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Rubicon Beach by Steve Erickson
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Rubicon Beach

by Steve Erickson

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“Radios are compasses of anarchy.”
A conspicuously surveilled political parolee of ambiguous affiliation is appointed watchman for an abandoned library tower in dystopian L.A. A naive femme fatale comes down from the trees to save a shipwrecked sailor. She sleeps with her eyes open. Borders are crossed, windows are broken and grand hotels burn down. Fathers and sons are never really the same. Names crack like gunfire and bourbon is a harbinger. The fervor of the past is gone for good. The beautiful dark watery prose suits the mood—timeless, regretful, defiant. It’s part hallucination noir, part vision quest, part poetic incantation. A superior fiction. ( )
1 vote HectorSwell | Jan 16, 2016 |
Tomorrow night, I fell asleep after an evening reading Pablo Neruda, William Faulkner, Carson McCullers, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Philip K. Dick and Charles Baudelaire, among others. Others like the little remembered James Branch Cabell. I'm not saying they put me to sleep. I'm saying I'd been up for decades that evening, reading them. When I did finally fall asleep, I dreamnt about Rubicon Beach by Steve Erickson. I witnessed lines of poetry and paragraphs of magical realism, glowing like sunbeams and floating through the spaces of a Giant Oak's leaves, rearrange and flutter away -- butterflies of bright ideas -- just beyond my grasp, whenever I tried to capture them for my conceptual collection. They escaped into what I did not know (or is it do not know now?) how to describe except to say it was a disembodied window, its off-white frame set into the cobalt stucco sky. Ink residue, left by lines and paragraphs, misted in the salty air. A train that could not possibly exist here, just as impossibly as the window, occupied the tunnel through the Giant Oak on rails that disappeared in offshore fog. I think I lived there, in a residence built into the Giant Oak, itself built above the bar, three stories above the tunnel. Story One was a strange library apartment studio in downtown Los Angeles. Story Two was a river completely canopied by vines sometimes disguised as snakes. Story Three is where I'd been living in the Giant Oak. Either there or some place else out in the fog on the railroad track that wound around waves. When I rose, I hastily jotted down the following before the words could also escape through that disembodied window:

In between awakening and complete awareness, within the waning fog of dream's disintegrating curtain, where sleep laps luminously upon the tidal lagoons of consciousness, overarching your consciousness, corridor-like as it is, wild jungle vines -- alive -- seeking to slither down and poke and scratch you awake out of your raft floating downstream with no destination other than towns to be duped, duped, duped, though in being duped so many times, their being duped, the dopes, metastasizes into the duper's (the one who does the duping) abrupt doom, so do be warned out of your melancholic snooze through these moody, putrid river waters hanging with intertwined overgrowth and snakes: this, all this, is the ambiguous ambiance awaiting the traveler floating upstream on the treacherous, but deceptively placid, murk; the disorienting, parallel realm of existence one encounters in Rubicon Beach, the mostly forgotten, sometimes out of print, second novel, by the sometimes forgotten, usually overlooked author, Steve Erickson. Warning! His imagination might submerge you beneath the Congo River that's become the dark heart of Los Angeles.

En route, up river of the book, Rubicon Beach, can you explicate "the poem of no return"?, standing there in the mud flats of a full-mooned-reality that's collapsed, gone dry as excavated bone, yet one day tomorrow, in the past, has become inexplicably wet until, as Sylvia Plath intoned, "the sea slides back," and the expected tsunami evaporates on the page even as it inundates the shores at the core of all three stories? Can you deduce, in your canoe or in your car, with I hope your mathematical prowess, the Number of no return? It's a new number that exists somewhere between nine and ten. It could be a beast! Or a feast on a finite continuum on a line that's forever. Can you ride the mystery train up sea from the shores of no return, to the Giant Oak, riding on rails built on water through the red double crescent of the moon, strange earthly emanations audibly abound, to the Rubicon gothic-like mansion (dare you enter it like you did before, though you never have?) populated by memories disguised in the flesh and blood of bodies barely breathing, if they're not in fact corpses or outright ghosts? Will you understand the Big Oak's significance at the apparent terminus of the mystery trains' track; that the end might not be the end but neither simply the beginning to the Frontier of No Return? What exists beyond the Oak and the Gothic Mansion, beyond Rubicon Beach? James Branch Cabell in Jurgen, identified it as that sliver of Time "between the dawn and sunrise".

Consider "Catharine's" face of no return (not her real name but given her by her employer whose last housekeeper was also named "Catharine"). Poor, orphaned woman born on that jungle river, born, according to her soon-to-be-murdered father, with no "voluptuous virtues, except her face". The Face of No Return. But a woman no matter now robustly or curvaceously stunted her body might be, in time makes an art out of her survival, sculpting hyper-adept skills of communication out of the palpable stone of her silence, despite not knowing the English language, and using whatever perceived weaknesses she might present and instead turning them on their heads -- her weakness will decapitate your strength -- into preternatural strengths that enable her to maintain her strict adherence to a ferocious independence no matter what entangled predicaments she encounters, whether it's her first kidnapper, those dipshit hitchhiking goofs, who smuggled her into the States in the backs of cars and vans ...

