The last time I read something of Cody Goodfellow’s, it was the novel Unamerica, a book which would accurately be described as “sprawling.” From extensive riffing on national borders to psychedelic passages, Unamerica covered a lot of ground; it was both keenly political and mind-bendingly psychedelic. What do you do for an encore, once that’s out in the world? Zig where one might expect a zag, apparently. Goodfellow’s latest book, Gridlocked, brings together two novellas about punk rock, traffic jams, cults, and werewolves. As befits the punk band featured in the book’s second novella, “Breaking The Chain Letter,” these are short, fast, and meant to be played loud.
We’ll get there in a second. First things first: the title story, which kicks things off. It’s the story of Aaron, a man caught in a bizarre traffic jam on a Tuesday night in California. “In the last fifteen minutes,” Goodfellow writes, “they had moved less than the length of Aaron’s Mazda pickup.” Goodfellow neatly encapsulates the surrealism of being stuck in traffic, of realizing that you could walk faster than the driving machine you’re currently at rest in. And if that’s where Goodfellow was going with this – a surreal take on a traffic jam turned uncanny – there’s plenty of precedent for that. But he has other things in mind.
The “they” in the passage quoted above turns out to be significant. Aaron, you see, has picked up a hitchhiker, Charles. Charles is trying to get to a pharmacy to pick up a prescription. So far, so innocuous. But Charles has something fidgety about him, and a sense of paranoia as well: “They’re looking for me,” he tells Aaron. Things escalate from there – because while being stuck in a traffic jam is unnerving, being stuck in a traffic jam while being pursued by sinister bikers is something far more unsettling. Goodfellow keeps Aaron a focused, believable character throughout; in doing so, he’s able to make each of the story’s steps up the ladder of unnerving feel plausible.
“Breaking The Chain Letter” hails from the more satirical side of Goodfellow’s aesthetic. Here, he tells the story of The Chain Letter, a punk band in the midst of an unending tour, unaware of their growing popularity. The whole thing is pitched at a frenetic level – at one point The Chain Letter plays the same song twenty times in a row – and it seems far from coincidental that one character is named Steranko. For the uninitiated: Jim Steranko helped expand the visual grammar of comic books in the late 1960s, using a style that was simultaneously rooted in realism and boldly experimental in the right spots.
That description could also apply to Goodfellow’s approach to fiction; these two stories offer a good dose of his range as a writer. Did I mention that this book has a Lemmy epigraph? That seems neatly fitting.
by Cody Goodfellow
King Shot Press; 132 p.