David Levinson – Most of us are here against our will

Texas is the backdrop for this remarkable collection of short stories, which portray characters including drug addicts, out of work actors and a porn movie director, all trapped in barren existences and haunted by memories of their past. The tales, operating on the margins of a degenerate society, are dark and unmitigating, and just brimming with suburban savagery.
Lara Turner Slept Here tells of a woman’s fruitless search for a brother who disappeared from an amusement park in LA when they were teenagers, only to reinvent himself as a notorious drag queen, Cunt A Kinte; The Cheerleader’s Kiss showcases a failing screenwriter, Jed, who scrapes a living by plagiarism. When his wife Mia leaves him, he is forced to address his latent feelings for his gay best friend, Carter.
Levinson’s delivers his stories with punch and intensity, and this swift style goes a fair way to explaining their immediate popularity. Sure, it feels like the kind of writing that ought to command praise and evoke interest, yet time and time again Levinson misses the mark and leaves us searching desperately for non-existent depths of profundity. Levinson’s intention is to trigger misunderstanding and a sense that his tales defy comprehension by any “outsider”.
To alienate the reader in such a way is ill-advised at the best of times but any slim chance of success is undermined by poor prose; at times, Levinson’s syntax itself, let alone his stories, demand of the reader a vivid imagination. We encounter such pretensions as “crepuscular dark” and sentences like “Damon thought suddenly of Suzanne and how he’d expressed to her his concerns about growing into his father” are all too prevalent and should never have been allowed into print.
The title story, in which friends seek help from a group called “How to write your way out of hysteria” is easily the best of a shoddy bunch, carrying with it more than a suggestion of the author’s own solace amongst words, but doesn’t quite redeem the general lack of clarity and resonance.
Levinson’s first work ultimately falls by its own hand, as its surfeit of detail and melodrama undermine a manful attempt to address hidden aspects of society.ARCHIVE: 5th week TT 2004