Subtle and Outrageous: Nick Mamatas’ Love is the Law

LoveLawSubtle and outrageous? Sure. Why not? If you’re balls-to-the-wall intelligent, no problem. Love is the Law is and it is. I’m glad I bought an ebook so I could look up the big words as I went along. I’m still trying to digest “perseverate” and the concept of “antinomium praxis.”

But a smart novel doesn’t live on big words alone. There’s got to be depth and feeling and maybe even a little bloodshed. There is some bloodshed here, but not much, considering it’s a horror story. It’s much more subtle than a typical slasher type vehicle. There’s stuff about the world and capitalism and Nazis going on here. Connections between disparate things like the falling of the Berlin wall and the falling of the Twin Towers. And yes it’s outrageous, too. How could it not be considering the main character is a disaffected punk?

I had a hard time decidng exactly where the horror lay. The pentagrams and satyrs and sacrifice of the first born were lovely, but what I found even more chilling was the culture of Long Island. Here is where the upwardly mobile landed after they made their escape from the noise and confusion of Manhattan sometime after the entire spit turned into Levittown. The kids here grow up bored and so make their own escape into hardcore punk. When Dad gets downsized he escapes to crack cocaine and human sacrifice. Everybody is escaping to something but what happens when you’re at the very end of the continental shelf? There is nowhere else to run. Long Islanders are forced to stay in their own self-created hell. They will remain.

Love is the Law is firstly a murder mystery. The corpse shows up in the first chapter, but it’s not much more than an accoutrement. We don’t get a lot of details or clues. Most of the text in the first couple of chapters is taken up with describing the story’s two main characters, one of which is the dead man. The infodump is an egregious consumer of page space so brilliantly done I couldn’t put the book down until I finished the whole thing.

It’s not that it was fast-paced, action-packed, or laugh-out-loud funny. It was captivating in other ways. Not because the characters were likable either. The one, Bernstein, is a lunatic communist: a lone crank, cranking out manifestos and shouting at commuters on the platform at rush hour on Thursdays. He’s brilliant, rich, and out of his mind. He’s also dead. The main character, Dawn, is an orange-haired punk so antisocial she admits she’s only living with her grandmother for the social security check. Despite the fact that these are the people you cross the street to avoid, you can’t help following along on their sick journey. You don’t like these people but are fascinated nonetheless.

That’s the surface story. The real story is the story of Long Island as model of America and how it suffers from its proximity to Manhattan. Everyone on LI knows where the repository of American highbrow culture is, but no one ever goes there. They exited New York City years ago when they first got a taste for upper middle classhood. They’d love to go back for a visit but they never do. Wir bleiben hier (we remain here) is one of the themes of the book.

It’s not just Long Island with the problem, it’s elsewhere. New Jersey comes to mind. People in New Jersey suffer from that same identity crisis. If you could plop these characters somewhere near the Jersey shore, they’d wind up in a Kevin Smith movie. It’s the culture of those living in a nightmare of their own creation; the type of dream that you don’t know is a dream and so you don’t know all you have to do is wake up to escape. These people will not wake up. It’s true across the nation. We’re all seeking the occult to solve our problems.

Like all genre work, there are lapses of logic. It wouldn’t be genre if it was all believable. If it was believable it would be mainstream. Right?

I can buy the magick. I can even buy the fact that Dawn can track down Bernstein’s killer using the weakest of connections; that always happens in murder mystery stories. But when Dawn connects one unbelievable dot by deciding to go to a hardcore show thinking she’ll run into the killers because Nazis hate Jews, I take a dim view. Sure, the skinheads are into hardcore, but not all hardcore is Nazi hardcore. Okay the name of the band is Abyssal Eyeballs which Dawn realizes is a reference to Nietsche. So that’s okay. But I’ve never met any hardcore punks that were capable of anything, let alone murder. There’s too much planning involved.

And only one band at a hardcore concert? I can’ swallow that. I’ve never seen a punk show that didn’t have at least five bands on the ticket. How else can you get an audience? Five bands each with three people in the lineup gives us 30 parents. Now you’ve got an audience. You see the lapse of logic?

Joking aside this is sparkling prose with big ideas. Like this:

“The few friends I had in high school—punks like me, and the one kid who loved Lovecraft and didn’t try to hit on me—were all off to their little petit-bourgeois college experiences in Massachusetts or California. That’s how the system parcels out culture and cultural capital, to reproduce the class system.” [poster’s note: Heavy.]

“The best thing to do with an agitated moron is to fan the flames, so they do something exceptionally stupid.” [poster’s note: I’ve been guilty of doing this myself which is why I love the statement.]

“He just laughed and told me that most Marxists who take it seriously—‘and who aren’t in a political cult’—end up rich sooner or later. ‘We understand capitalism so much better than anyone else, after all.’ “ [poster’s note: Now that I think of it…yeah!]

“Even Nazism, that great below of rage and resentment from the disaffected…” [poster’s note: poetic]

“When a tower collapses, all of it falls to the earth, eventually. Flying, screaming people, the great clouds of dust that shoot into the air and cover the sun, the flames that rise high and burn out—we’re all ultimately headed straight down.” [poster’s note: a beautiful depiction of our national tragedy]

“Capitalism requires the power of the occult to win.” [poster’s note: This may very well be the main theme in the book. Nicely done.]

And the winner for its sheer beauty:

“Manhattan wasn’t a Big Rock Candy Mountain with nothing to do all day but hang out in Washington Square Park and wait for Joey Ramone to show up with a free pizza. It was Wall Street. It was Central Park West. The Twin Towers. The very center of world capitalism. With the implosion of East Germany, it was only a matter of time. The little nooks and crannies in which people like me dwelled, in shitty roach-strewn tenements with bathtubs in the kitchen, were about to be gentrified or torn down completely and utterly replaced by condos for the children of the bourgeoisie. There was no place for me in the city.”

Speaking as one of those people that got lost downtown waiting for Joey, I can only say, “Right on with the description, Mr. Author.”

There’s much more. Every chapter has a shining bit that, depending on your world view, either rings true or pisses you off. You’ll either laugh or throw your Kindle at the wall. Either way, you will be entertained by this novel.

The plot? Yeah, sure, there’s a plot. It’s the story of America: subtle and outrageous.

Sue Lange




Subtle and Outrageous: Nick Mamatas’ Love is the Law — 4 Comments

  1. Thanks for the review! I will note that in the book, both “antinomian” and “bellow” are spelled correctly. At least they are in the MS I filed with the publisher!

  2. Nietzsche aside (pretty much a cliche for punk) I have to register an objection to the implication that punkers are all morons. Like any other group, they vary. But I had to laugh at the bit about getting enough of an audience for hardcore punk concerts. True; I was reflecting on that very thing while at a concert a couple months ago, remembering how there was barely standing room back in 1979–in spite of the violence of the mosh pit, with all the spitting. Punk is no longer young and new, but it is still radical, angry, and sometimes brilliant. (And sometimes stupid.)