Review: Kicking over the television.

Queers can be dangerous, but the definition of that “danger” is fluid. I’ve recently finished reading The Complete Lockpick Pornography, the updated version of Joey Comeau’s first novella that includes a second, thematic sequel. Comeau is one-half of the duo that produces the webcomic A Softer World, and it was interesting to see how he tackles prose. Both novellas are striking narratives with first person narration, queer characters struggling against their heteronormative world in two different ways.

In the title story, our unnamed narrator is driven by an angry, adolescent desire to destroy the heterosexual world–he has a habit of kicking over TVs and then breaking into other people’s houses to see their TVs to replace the broken ones. He gathers a gang of angry queers to smash the system, although their ideas about how to do that differ a great deal from his–violence or ideology? Breaking in and blowing things up, or leaving books?

It took me a while to get into the story in part because of how aggressively wrong the narrator felt to me–he talks a great deal about gender as a social construct but refuses to see how rigid is own thinking about gender is when faced with the realities of pansexuality and trans* identities. He is casually misogynistic and his first thought is always violent. But at no point does Comeau stop criticizing him through the other characters, and once the narrator has built his little genderqueer battalion, their voices push us out of his head and we can see him as confused guy searching for something, knowing that he’s wrong and struggling to work something out.

The Lockpick Pornography is fun and energetic and offhandedly erotic, reminding us that the violent impulse comes from somewhere but doesn’t necessarily have to be the end result. The bandits perform their small acts of anarchy, they don their cartoon Halloween masks. the narrator struggles to keep his worst impulses in check–fails sometimes, sometimes corrects himself. He seeks solace in prank calls to an “upstanding” family as if seeking parents who can tell him what to do with himself and all his angry.

If I was to criticize any part of this novella it would simply be his motivation, his path–they’re hazy and insubstantial. He’s a man without a name and without a backstory, he exists in the moment but seems to stubborn to be that kind of character.

The second story, We All Got It Coming, is less overtly fun–it’s isn’t a high jinx story and in some ways it expresses a a lot of the darkness of the first story. You can kind of run them together a little, the main character Arthur could be the narrator from Pornography, although I don’t mean suggest any literal connections. Arthur suffers a hate-crime at work and doesn’t fight back. He gives up, rolls over, and leaves the situation. He tries to move on, find new work, tries to keep things good with his boyfriend despite suddenly not being able to quite stomach the mild kink of their sex life. The hate-crime is lodged in his chest. He passes it on, and then has to live with it.

I feel like We All Got It Coming is the stronger piece. There’s a clearer throughline, Arthur feels like a fully fleshed-out character rather than an angry archetypal representation, but I really enjoy the way the two stories play off each other, that you can draw connections between them if you feel like it. Both focus on characters unable to deal with their anger, sick with it, the way it alters their reactions.

The Complete Lockpick Pornography is an oddly quiet book, for all the wit and violence and playful sex–it unnerves through character, it unnerves by refusing to pin anything down–even the unnamed narrator’s stand-by, Gender is a Social Construct, is both true and false, none of the characters quite agreeing with each other about it, the statement becoming little more than an empty words that don’t reflect the complexity of their situations.

(The Lockpick Pornography was originally serialized online and then published by Loose Teeth Press in 2005. The Complete Lockpick Pornography was published by ECW Press in 2012.)

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