Friday, May 8, 2009

Readings 2K9: Crooked Little Vein

Crooked Little Vein
by Warren Ellis

This is not, in an absolute sense, a good book. The characters are stock and underdeveloped. The plot is episodic. The lead character wraps up his problems with help from minor characters who are introduced out of nowhere, by chance and not by any natural evolution of the plot. That wrapping-up still doesn’t make sense in the context of the plot up to that point (we have to assume that a character consistently depicted as being above the law is going to be taken down by the LAPD). Basically, the structure of the novel is rudimentary, an excuse for a series of sardonic riffs on the theme of the perversity of the modern world.

They’re good riffs, though. Whether that’s enough depends on what you want out of the book. This is essentially an exercise in style, and certainly as style it’s flashy and funny. It’s the kind of short, fast read you can take between longer and heavier novels, and feel refreshed. If that’s what you want, here it is. Hey, I enjoyed it.

The story is simple: a down-at-heels private eye gets hired by the shadow government of the United States to find the secret Constitution, which has the magic power of resetting society’s clock back to the eighteenth century. According to the secret government, the perverts on the internet are getting out of hand, and the reset button must therefore be pushed. The private eye sets off on an odyssey across the United States, and soon meets up with a sexually voracious sidekick who promises to be his guide through modern degeneracy. Not that she really does much guiding; it’s a linear story, through a series of, basically, odd sexual activities and fetishes. The book is short enough that it doesn’t quite get repetitive, but there’s nothing particularly insightful about the presentation of the sex, nothing clever done with the fetishes; they’re just there, a novelistic equivalent of a freak show.

There’s not much of a theme in the book. The main characters quickly decide that the present day, in all its freakishness, is better than the way things were, and decide to double-cross their employers. This would be more convincing if the characters — or the novel — displayed a greater understanding of the way things were, or more thoughtfully contrasted then and now. Come to that, the understanding of the present day seems oddly rudimentary; the conclusion of the book suggests that The Internet Will Save Us All, which comes off as about as facile as it sounds.

All in all, there’s a sense that the book is a cleverly-disguised lecture, or, more precisely, a disguised editorial. It’s entertaining, but light on drama and depth. It’s quick and funny, and if that’s what you want, that’s what you’ll get.


Keith Logan said...


I think you nailed this perfectly. Ellis seemed to be editorializing the whole time, which was a drag. I liked the sick humour but the novel didn't quite work, as you mention. I'm not sure that The Internet Will Save Us All was the conclusion as much as Everything Is Mainstream Because It Can Be Found On The Internet. Maybe that's the same thing!

Matthew David Surridge said...

Thanks, Keith!

Yeah, Ellis seemed to want to Say Something about the internet, but what that was didn't quite cohere. I got the Internet Will Save Us All thing from the fact that [SPOILERS] salvation from the secret Constitution comes about because it's put on the internet, and is no longer secret, making it lose its power. It seemed very poorly-set-up, and the introduction of the internet guru by sheer chance only a couple of chapters before seemed particularly clunky, too. That said, putting the Constitution online certainly makes it 'mainstream', so, yeah, at some level it's all the same thing.