There is a moment in her new book The Pahrump Report, when Lisa Carver responds to a question about her occupation by answering: “I am a writer.” Yet in that moment, the word “writer” struck me as a lacking descriptor for all that Carver does in creating a written work of art.
The book chronicles a dizzying three-year period of Carver’s life, as she moves across the country with her husband, builds a home, gets divorced, rents an apartment, falls in love, gets betrayed, tries doing stand-up comedy, visits a brothel and has several other Pahrumpian adventures. It’s a piece that most exemplifies Carver’s skill for not just making a living from writing, but more importantly, making her writing from living.
Carver is indeed a writer, but also a post-punk legend, Rollerderby zine queen, Suckdog Circus freak performance artist and cultural critic. Her history informs and expands her definition of “writer”. It’s hard to imagine Carver sitting down at a laptop to write; I imagine her more of an old school handheld mic plugged into a cassette field recorder type. She is a writer the way Alphonso Lingis is a philosopher, who rejects formal style and takes a hands-on approach to his subjects, preferring to live them instead of just contemplating them, thus inverting the Socratic pursuit of knowledge to read, “The unlived life is not worth examining.”
But a “lived life” doesn’t always translate to good reading (I throw a chiding glance to the copy of Charles Barkley’s autobiography, Outrageous!, sitting on my bookshelf half-read in perpetuity). This is never the case with Carver’s work, and certainly not in this raw memoir narrated from a burnt-toast desert landscape that she manages to convey as a magical American outpost.
The Pahrump Report is an addictive text, a lubed-up superslide of a book that you can’t put down. This is in part from its voyeurism — as she invites you into her every move, from the exciting (a joyride on a “hip-hop party bus” courtesy of Groupon), to the embarrassing (“A terrible thing happened…I pooped my pants.”) — but also for the way she writes: unpredictable, funny, adventurous. It all makes for a thrilling experience in vicarious reading.
Her writing style is very befitting of someone governed by such joie de vivre. She writes free, fast, to hell with smooth transitions, in the middle of her visit to a Buddhist temple, she might turn abruptly to address the reader: “I want to connect with something inside you, something yearning and wild, and say “yes!” to that something.” There doesn’t seem to be anything that isn’t worthy of Carver’s attention as a writer, even tumbleweeds or spitting, but before the narrative can float away untethered into a rambling ether, she knows just when to hammer a stake in the ground with poignant observation or earnest philosophical reflection.
I discovered that my husband had taken up spitting. Not chewing tobacco. Just spit. Spitting as a hobby, I guess… I thought it was disgusting, but the thing is, he’d been out there in the desert with his nearest neighbor seven miles away. None of us can predict what forbidden desire will rear up in total isolation. I was about to find out.
Yet the most compelling aspect of the book is in its humble realization that no matter how free we feel, we are all subject to gravity. It’s the moments of vulnerability where Carver is at her best. The second half of the book produces some of the book’s best writing, with Carver struggling with a loss of agency, heartbreak, alienation, and other byproducts of volatile love.
Pahrump doesn’t feel true anymore; I can’t go back. I have to be where I am, and for this moment, where I am is agony. It’s okay. I am only the vessel. This agony was out here waiting, lonesome. Waiting to be witnessed, to be taken in, to be transformed, and released.
The Pahrump Report is an epic travelogue of space and emotion, and even as it covers the lowest points of Carver’s heart, it remains inspiring and beautiful. Because no matter what, she is still free, undeniably so. Only the free poop their pants.
The Pahrump Report
by Lisa Carver
Pig Roast Publishing; 244 p.