I wasn´t even half way done with Low Down Death Right Easy when I went straight ahead and bought three other books by Osborne. There was something in his writing that spoke to me, challenged me, impressed me even I´m still not quite sure why I enjoyed the book so much. His writing, his story tellings skills, sure, but there is something else between those pages that I couldn´t let go of. I´m still trying to understand my fascination with his books, though, but yeah...
LDDRE has its surreal moments, while Black Gum feels more natural. A sort of drama where crime is happening, but this clearly isn´t the focus of the novel. They do wrong, and they know it, but a nod, a shrug, that is all that is needed for them. Acceptance that life is messy and complicated.
The more weirder moments of LDDRE are missing, and so far I am not yet sure which of those two books I like more. The only real tie in to LDDRE is Danny Ames, one of the main characters, who makes a brief appearance in the later part of the book, but that´s about it. Still, the setting seems familiar but only insofar that his writing/prose/narrative style is the same laid back/bare bones/minimalistic. Stripped down to the bare esssentials, almost like an Americana version of a Haiku at times. At a guess I´d say he is as much influenced from song lyrics/music than any other books/writers.
Our nameless protagonist hangs out mostly with Shane, who has an obsession for body modifications, and good grief, I didn´t need to know THAT. The cover? Yeah, you can take it literally. There are juggalos, parties, drugs, they have sex, grime, dirty, fast sex, and a blow job is akin to a love letter. Where life is simply something that happens to other people, emotionally distant from themselves and everyone around them, and it´s my job to figure things out in those rather brief chapters. Black Gum is more like a small novella anyway but with a feeling that it could be/that it is much more than that. Insofar the leanness of the chapters and the book itself gives the right impression of what is actually happening within the pages.
There *is* a lack of detail, but Osborne makes it fit to the overall theme. Losers clearly under any normal circumstances but nevertheless people who try to navigate their lives as best as they can. A drug deal gone wrong and money owned to dealers? Well, that was handled, nobody needs or wants to talk about it anymore. Most shit simply doesn´t matter all that much. And those are the moments which I enjoyed the most. The quiet moments, the sad moments, the throwaway moments, coz there is simply no need to drag things out. Blink and it´s gone forever and life has moved on.
Nevertheless those characters in Black Gum are low-life but only in this regards that they downplay themselves constantly. As I reader I *know* they will fuck up something else along the road, and their lives won´t be all sunshine and unicorns. Good luck guys, you´ll need it, and who knows, maybe by the time we leave here we´ll be friends.
Black Gum is sad and beautiful and sometimes funny, but more of the ´you know why you are laughing now?´ kind of funny. Those little nuggets of truth and wisdom, the melancholy that goes through the book hit me the hardest and made me feel vulnerable. What if ... I find myself in similar circumstances? No easy answers, but the best part is that Osborne doesn´t provide answers, but nudges me in the direction to ask the questions I am not really comfortable to deal with.
The real marvel is, despite his absolute minimalistic style, it´s easy to read, while there is even more to absorb and explore and think about. And that he is - again - writing like someone too smart and wise his own age to know all the hard hitting truths. Somehow Osborne sounds like a guy who has figured life out, and that is surely the greatest challenge one can master. That guy is simply a keeper.
I don´t know if there is something like Bizarro Crime, if not there should be. Low Down Death Right Easy would most likely fit right in. There is something surreal in this book, especially later on where it´s not quite clear if those are simply meth-induced feverish dreams, or the reality and something more sinister, more nefarious is at work. Or maybe it´s just a different take on rural Oklahoma with people with dead end jobs that don´t go anywhere while trying to keep their heads just above poverty line and trying to get by. Drugs, crime, a dead body, the usual ingredients of the classic tale of Crime Noir are there, and still there is something more to it. A gloom/darkness that swallows everything and everyone.
There are two parallel story lines, those of Danny Ames who desperately is on the search for his younger missing brother, Thomas, and those of Arlo & Sepp Clancy. Ames is a bouncer in a rave club/drug addict, one of those figures who owns a room when entering it simply for being who they are. Police is sort of looking in this missing person case, without much enthusiasm, until Ames takes matters into his own hands. A hysterical mother, always just short of a nervous breakdown, needs to be taken care of too; hardly accepting any kind of bad fate that might have happened to Thomas, the good kid in her eyes. Plus there is Rafe, the sociopathic sidekick, which complicates matters further for him.
Later in the story Ames starts to lose some teeth coz he is simply rotten to the core like that. Which describes him pretty perfectly, but all of those characters have a soft side to them, a realistic one which maybe doesn´t make them likeable exactly, but at least one can feel sympathy for them. For the situations they find themselves in, for the decisions they make in their lives. There is an easy path for them, and another one they take and everything has consequences for any of them.
Arlo struggles through his job, his marriage with Jen and day dreaming of moving to another place, another city to be happy again, and trying to keep his brother out of prison. Easy drug money, failed job applications, it ain´t easy. Sepp has just the knack for finding himself into shaddy deals that sooner or later will go wrong. They know this and kinda shrug it off. There is only so much one can do. You see it, you watch it happening, and maybe you should have done more, and maybe you did your best and failed. And then you see the sadness in their eyes...
The most interesting part is probably when the two back to back story lines are clashing and their different worlds collide. One can see how much influence the older brothers actually have over their younger brothers. Both, Danny & Arlo shape and form their siblings in a way, good and bad, and when things are falling apart they spiral downwards fast and easy. Scary shit as I too have an older brother and if I take the story at face value I am pretty much fucked. Thanks for nothing, I guess? Or maybe everything. Nobody lives in a bubble and whatever we do will affect someone´s else life as well.
Osborne´s writing style is minimalistic, or more like he cut off any meat to the bare bones, so the mere essentials are there, but not a lot more. Nevertheless there is a beauty and an eloquence in his prose which I haven´t read before. The narrative voice looks simplistic even it isn´t but carefully crafted to have the maximum of effect. There is nothing show-offish about it, just pure, rough emotions with a lot of subtext, blanks that needs to be filled in. Everything that is unnecessary is removed. Which also makes it partially tough to get into it, and it´s one of those novels where you simply have to hang on. Neither did I find it easy to understand at times what is happening, but I had to read and reread scenes to get a fuller picture even he describes details, emotions, the world surrounding our characters very well. Nor do the dialogues much to bring the story forward. Still, those are real conversations by couples/mothers/sons/brothers, about everyday life and its problems. But once I got the hang of it I felt spit out/broken/torn.
I still haven´t figured out what the title phrase actually means. Low Down Death Right Easy sounds like a Gospel song, but for me the book itself reminded me more of a Blues song with an almost unbearable melancholy at times. And it makes me think why does this dude in his - back then - mid-20´s has so much insight into the human condition? It ain´t right. That´s not the way it is supposed to be, but at the same time everything makes sense. He writes like someone twice his age/too smart for his own good. I wasn´t even half finished with the book when I went out and purchased three other books written by Osborne. I wanted to know who is this guy? But it doesn´t really matter.
However, one of my fave bands is Deer Tick. There is a fantastic live video on YouTube of them playing their song "Ashamed" and when the crowd kicks in and sings along their singer/guitarist John McCauley just smiles, and with a huge shit infested grin shouts back, "You know what I´m sayin´?". And while I keep thinking back to this video I wanna shake and yell at Osborne, no, I don´t!... but I´m ready to sit down and listen.