Picking up Frankenstein’s Paradox is like scoring a particularly superlative Happy Bag in the New Year Tokyo sales: you know the shop is selling stuff you want and enjoy, but the bag is sealed. After taking the chance, purchasing your surprise treat, and tearing open that beautiful bag, peering inside to unpack the contents you find that everything in there gives joy: everything within is just perfect, sparks a cascade of reaction, and not only that, deep in the depths of the bag you find a key that opens that door in the back of your house that was always locked, sending you into a Murakami tinged dream of magical realism. After walking around the wonderland unlocked within, and turning back to the bag, you realize the bag itself is gorgeous, artfully created, and begging to be hung upon a wall as a conversation point and finely beautiful object of desire.
The art of Frankenstein’s Paradox is as attractive as the contents, clearly a labor of love for JD Hollingsworth, shades of Dali, a nod to Magritte’s ‘this is not a pipe’ paradox with the hand that holds a cigar whose ink and pastel smoke is not smoke, yet twists around the cover. You see Frankenstein loves to smoke, but there is no smoke without fire, and Frankenstein is scared of fire. A leaf of green flame from the tree of life springs from the zippo lighter as an offering to Frankenstein, a reassurance that there is no fire here, and instead, the author will rend the sacred smoke, an offering to the Heavens, out of works and woodblock prints, beautiful artwork and the most impressive collection of pop culture in-jokes and riddles that sit alongside advice for the lost and searching, the lovelorn and the devil-chased, this side of Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainance.
Hollingsworth takes the reader for a romp that spans Big Foot (the glorious Ape character, whose subplot exploits had me howling with laughter), aliens, and UFOs while following the life of a brain-damaged Messiah, who has deliberately hobbled himself for the sake of mankind, or “chained himself to the radiator” like a werewolf whose human side does not want to eat people, as Gator, the Messiah-man prefers to put it. Unfortunately, true to form, as all good music freaks know, the Devil Went Down To Georgia too, and the two of them are headed for a showdown, sparked by the love of the Devil’s woman, the Eve figure of Katy Lemonade. Gator is the eponymous Frankenstein, who loves the ‘good smoke’ of helping others, compassion, and cannot be what he is not, yet is terrified of the holy fire within.
Yes, there is no good without evil, not in any world, magical or not, and when good has chained Himself to the radiator for the sake of mankind, and Satan, not being such an honorable caring kinda infinite soul, has not followed suit, and the love of his life, who is married to the devil-Himself, Mr. Vernal Equinox, but hangs out at the vitamin hippy food shop with the Gator-Christ, his Eve, Katy, who because life gave our antihero brain-damaged messiah Lemons, he created Katy Lemonade. This is the world that JD Hollingsworth inhabits. It is Dylan’s world, too, where ya Gotta Serve Somebody, “it may be the devil, or it may be the Lord, but you gotta serve somebody”, even if it is a woman whose husband’s balls have swollen so dramatically, that even the Messiah Himself, armed with his herbal remedies tells her to go take the poor man to see the damn doctor.
Frankenstein’s Paradox is packed with hidden meanings, in-jokes, and riddles, which add to the mythology of Gator, which is necessarily also our pop-culture history of the 20th century. For instance, the house band of the Miss Her bar, the scene of much of the action in Frankenstein’s Paradox, is called The 441 White Line Fevers, the 411 is the number assigned to the major highway through Georgia, those white lines are the white lines of the road, highway fever, a real hip Kerouac reference. Got that white line fever man…I gotta hit the road….I can hear it right now! …. Juxtaposed with the obvious cocaine reference, that coca white line sickness, where if you got no connections then you’re no damn good, as Townes Van Zandt once sang in the song Cocaine Blues. Much coke must travel and down that 441 heading into the noses of house bands and beach bunnies alike across the USA, welding the two references in once glorious counter-culture mind melt.
Hollingsworth is not shy of allegory in this modern apocryphal text of the lost Messiah of the ’70s: allusions to Pilgrim’s Progress abound, with the Spring presided over by our faulty Messiah being dry as a bone, not full of Chaucerian showers forcing life from dead roots. It is not so much TS Elliot’s nod to Chaucer in the Wasteland, more Hollingsworth’s own Wasted Land, where everything is wasted from the Band in the Miss Her Bar, to the guys sitting on porch steps drinking and huffing aerosols, to the potential of the Gator-messiah, to the delightfully rendered Katy Lemonade and her relationship with the Devil Himself, who she unwisely chooses when the Gator-Messiah is waiting there with open arms desperately in love with her, singing Billy Swan’s Let me Help, while Katy decides she has got it all on her own and decides to look around hell a little bit longer – Eve to the end.
