only one way out that is unappealing. Nate Lippens has succeeded in being a stirring chronicler of our emotive desolation, the long-drawn-out death rattle of our departed, crying because we’re remembered, feeling evoked through our cold hearts. Lippens has a keen eye for the concrete, where the concrete is what makes our reality; characters share gloves, one character has the right glove, the narrator has the left. Nate Lippens remembers seeing dead friends in bed, a relentless list of murder, suicide, illness, and accident. Nate Lippens makes us aware of the onset of agoraphobia alongside the onset of winter:

My agoraphobia is camouflaged by winter. Everyone hibernates so who can tell. In the last week a polar vortex has hit the Midwest with temperatures of forty below zero. I texted Brandon telling him not to go out in severe cold for a hookup. Paradoxical undressing isn’t sexy. Online I’ve seen friends lament their shut-in status and cabin fever, making jokes about The Shining. I’m not about to tell anyone that often days, sometimes weeks, pass without me going outside.

Yes, this was, at times, a very dark book. Yes, this book was very interesting. Yes, this book was full of scullery maids of cocksucking, and yes, my expectation of the book changed every five pages or so. I assumed, based on the first few chapters, where Lippens provides a list of people who have passed, that that would be the mode the book would carry throughout. Lippens pivots to a more intensive narration where the ghosts of endemics past still hover on the edges of his account.

So, what am I reminded of? I’m reminded of The Irreversible Decline of Eddie Socket by John Weir; the poetry of Michael Lally, his Village Sonnets; the Waterfront Diaries of David Wojnarowicz; and the torn prose of Gary Indiana in Horse Crazy.

What Lippens has in common with those texts is that he chronicles the loss of his acquaintances, friends, and johns by delivering an extremely poignant and comical book about subsistence, about appearing at funerals with the same regularity as hitting the Crisco Disco, where the exchange of sexual activity is reappraised, where the act of living becomes the basis of every relationship.

Ironically, Wojnarowicz appears in the book as a cipher against becoming respectable. Referring to their 90s bad selves, one character asks, years later, what those who were awful to them in the 90s would be doing now. The answer: attending the Wojanrowicz retrospective at the Whitney.

It is a very well written, insightful, tragic book that made me very happy to have read it. To find and to remember, one must turn off the lights, and turn the page; the dead are everywhere. There is a belief that the ghosts of the hereafter possess us to provide comfort and guidance, the deceased remain sentient beings because they still wish to be with us, they wander with us in the mortal imprisonment of the material realm; maybe they don’t, maybe they do but only as sentient memories, because that is what this book appears to deliver, memories from the deceased to assist us to grieve and understand:

I pull the covers up, a book falls to the floor, and my neighbor coughs. I’m glad to be here and to be alone, but I do wish someone would refill my water.

Nate Lippens ends the book, as he began it, by reminding us of the darkness, and he never lets us forget it. Nate Lippens is a writer whose voice and images are inescapable, and when you realize that you are entranced, you are going to find this book hard to put down. This book made me feel a little closer to life. I’m glad I read it, mainly because the book made me reflect on sadness, the characters from my life similar to the ones captured by Lippens here. The reflections by Lippens are apprehended peacefully, like a frayed elegy, where the dead rest in power. The deaths become a part of the book’s texture; the way snow gets in cracks of character’s boots as they walk down the street. This book is a reminder that I am alive, and that I have lived in a similar way before:

As we walked around, Colin pointed out the place where the porn arcade once stood. “That’s where we met.

A mixture of rain and snow had created deep puddles, sopping my leather boots, saturating my light wool peacoat. Both of us, middle-aged, or not so young as Colin preferred to call us, and still dressed inappropriately for the weather.

I could go on forever, but I think the point I want to make is that. Like Gary Indiana, Lippens came up with a way to write a very real and honest account of his life, and I am all the better for having read it. It is a book of ghosts, a haunted book. But in a good way. A book I can’t quite get out of my head.

My Dead Book, by Nate Lippens. Hudson, New York: Publication Studio Hudson. 147 pages. $15.00, paper.

Shane Jesse Christmass is the author of the novels The Sex Shops of Sherman Oaks (Amphetamine Sulphate, 2021), Belfie Hell (Inside The Castle, 2018), Yeezus In Furs (Dostoyevsky Wannabe, 2018), Napalm Recipe: Volume One (Dostoyevsky Wannabe, 2017), Police Force As A Corrupt Breeze (Dostoyevsky Wannabe, 2016) and Acid Shottas (The Ledatape Organisation, 2014). He was a member of the band Mattress Grave, and is currently a member in Snake Milker.

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