If ever a novel needed its own niche, Kamikaze L'amour by Richard Kadrey might've been it. Dipping here, there, everywhere, from many subgenres inside and out of science fiction—dystopia, post-apocalypse, urban fantasy, cyberpunk, timeslipstream, satire, literary fiction, magical realism, it eluded a single label—a good thing—but also eluded sales—not so good; it's unclassifiable nature reminiscent to me of Steve Erickson's inimitable oeuvre, particularly his second novel Rubicon Beach, in which an encroaching jungle, a parallel reality Los Angeles, and a mysterious woman named Catharine, all figure prominently. Could've been coincidental, there being so many striking similarities between the two novels, though I suspect Kadrey was probably paying Steve Erickson some much deserved homage.
|first edition, 1995|
Ex-rock star Ryder and his hearty appetite for destruction (yeah, he knows Slash), having faked his own suicide in order to escape what he's deemed an empty existence of excess and ennui (because "Fame is just schizophrenia with money," he's reasoned in Kamikaze L'amour's fantastic opening line), takes the dangerous trek south for Los Angeles in search of an idiosyncratic personal "light" from his memory whose luminescence, if he can only recapture it—and the strange thing is the peculiar light emanates from sound—believes will somehow restore him. Maybe save him. Provide him renewed purpose. Become his guide. Or might the epic anti-heroic quest for the light leave him in darkness instead, disillusioned, damned, another abandoned husk of a human being sifting the ashes throughout the charred vestiges of L.A.?
Ryder's girlfriend, also a talented and nutty musician (and likely insane), has fled south through the jungle before him. Ryder's convinced, since she's spent so many secret hours on the fringes of the new rainforest, recording the jungle's animate sounds, that she knows the right combo of ambient tones and notes to unlock that resurrecting light within and without. But will he find her before the jungle devours her whole? Ryder pursues her with reckless abandon, as obsessive in his search for the light and the sound (vis-à-vis Catharine) as perhaps Proust was his past. Despite the untold dangers, and some scary setbacks along the way, involving mercenaries, wild beasts, and indigenous tribes of the new Amazon, Ryder arrives in L.A., having barely survived his harrowing journey.
In Kamikaze L'amour's acknowledgements, Kadrey thanked those who helped him write "The Book That Would Not Die". I think it's unfortunate that Kadrey's underrated second novel did in fact "die," commercially speaking, shortly after publication. Victim of false expectations, suffering from unfair comparisons to his, granted, dazzling debut Metrophage, considered now a cyberpunk classic—Kamikaze L'amour is nevertheless a good, often great, novel in its own right (so what if it's not a classic phenom like its predecessor, neither was In Utero after Nevermind, or Tusk after Rumours, but they were still very good) has been out of print now for almost twenty years. Perhaps Harper Voyager will one day reissue it as they did Metrophage in 2014 to acclaim and steady sales. Regardless, I hope many curious intrepid readers will soon reconsider reading the more experimental Kamikaze L'amour—a paean, ultimately, to humanity's obsessive search for light or illumination throughout the ages, and what an elaborate suicide might've symbolized in such a quest—for when they do I'm convinced they'll discover, as I did, that Richard Kadrey's second novel has long deserved a second chance.