REVIEWED BY A.E. WEISGERBER
I’m From Electric Peak by Bud Smith | Artistically Declined Press, 2016 | ISBN: 9781530534029
If you want/need/require adventure, I’m From Electric Peak is your next read. Bud Smith’s latest novella features a pair of homicidal, star-crossed seventeen-year-olds who kill their way cross country. From a first spectacular murder over a spaghetti dinner in a breakfast nook (reminded me of Michael Corleone’s famous Sollozzo/McClusky murder in the first Godfather, plus an exploded aquarium!), to the top-of-a-Vons sniper takeout of an avenging motorcyclist, to the final, almost anticlimactically banal snuffing of a taxi driver in California, and plenty of robberies, car jackings, and dead celebrity interludes… it’s a kaleidoscope of tabloid Americana, and a filmed promotion for the book conveys its cinematic scope.
Smith notices things that on the surface seem improbable yet are true. Reminds me of how, in a biography I read of artist Amedeo Modigliani, how early critics of his portraits claimed the paintings were unreal and freakish, but then had to admit over time that once one saw those long and slender-necked subjects, one couldn’t help but notice that Paris was filled with long and slender-necked women! So too does Smith have the prescience of a skilled literary caricaturist, reducing characters to their essential traits, drives, and desires. I love that Smith telegraphs this in the opening lines of the story with a wink to the reader.
“I was overly dramatic, that was my problem. I would have to shoot both of her parents at point-blank range.
“It was colder at the top of the water tower than I’d have guessed from the ground. The wind was different up there. I liked it, though. I’ve always felt better suited for the sky. That’s where I live now.”
Which leads me to my next observation: a lovely motif running through IFEP is the protagonist’s desire to be up in the air. Kody Rawlee Green admits that he was born with many disadvantages, the primary one being that he was “born below sea level.” This in addition to being a neglected foster child (replaced often by other foster children, or dogs) and survivor of both a traumatic brain injury and stint at juvie hall. The story begins with him spying on his beloved’s suburban home from a high perch as he premeditates murder. Later, he suggests to his girlfriend, Tella Carticelli, a.k.a. Teal Cartwheels, that they should “fly up over the clouds and just disappear.” At one point Teal says if she could she would make Kody a hot air balloon and “put your face on it, release you up into the sky.” They even have an interlude where they live in a tree house, “a hundred feet off the ground” before literal tree-huggers encroach.
True story: I read I’m From Electric Peak and was left thinking it’s one action-packed hurricane funnel of 16-cylinder fiction! (I often get this same feeling after reading an A.M. Homes or a Kurt Vonnegut novel: actions so large, so final; decisions all dramatic, all definitive; characters wrung out and strung out in ways that distill their essence.) It’s glorious to read writers so free, uninhibited, and willing to run an edge without falling. But there’s also truth to it. As a matter of fact, the day after I read IFEP, my daily newspaper ran this headline: “FEUD BLAMED FOR SLAYINGS. Victim’s brother: Restraining order lifted before triple homicide.” I couldn’t help but note life’s imitation of Bud Smith’s art.
My favorite scene in IFEP happens in the chapter called “Truck Stop.” A forlorn kid with a fan crush on the runaways, Tella and Kody, spots them at a Fuel Castle somewhere between the Loretta Lynn Gift Shop (“really just a gift shop with an eatery”) and Wichita. He manages to have a few private words with Kody out at the pumps.
“I know who you are. Seen you on the cover of a couple crap magazines in there. Seen you on channel 3 news last night too.”
“I know who she is too,” he said. “Tella. She’s much prettier in person than in the tabloids. I didn’t think that’s ever happened, and once I think I saw Molly Ringwald.”
“They don’t wanna make you look too good when you kill your own mom and dad.”
“Don’t shoot me or anything.”
“Or anything? What does anything mean? Like what? Light you on fire?”
“Yeah. Don’t do that.” He leaned forward, “What would it take for you to sign an autograph?”
“An autograph Jesus… you serious?”
The stranger inquires if he might hop in on the adventure. Kody responds, even though “the back seat was big enough to fit a pony” that he and Teal are “all fulled up.’”
Smith has a lot of fun with the language, often highlighting misspellings (a town proclaiming itself in billboard letters “HOME OF THE SCREMING EAGLES,” Kody referring to the last stand of “General Custard” or a tombstone with the name Jason carved as Bason) that even Kody finds ironic.
I recommend I’m From Electric Peak. It’s a fresh take on teenaged star-crossed lovers, a road trip, and an energizing read all packed up in 130 pages. It brings to mind the writing of Homes, Vonnegut, and Palahniuk, not to mention films by Coppola and Malick (I’m thinking of his stunning 1973 film starring young Sissy Spacek and Martin Sheen, Badlands.) Kody’s electrifying journey says something about the state of the American dream, how the call to go West and seek one’s fortune remains a literary and spiritual siren song.
Anne E. Weisgerber has recent stories published or forthcoming in New South, The Airgonaut, Tahoma Literary Review, Vignette Review, and Jellyfish Review. She is a freelance fiction editor, and has been nominated for Best Small Fictions 2016. When not teaching, she’s working on a novel that spans five generations, or hanging out with the #fishtankwriters. Follow her @AEWeisgerber, or visit anneweisgerber.com.
Read More by This Author:
- Rattle of Want by Gay Degani
- Jean, 1948 in Issue 2.1
- Mexicali Blues by Joseph Grant
- RIFT: Stories by Kathy Fish and Robert Vaughan