A while ago, I started the project of reading the entire oeuvre of author Steve Erickson. I finally finished RUBICON BEACH this week. Not as flawless as THE SEA CAME IN AT MIDNIGHT — there is a sequence in the back half set in LA that personally did not capture me, and it seemed to me to go on forever until boom Erickson drops the hammer. But your mileage may vary, and, frankly, the glorious strangeness of the rest of the book more than makes up for that period of drag. Where THE SEA CAME IN AT MIDNIGHT was a magnificent piece of networked and perfectly dovetailed structure, RUBICON BEACH is a flowing tangle of dream logic. Imagine it as three long dreams experienced on consecutive nights, the remains of each surfacing in the next as your mind tries to make sense of the story it’s telling itself as you sleep.
When he laughed it was the sound of destruction’s motor.
The book breaks into three sections:
In a near-future America, an ex-political prisoner goes through a somewhat Kafkaesque period of community surface in a drowned Los Angeles that sings to itself at night. There is a murder mystery that emerges like a recurring dream.
Some time previously, a strange woman is kidnapped from her riverine jungle South American home and finds herself in LA, roughly contemporary to the time of the authorship, 1986. Things are dreamlike in her presence.
In the mid-20th Century, an American mathematician who’s run away from maths after a terrible discovery that no-one else can comprehend finds himself far from home, dreaming his life away. But the thing he really ran away from was the land that sings to itself.
The sun was white in the west; and as he sat watching it, he saw a geyser erupt from its middle, first a small spittle of black, then a trickle in slow runnels up over its face.
All of these things connect together in the third part, but not in a way that makes complete sense. As if we cannot fully comprehend the machinery of the structure because we deny the existence of the hidden number and cannot hear the music.
It remains a hugely ambitious novel, with vast sustained swathes of absolutely beautiful, compelling writing.
RUBICON BEACH, Steve Erickson (UK) (US)
Next up is TOURS OF THE BLACK CLOCK, as I fill in the gaps in my Erickson reading. RUBICON BEACH gave me, in places, a similar feeling to that I had while reading MOBY DICK, that this book explained much about movements in American fiction.