Harper Collins Publishers (2010)
“I am the dead center of a changing reality for which no langage has been invented”
Henry Miller – Black Spring
The modern city, its loneliness, the misfortune it generates and the gloomy characters wandering in its sad streets. Contraries are juxtaposing… where opulence mixes up with its dizzy opposition. Through the tentacles of its deployment – like dead cells in a rotting body – crawls a haunting melancholy. Ethereal hopes turn into the more infectious degeneration. In the modern city, everyone is kind of insane, perverse and endlessly alone.
Tony O’Neill’s city suffers from an incurable illness. Like the time we live in, like our world, like a dope addict organism. Sin crawls in Los Angeles’s veins, a city haunted by the nightmares of its unconsciousness… Firstly, there is the urban envelop, weaving a web of uneasiness around the people who pace up and down its ramification. Then there are Jeffrey and Randal, Pat or Trina, Spider, Damian or dr Mike… all kind of individuals with opposite trajectories but their fate will clash into each other because of the obscene satisfaction going through their bodies… Anguished and wounded by solitude, Tony O’Neill’s characters echo the society they were born in. They wander together but separately.
This bloody addiction and the fear it generates! It doesn’t matter how addiction reveals itself and how it will be satisfied, but everyone will be confronted to it in this convulsive book. A dark, intense and furious book. Like the urban labyrinth the story takes place, this piece has many ramification and echoes. As he analyses the self-recognition all those characters are dreaming about and how their hopes fade away, Tony O’Neill draws an acid portrait of the occidental agony.
Disillusion and boredom will bind Jeffrey and Randal during a rehab. Jeffrey is a gay drug addict who found himself stuck in Los Angeles and forced to satisfy the psychotic delirium of a retired, corrupted cop so he can buy his dope. Randal is the speedfreak offspring of a rich Hollywood godfather. Together they will chase a common dream that could give them a new start in life. When the corrupted cop died, Jeffrey found a unique and precious gang-bang video that shows among others, Sharon Tate and Steeve McQueen. This celebrity orgy could interest another kind of freaks: old rich Hollywood people bored to death.
As they are stuck in this rehab clinic, getting overfed by Dr Mike’s redemption bullshit. Dr Mike is an iconic figure. He’s the presenter of the show Detoxing America and the author of the recovery’s Big Book. A recipe to go from one idol to another! Dr Mike is the most wicked character of this suffering city… Very often in O’Neill’s writing, irony and humour give a break in the story’s fury… and when he chooses the fiction mode, we feel close to insanity.
Between fiction and reality, between an acerbic critic against society or the paranoiac delirium of destabilized people, we never know which part catches up the other. The only stable marks the reader can have are Los Angeles and its polluted air, this monster of steel and asphalt swallowing everything and everyone. As the urban landscape became denser during the XIX’s century, the modern city engendered all the possibilities of phobia. Metropolis, anti-utopia movement and science-fiction defined the gloomy representations that cities imposed on contemporary human beings… where sadness spreads itself, where we are alone, lost in the unrestrained movement… individual voices getting lost within the global sonic magma… All those people who find themselves marginalised: poor and immigrants, wandering drug addicts, prostitutes and homeless… The ones who are left behind, the ones who die in loneliness…
In the memory of the people he hanged around with during his blurred years of indecision and through the sad eyes of all kind of outcasts, Tony O’Neill brings with SICK CITY a very contemporary reflexion about the urban imprisonment. Strange places or characters we discovered already in his past books like Lupita or Alvarado Street, the central knot of the story, where things will brutally end, the area where nobody goes except beggars, murderers and dope heads.
SICK CITY makes the reader ill! The little quote just above condenses in a way all the paradoxes and the themes explored in this frantic book. Dope and money, sex and violence, frivolous hopes or broken dreams… the psychic degeneration imposed by our period. The better life that Randal and Jeffrey are imagining would be possible with money. Money would be possible with an extreme video they want to sell… Randal knows well Hollywood and its corruption. The way money governs it all and how perversion entertains producers or actors who are looking for new distraction.
We live the dusk of our time… a world where everyone is unsatisfied, addicted, dreary, corrupted or perverse. Like if the thin partition between madness and normality disappeared. It is our world and Tony O’Neill invites us to look at it…
We thought the last reincarnation of Sade occurred in the city of Interzone and since then our good old marquis got locked in again, but in William Burroughs’s inner world. When the Naked Lunch author died, we thought nobody would be brave enough to dive again into the darkest areas of being. But Sade is alive and he must be walking through L.A… like in this book where Bukowski is searching Céline while death is coming around the corner… reading SICK CITY is a little like asking to yourself what human form the Justine’s author would occupy in our world… Maybe he’s Damian, a mad painter who tries to represent the body’s dereliction? It might be DeWald, a weird producer who owns Napoleon’s dick in a bowl? Why not Pat, a real fucking maniac? We’re forced to think Sade is Dr Mike…
Tony O’Neill’s writing mixes very old things and very contemporary ones, like a montage of influences with different stenches. From Jean Genet to Bataille, from Artaud to Sade, we think about the obscure literature’s constellation. The human body, its doubtful particularity and the unpleasant need that it aspires to… The fascination for people who live in the street, for the struggling ones, the ones who steal, the ones who sell dope and who solve their problems without thinking about police or justice. SICK CITY is an indistinct journey between Atrocity Exhibition, The thief’s journal, LA Confidential and Moravagine. But there is something different in O’Neill’s writing, something new maybe… a thin thread making a very old past coagulate with a future we endure already… Tony O’Neill’s vision of Hollywood echoes to John Fante or Bukowski’s representations but as if he was working on the next Garpar Noe’s movie.
In a great article named William Burroughs and the novel, Susan Sontag talks about the fact a lot of writers in the middle of XX’s century tried to use in their work the particular tempo of movies and camera’s movement (Susan Sontag – Against interpretation and other essays). Tony O’Neill’s writing is very cinematographic. The way it alternates between fixed point of views and jerking angles. The way scope and anti-scope (?) is used, when for example he goes from a close-up to a face destroyed by drug to the global movement the body finds itself… Sometimes reading SICK CITY feels like watching a movie like Amores Perros inside a Berlin electronic underground club… it feels like being wasted… it feels like it’s 6 in the morning after throwing up in the toilets…
Maybe we were waiting for a writer like him since a long time without envisioning the possibility. This mix of fury and sensitivity, of social analysis and philosophical reflexions… Tony O’Neill’s characters are deeply human with their anguish and their dreams, with their addiction and their nastiness… like the book from Cendrars Emmène-moi au bout du monde, SICK CITY transports its reader in the hostile thoughts of fucked up individualities… A world where personal aspirations and blurred aspect of being mix with the global fate of a psychotic humanity. A world where cops are corrupted, where cinema and theatre are worst than mafia. A world where the outcasts aren’t the ones society point with its dirty finger.
La Chaux-de-Fonds, 09 et 10 septembre 2011