Destroy All Monsters: The Last Rock Novel
(FSG Originals, 2018)
Jeff Jackson’s newest novel Destroy All Monsters: The Last Rock Novel, out on FSG Originals, is unlike any other book published this year. It’s wry and dark, timeless but also entirely of our time, though void of any direct references to our Internet 2.0 media-saturated age.
This is one aspect of what’s so unique about Jackson’s book: how it is so clearly about our contemporary moment, while refusing to mention it. In the novel, there is an epidemic of violence sweeping the nation (yes, I realize even in the phrasing of this sentiment, it sounds like a dance craze, think Bryan Ferry saying “Do the Epidemic!”). Audience members are murdering bands while they perform on stage. It’s happening everywhere, though mostly at smaller, underground venues, and so clearly the work of various people. While it’s not specified, it seems clear that it is not done by a network of people, but random acts connected only in the deed itself. One of the only explanations for these actions is provided by a shooter who says they acted in self-defense, that the music he heard at home in his head was different from the music he heard on stage. This sentiment is soaked in our contemporary age where we can stream any particular song we want, whenever we want, to perfectly fit our occasion—the listener controls the music. This stands in stark contrast to the live performance, where the band is in firm control of the song, can play it faster than the recording, can change up the lyrics—where the music and the band are in more control of the listener.
To reduce the book to some semblance of a plot (and to do so, it would be a reduction, for there is so much going on in the text, so many swirling layers) the book follows Xenie, a scene kid whose boyfriend dies in the epidemic at a local show, and the various other members of her dead boyfriends band in the wake of the death. It follows the scene and how the town has (or has not) moved on. But as I stated, to reduce the book to this one narrative thread would be not only a disaster but a disservice, for there are many and they are various, and the manner in which Jackson threads them together is truly dizzying. The book’s first chapter does not begin until page seventy—it is full of false starts, changes in perspective and even type-face. But the disorientation is the point: this is not a traditional novel, it’s shaking the reader out of their traditional expectations of how a novel is to commence. The language is so charged, so propulsive, it’s somehow both deeply complex and demanding of its reader, but also incredibly enjoyable. It is not just rewarding for working through the prose, it is a pleasure to wade in.
The form itself is wholly unique—divided like an old vinyl, the book has a Side A and a Side B, and can be read either way—simply flip the book over, as you would a record. This narrative experiment not only works, but truly enriches the reading experience, as Side B does not continue the same narrative from Side A, but rather presents a new one, building on the same mythology and world-building started on Side A. In many ways, it’s an incredible feat to pull off.
But the book itself truly does not rely on its various narrative gymnastics, as the book itself is a marvel to read. The prose is almost mythic, but its deft portrayal of scene culture is incredibly spot-on—neither cynical nor grandiose. This lived-in quality to the details of the life of these kids is so important to ground the prose, and adds a believability to the world that Jackson has created.
In the ’70s and ’80s the Detroit-based independent punk band Destroy All Monsters made a new kind of music; they contributed to the genre through their deconstructionist and pastiche or collage-like approach to songwriting and music (they even dubbed themselves an “anti-rock” band). Jackson’s novel that shares their namesake in many ways takes the same approach to writing and presenting a narrative. But make no mistake, it is a novel, and as it boasts on the cover, it very well may be the last Rock and Roll novel.
MCD x FSG Presents: Destroy All Monsters, by Jeff Jackson
November 13, 2018
46 3rd Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11217
7-9:30 pm, doors at 6:30 pm
Nicholas Rys is a contributor to the Brooklyn Rail.