With all this mischief the book needs some structure, and the author gives it to us by providing a linear framework of time: Hollingsworth takes his Messiah from his conception in the opening pages, through his coming of age with a baptism/drowning episode which causes anoxic brain damage in an incident of possible self-harm when he was sixteen years old, through to his schooling in the place he was most likely to find religion – jail. Jail, the place where two-bit philosophers, preachers and saints (everyone is innocent in jail) find a captive audience all desperate for redemption or at least a way to persuade the parole board that they are worthy of release back into society. Gator, through a tendency to violent outburst, has ended up in jail, yet jail is the Gator-messiah’s Temple, his place of learning and teaching, where Jerico (who is a man, not a city) exists behind walls, leading a sermon, and where traditionally Christian values of sharing both food and the gospel are found. It is in jail that Gator realizes the limits of his power: he cannot help the brutalized who cry out for help, he can only survive as best he can. The Devil, who can enter this world on the Vernal Equinox (and is named accordingly by Hollingsworth) according to folk law, is already on Gator’s tail with scenes of horror and self-doubt.
After jail Gator ends up in a single-wide in a trailer, living the kind of gruelingly mundane existence of deprivation that much of the rest of humanity endures: a trailer park messiah, looking for the joy in being able to turn off the light when he wants to, which in Gator’s case, is much of the time. Gator has no interest in world domination, he would rather discuss the physics of sausages in the brine with the boys at the Miss Her, and who can blame him!
Gator is not the Messiah the world wants, but the one it needs. He is a messiah who knows the best thing he can do is stay mostly out of matters human, so long as the Devil does too. The denouement when it comes, the showdown between good and evil, is satisfying and answers the questions that need to be answered. You see our dirty Messiah, with all his lack of impulse control and tendency to turn over scrabble boards, if not the tables of the traders in temples, is not completely self-aware. The bugs and flowers talk to Gator. He has conversations with rosebushes. He moves along in time to the beat of the universe and nature, but never quite becomes fully realized in his own personal Godhood. In the failure of the Gator-messiah to realize his own potential after drowning, and being brought back to life, resurrected, Lazarus-like, rolling away his stone from the tomb, baptized half to death in the depths of a childhood game of chicken, only to have to wait years later when dealing with some broken eggs, the answer to the hidden paradox in Hollingsworth’s carefully crafted narrative. Brought back to life brain damaged, oxygen-starved and missing his impulse control, but not the most beautiful part of him – his humanity. I like to believe that Gator, realizing he was the Messiah, chained himself to the radiator, hobbled himself, instead of potentially causing even more harm.
This is the other paradox – the Messiah, being Good, would not want the power and dominion, and so anyone who says they are the Messiah and makes it open and public, is surely crazy not good….or God, and it is this question which the author grapples with like Jacob wrestling with the Angel, except JD Hollingsworth comes out triumphant. Frankenstein’s Paradox is a riotous success!
Hollingsworth has written a cult classic. The author is not afraid to play with language or form. Whilst not as exclusionary as Clockwork Orange’s Nadsat, though as wholly organic, the renderings of accent into phonetics plunge the reader into this southern hard-boiled wonderland, in a fully immersive baptismal experience. This is an insistence that we, the reader, immediately enter into that suspension of disbelief that is necessary when we are dealing with a deep-rooted weed of the mechanics of the ultimate belief system, that we may, or may not ourselves have bought into.
Whilst not hopefully not totally enraging Christians everywhere, or any other believers in the Abrahamic system, JD Hollingsworth, knowing that any hang-ups will hold the reader back from digging the meaning, the enjoyment of the riddles and the limping lap steel players, the expertly woven pop culture references and the open door of philosophical meanderings, has to do something to tell us, the reader, that we are not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy. This is Georgia distilled through the blood of moonshiners, the rocking of porch chairs, the haze of a high, and the adventures of a particularly faulty messiah, who impaired himself for all of us. What did we want? Him to die, or something? This Gator-Christ understood the best thing he could do was the best he could on a small level, and make himself the instrument that dealt with the supernatural if he needed to…even if he did require giving and receiving violent baptism to do so. Redeeming the devil. Pretty big medicine, but JD Hollingsworth pulls this particular magical realistic rabbit out of the hat with aplomb! I can only wonder what he has in store for us in his encore. I cannot wait to read his other novel, The Work.
As a society we need these new heroes of the counter culture, we need this mythology, this broken catechism of the musician and the poet, it is the only roadmap we have towards a future that is bearable.
Frankenstein’s Paradox and The Work, By JD Hollingsworth are available via Casa Forte Press, and Amazon.