6.12.2013

Past the Point of Rubicon Beach by Steve Erickson




Tomorrow night, I fell asleep after an evening reading Pablo Neruda, William Faulkner, Carson McCullers, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Philip K. Dick and Charles Baudelaire, among others.  Others like the little remembered James Branch Cabell.  I'm not saying they put me to sleep.  I'm saying I'd been up for decades that evening, reading them.  When I did finally fall asleep, I dreamnt about Rubicon Beach by Steve Erickson.

My First Printing
They escaped into what I did not know (or is it do not know now?) how to describe except to say it was a disembodied window, its off-white frame set into the cobalt stucco sky.  Ink residue, left by lines and paragraphs, misted in the salty air.  A train that could not possibly exist here, just as impossibly as the window, occupied the tunnel through the Giant Oak on rails that disappeared in offshore fog.  I think I lived there, in a residence built into the Giant Oak, itself built above the bar, three stories above the tunnel. Story One was a strange library apartment studio in downtown Los Angeles.  Story Two was a river completely canopied by vines sometimes disguised as snakes.  Story Three is where I'd been living in the Giant Oak.  Either there or some place else out in the fog on the railroad track that wound around waves.  When I rose, I hastily jotted down the following before the words could also escape through that disembodied window: In between awakening and complete awareness, within the waning fog of dream's disintegrating curtain, where sleep laps luminously upon the tidal lagoons of consciousness, overarching your consciousness, corridor-like as it is, wild jungle vines -- alive -- seeking to slither down and poke and scratch you awake out of your raft floating downstream with no destination other than towns to be duped, duped, duped, though in being duped so many times, their being duped, the dopes, metastasizes into the duper's (the one who does the duping) abrupt doom, so do be warned out of your melancholic snooze through these moody, putrid river waters hanging with overgrowth and snakes:  this, all this, is the ambiguous, murky, treacherous, but deceptively placid, disorienting realm one encounters in Rubicon Beach, the mostly forgotten, sometimes out of print, second novel, by the somewhat forgotten (or is "overlooked" a better word, because I know I haven't forgotten him) author, Steve Erickson.

En route, up river of the book, can you explicate "the poem of no return"?, standing there in mud flats of the beach that doesn't exist but one day a tsunami may return nevertheless?  Can you deduce, in your canoe, with I hope your mathematical prowess, the Number of no return?  It's a new number that exists somewhere between nine and ten.  Can you ride the mystery train up sea from the shores of no return, to the Giant Oak, riding on rails built on water through the red tunnel of the moon, strange earthly emanations audibly abound, to the Rubicon gothic-like mansion (dare you enter it like you did before?) populated by memories disguised as flesh and blood, if they're not in fact corpses and ghosts?  Will you understand the Big Oak's significance at the apparent terminus of the mystery trains' track; that the end might not be the end but rather the beginning to the Frontier of No Return?  What exists beyond the Oak and the Gothic Mansion, beyond the Rubicon Beach?  Alternate realities? Delusions? Madness?  Dreams?

Consider the face of no return of "Catharine" (not her real name but given her by her employer whose last housekeeper was also named "Catharine")  Poor, orphaned woman born on that jungle river, born, according to her soon-to-be-murdered father, with no "voluptuous virtues, except her face".  The Face of No Return.  But a woman no matter now robustly or curvaceously stunted her body might be, in time makes an art out of her survival, sculpting hyper-adept skills of communication out of the palpable stone of her silence, despite not knowing the English language, and using whatever perceived weaknesses she might present and instead turning them on their heads -- her weakness will decapitate your strenth -- into preternatural strengths that enable her to maintain her strict adherence to a ferocious independence no matter what entangled predicaments she encounters, whether it's her first kidnapper, those dipshit hitchhiking goofs, who smuggled her into the states in the backs of cars and vans ... She soon ditched her coyotes, her captors, only to have to face all those sharks wearing suits on Sunset and Wilshire Blvds who saw blood, but also money, in Catherine's haggard hair and bare feet...  Catharine will thwart their exploitative advances all: the photographers, the hustlers, the movie moguls and talent scouts.  Who needs them?  Not her.  Because she may be the most powerful woman who's ever lived, but lacking belief in her face, in herself, she so saddened by the perceived lack of having any "voluptuous virtues," can't yet comprehend her full power -- not yet understanding that her face is the most potent face, the most powerful weapon in the world -- a weapon she'll soon learn to use like an ax or meat cleaver -- an indescribable face of no return (this review is not a dream) that some men can't even look at for fear they'll be, at a glance, decapitated by it, lost in its vacuum of no return, while others devise their devious plans for Catharine's face's theft for their own selfish gains in photography and haute couture modeling and the fucking movies!, branding their perfect doll-woman possession like the most prized in the bovine herd, this the most powerful if not most beautiful, seductive woman whos ever lived, a woman so out of any man's league she's remained virginal all this time, untouched by hands or greed, but a wounded woman, no matter her awesome power, grieving her murdered father who'd foolishly lost his daughter in a game of cards when they lived on that dangerous river and couldn't prevent the Con-Man Kidnapper from stealing her from him; she, "Catharine", who was the sheer essence of that jungle Utopia they once lived so serenely in and is now gone forever.

A Nice Reading Copy
Catharine's face reminds me of the station portals from Erickson's debut, Days Between Stations.  It seems like Erickson took a leap and personified his first novel's stations, replete with that mystifying, inanimate light source with no known electrical or natural outlet, and instead evolved the idea of the inanimate stations into stations made out of the being or essence of select humans, these human stations of the Rubicon, like Catharine, station extraordinaire, transmitter of power and beauty and justice, since as Lake notes late in Rubiocn Beach, "there is a number for justice," but without skin and bones vitally infused with the number, the number is impotent.  I see Catharine imbued with that same sourceless station light of precognition -- that light that originates from all times and yet is not of time, so that Catharine exists concurrently in the confines of this phantasmal novel traveling at times on some vortex train track that can transport her here or there in the right now just as swiftly as it can accelerate her forward in the future, but not so far that they she can't decide to wait for her character cohorts, sometime or at some train station, in the past, beyond the river, toward the Giant Oak.

Whatever off-kilter cosmos Steve Erickson's novels inhabit, they've all started making more time non-linear sense to me when I'm reminded what Erickson said he learned from William Faulkner: that time in a novel keeps time not by clocks  -- "the clocks have all stopped, " remember? (and how could you not remember that preternatural zinger of a line from Rubicon Beach's cult-following predecessor, Days Between Stations?) -- but rather, to each character's intrinsic and individualized metronome of memory.  These days, I'm keeping time to Steve Erickson.  I'm far past the point of Rubicon Beach.  I could be walking on water as I read.

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