Author Profile-Steve Erickson  

Steve Erickson

Post by Chris G. 

For me, 2017 will go down as the year I discovered Steve Erickson.

 I have this habit where when I come across an author I really like, I'll read a ton (if not all) of their work in a very short span of time. Last year it was Jesse Ball. The year before that it was Murakami. Before that it was Lorrie Moore, and George Saunders, and Zadie Smith, and David Foster Wallace. In college it was Vonnegut, and in high school it was Salinger. This year it was Erickson.

ZerovilleSeveral of the Erickson novels that I've read can rightfully be labeled as masterpieces. My favorite among these is “Zeroville”. “Zeroville” is a book written for cinephiles and puts Erickson's encyclopedic knowledge of the film industry on full display. It is filled with references that reward students of cinematic history and serves as a discovery tool for aspirational movie buffs. It is hilarious and heartbreaking and mind-blowing. If you're going to read one Steve Erickson book in your lifetime, you should absolutely make it this one.

But I want to talk about a different book, Erickson's latest, released on Valentine's Day of 2017, called “Shadowbahn”. “Shadowbahn” is the sixth Erickson book I read this year. That's how good “Zeroville” is.

“Shadowbahn” is actually a sequel to 2012's “These Dreams of You”. I realize that, before even really getting into the meat of this, that I've given you quite a bit of homework, but as a general rule you don't read the sequel first, and “These Dreams of You” isShadowbahn another of Erickson's so-called masterpieces. Describing the plot of an Erickson novel is a futile task. They are all experimental works of postmodern fiction, where you have to experience them for yourself to even begin to get a feel for what's going on in them. But I'll give it a shot.

“These Dreams of You” tells the story of the Nordhoc family – writer and pirate radio DJ Zan, his wife and photographer Viv, and their 13 year-old son Parker and their 4 year-old daughter Zema, who they adopted from Ethiopia when she was 2. It follows the Nordhocs from Los Angeles to London to Berlin to Addis Ababa and back, throughout which a woman named Molly mysteriously appears and entwines herself in their lives. There are elements of realism, like the election of America's first black president at the onset of a recession or Molly's involvement with vaguely described politicians and musicians in the late 60s, but they are interwoven with postmodern concepts, like Zan's novel-within-a-novel or that Zema seems to have her own radio frequency.

Steve Erickson Something has happened to the Nordhoc family between “These Dreams of You” and “Shadowbahn”. In “Shadowbahn”, Parker and Zema, now 23 and 15, are driving across the country from Los Angeles to Michigan to visit Viv. They're listening to playlists made by their late father Zan. Erickson offers no explanation as to why Viv relocated or how Zan died. They are just facts of life.

In the midst of their trip, Parker and Zema hear that the twin towers have reappeared in the Badlands of South Dakota, so naturally they make a detour to go check it out. When they get there, music seems to cease to exist from everywhere except their car. Zan's playlists become the sole soundtrack to the world. It begins to make sense (sort of) when you realize that Parker and Zema are listening to the twin playlists Zan made the day after 9/11. Also, the songs aren't coming from the car's stereo but from Zema's radio frequency, or as Erickson puts it, "the receiver of her body and the stereo of her eyes."

“Shadowbahn” is a sister piece to “Zeroville” in that it also showcases Erickson's wealth of cultural knowledge, this time zeroing in (so to speak) on music. While “Zeroville” progresses something like a movie mixtape, “Shadowbahn” embeds a book soundtrack. Throughout the novel, one of Zan's playlists, called Day 0 Millenniux (9/12/01): Almanac in Song, or an Autobiographical Soundtrack, is cryptically described.

With these two books, Erickson has done something different. He's used words to suggest multimedia experiences, and left it to the reader to see that they are realized.

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Citation:

Erickson, S. (2017). Shadowbahn. New York: Blue Rider Press.

Posted by behrhart@auroragov.org On 31 January, 2018 at 1:13 PM  

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