Welcome to 2019 and our first book of the month for this year is a portentous masterpiece set in present-day Hollywood and a near-future post-federal America.
A complex and nuanced story-within-a-story, in which a British film director wants to make a film (about a homeless drifter, a ‘black Charlie Chaplin’) set in a near-future un-United States of America; the film that actually gets made (after it’s been through the Hollywood machine), and the story that still needs to be told when it’s all over.
The opening chapters focus on the cogs and gears of the film industry, reflecting wider contemporary American and social media ‘culture’ in general (one of the two ‘Inciting Instances’ with which book begins is a version of the Facebook live feed video of the murder of Philandro Castile).
In Hollywood, 2016, we meet black actor Forest Speaks (reading for the part of Frank) and his agent Morris; producer Tommy X, aka Tommy Adjacent – who has ended up with the Bindlestiff script; ‘The Money’ – a studio exec whose nous effectively dictates script re-writes, and wants to change the title to Land of Hunger (which was the title of Wayne Holloway’s first short story collection); @waynex, British film director and author of the original Bindlestiff script – inspired in part by his nan Winnie’s recollections of seeing Chaplin perform (she can’t remember whether in real-life or on screen) at the Star Music Hall in Bermondsey in 1920; @waynex’s assistant director buddy Sean Tippins, and Jim Hawks, the actor who eventually takes the role of Frank because “black leads are tricky in this type of movie.” “They’ll probably fuck it”, Forest’s agent consoles him when he hears the part went to a white actor.
‘The Money’ has spoken and the film that ends up being produced is very far from @waynex’s original concept and intentions for the picture. The (now) heavily stripped-down script of Land of Hunger appears in the text – thankfully supplemented by prosified flashbacks to Frank’s time in Iran, and chunks of text that fill-out his experiences (in which the character remains black). The Bindlestiff script takes us to 2036 and an America where a financial, political, and cultural meltdown took place in the 2020s. We accompany Frank, a marine vet, as he travels from the relative safety of LA to Detroit to find his estranged sons. On the way we meet Larry ‘call me Trainwreck’, a fellow hobo who takes Frank under his wing; the terrifying Freight Train Riders of America (like Hells Angels on rail); the shadowy hobo-killer; Lucy Looks Twice and Sally Ann (aka Lap Dances With Wolves), the part-Lakota strippers; Kenny, Sinclair, and Madero: Frank’s old crew from his tour of duty.
The Land of Hunger movie goes on to win awards and acclaim, but @waynex can barely watch it. However, not all is lost… the last 80 or so pages of ‘Deleted Scenes’ open the story back out and give us a glimmer of hope for the real story behind the blockbuster. This is a real masterstroke that ties the strands of the novel together.
The layers of narrative and intricate use of prose and screenplay make Bindlestiff an extraordinary commentary on society, race, identity, and storytelling. The Storgy’s Ross Jefferies succinctly sums its impact up, saying:
“Holloway is a genius… if this book was written by say George Saunders (who we all know is experimental) it would be lauded as being a masterpiece, a work that would change and challenge the creation of literature for years to come – winning awards left, right and centre for his sheer brilliance and structural panache.”
Elsewhere, The Morning Star have described it as “mould-breaking,” praising Holloway’s creative treatment of themes and genres. Bindlestiff is sure to go on pulling in recognition for its significant achievements. Read it now, before everyone else does!
“A devastating vision of what America is becoming, wrapped up in a compelling and compassionate fable of what it is today.”
– Krishnan Guru-Murthy
“Hip, funny and aware, a sharp satire and phantasmagorical romp of almost obscenely impeccable reference.”
– Chris Petit, author of Robinson
“Bindlestiff is outright gold. Funny, savage, alive.”
– M John Harrison, author of You Should Come With Me Now
Bindlestiff by Wayne Holloway is published by Influx Press on 17 January (9781910312292, p/b, £9.99)