She soon ditched her coyotes, her captors, only to have to face all those sharks in suits on Sunset and Wilshire Blvds. who saw blood, but also money, in Catherine's haggard hair and bare feet... Catharine will thwart their exploitive advances all: the photographers, the hustlers, the movie moguls and talent scouts. Who needs them? Not her. Because she may be the most powerful woman who's ever lived, but lacking belief in her Face, in herself, she, so saddened by the perceived lack of having any "voluptuous virtues," can't yet comprehend her full power -- not yet understanding that her Face is the most potent Face, the most powerful weapon in the world -- a weapon she'll soon learn to use like an axe or meat cleaver -- an indescribable Face of no return (this review is really not a dream if you'll pardon this intrusion) that some men can't even look at for fear they'll be, at a glance, decapitated by it, lost in its Vacuum of no return, while others devise their devious plans for Catharine's face's theft for their own selfish gains in photography and haute couture modeling and the fucking movies!, branding their perfect doll-woman possession like the most prized in the bovine herd, this the most powerful if not most beautiful, seductive woman whos ever lived, a woman so out of any man's league she's remained virginal all this time, untouched by hands or greed, but a wounded woman, no matter her awesome power, grieving her murdered father who'd foolishly lost his daughter in a game of cards when they lived on that dangerous river and couldn't prevent the Con-Man Kidnapper from stealing her from him; she, "Catharine", who was the sheer essence of that jungle Utopia they once lived so serenely in and is now gone forever.

Catharine's face reminds me of the station portals from Erickson's debut, Days Between Stations. It seems like Erickson took a leap and personified his first novel's stations, replete with that mystifying, inanimate light source with no known electrical or natural outlet, and instead evolved the idea of the inanimate stations into stations made out of the being or essence of select humans, these human stations of the Rubicon, like Catharine, station extraordinaire, transmitter of power and beauty and justice, since as Lake notes late in Rubiocn Beach, "there is a number for justice," but without skin and bones vitally infused with the number, the number is impotent. I see Catharine imbued with that same sourceless station light of precognition -- that light that originates from all times and yet is not of time, so that Catharine exists concurrently in the confines of this phantasmal novel traveling at times on some vortex train track that can transport her here or there in the right now just as swiftly as it can accelerate her forward in the future, but not so far that they she can't decide to wait for her character cohorts, sometime or at some train station, in the past, beyond the river, toward the Giant Oak. Wouldn't be surprised sometime if I saw her sunbathing beneath the moon beside the moat, reading something about Medusa.

Whatever off-kilter cosmos Steve Erickson's novels inhabit, they've all started making more time non-linear sense to me when I'm reminded what Erickson said he learned from William Faulkner: that time in a novel keeps time not by clocks -- "the clocks have all stopped," remember? (and how could you not remember that preternatural zinger of a line from Rubicon Beach's cult-followed predecessor, Days Between Stations?) -- but rather, to each character's intrinsic yet individualized metronome of memory. These days, I'm keeping time to Steve Erickson. I'm far past the point of Rubicon Beach. I could be walking on water as I read.
( )
9 vote EnriqueFreeque | Jun 13, 2013 |
Another Steve Erickson book, another interesting journey. This time the story circles around Los Angeles, told in three parts. First part follows a man who was put in prison for his political views (which he didn't have) and is now released to live in a library in ruined and ravaged Los Angeles. Second part tells the story of a mysterious woman and moves on to a movie script writer. Third part is a story of a son and a father.

It's all rather pleasantly confusing, yet everything comes together in the end - well, perhaps not quite completely, but providing some satisfaction nevertheless. This is one of those books you shouldn't try to understand, just enjoy. Erickson's writing is generally more about vivid images than captivating plots, I think, and here it's particularly clear. There's poetry in these words.

Rubicon Beach is a demanding and rewarding book. The third part fell a tad flat for me, but the first two parts were very good, after I got over the initial confusion. Erickson is a remarkable author and this is a book definitely worth reading, but not for everybody.

(Review of Rubicon Beach at Mikko reads) ( )
2 vote msaari | Aug 25, 2008 |
From Library Journal
Through ponderous, interwoven tales travels a dark, mysterious woman who dazzles men and makes them act silly. In the futuristic Los Angeles of an unspecified cataclysm, Cale witnesses his own murder at the hands of this elusive beauty. Somewhere in South America, she ties herself to a tree with her hair and signals to a sailor with her lighthouse eyes, then winds up as domestic help in modern-day Los Angeles, where, by staring a lot and saying little, she drives a frustrated writer into a frenzy. Finally, she mesmerizes a recluse in England with the old lighthouse trick, and he turns out to be the Cale of the first storyminus the futurism. This contrived, humorless mishmash of pseudo-fantasy and mystery leaves one hopelessly confused. The characters are pure Hollywood, straight from a B movie. Leonard Kniffel, Detroit P.L.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. ( )
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  gnewfry | Jun 9, 2007 |
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Three outsiders cross paths in an alternate America that's been divided in two In a dystopian Los Angeles, Cale is a newly released political prisoner under surveillance. Beset by dark visions and relegated to working in a desolate library, he's told, without explanation, that he's "the one everyone's looking for." For Catherine, a mysterious South American beauty, the crossing is no less extreme: Leaving her tribal life, she undergoes various confinements and escapes before winding up at the door of a Hollywood screenwriter. Finally Jack Mick Lake, possessed by numerology, must negotiate a river all his own. Stark and ethereal, Steve Erickson's tales connect to form a luminous and passionate whole.… (more)

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