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Book review by Colin Gee

Adam Johnson on the straight and twisted

White Paint Falling Through a Filtered Shaft by Adam Johnson (2022, Anxiety Press)

As usual I was mistaken in the order. Or was I? Readers who struggled to traverse Adam Johnson’s stream-of-mobile-app-consciousness Covered in Sharpie and Suing for Peace (2023, Pig Roast) will find his 2022 collection White Paint Falling Through a Filtered Shaft a much more traditional, linear road through the author’s universe, insofar as such a road exists. White Paint is a gorgeous volume of poems, divided tidily into four books, which may be something like: anecdotes adjacent to lawyering, nineties nostalgia, a Larson creep, and synthesis. Books one and four mirror each other to an extent, book one being full of omniscient third-person anecdotes from the days when Johnson and company were gods of the hotel bar, while book four is a first-person introspective full of spicy self-hate and angst that seems to be attempting to synthesize the book’s themes: lawyers observing fools, suburbia under menace, sub/urban realia.

The topics follow the books, but there are also standalone pieces, such as museum houses” (they are like wards / these homes we enter / for dinner, for drinks / the ones that are too clean) and ben on the building,” which jumbles up Voltaire and Wallace with contemporary indie lit legends Duryea, Hilson, and Aldrich — and ben? Many are hysterically funny, while several push more absurd boundaries, such as the tom tree,” about a tree full of peeping toms masturbating til the shower of cum pounds like rain. The world-building continues to the very end with the (intentional–poetic) repetition of realia (schnapps, guns, sharpies, k swiss, etc.), and of course ben.

Book two, the k swiss poems’, opens with a dismaying litany of 90s mall rat paraphernalia and consumer brands (K Swiss, Bubblicious, Capri Slims, Applebee’s, Foot Locker, Perkins, Jansport, Jolly Ranchers, Blockbuster, Dr. Pepper, JNCO jeans) that had my eyes rolling back in my head as visions of my junior high bowling league flashed before my eyes, until I got to the lines describing the assistant hockey coach chaperone in circus pizza:” he has a case of busch regular in the tahoe / he and the single mom return in half an hour / she is covered in nightmare stardust / and the hockey coach hits on a high school / waitress / he has promethian fire / he is an unregistered sex offender, which is poetry. Later there is a mall genie you can summon from a hand dryer that says PUSH BUTT (of course it does) who is in fact Kaye Swiss, defense attorney and borderline pederast. Carpets in the basement, couches in the garage, single alcoholic moms, and the familiar combo of highly sweetened caffeinated beverages and weed keep this book in familiar territory, while the creepy lawyer gnome provides thematic string.

Book three is devoted to the character Larson, who makes frequent cameos across the Johnson universe. We first meet Larson, whose name is almost a metaphor for all things Scandinavian-midwest, in not checking for parts,” driving north with two fiesty gerbils up his ass. he’d either get a royal kick out of it / or bleed out from the interior / so quietly and secretly like / he is both suicidal and in love with life. And later: He likes wet napkins. In Prometheus Larson,” Larson awakes / he ain’t been wake in 20, like Rip / catches breath, farts, creeps / screens in, lays low / sees an awful cyber mess / what did I miss says Larson, which has led better men than I to suspect we may be dealing with an incarnation of Goddard, the protagonist of Johnson’s Cialis, Verdi, Gin, Jag, an alpha predator with the same distinguishing features (psychopathic sexual aberration, booze + drugs, creep). I do not actually know better men than I or what they suspect, but I suspect they would come to the same conclusion. Larson’s degenerate friends are wood-pussy, fat lungs and sneaky pete, and they do degenerate things narrated in Johnson’s telegraphic freeverse that contain actions/events even a child of five could understand. And I think Johnson would not hesitate to have Larson say, Bring me a child of five.” Book three is great stories, but a gutbucket holding heinies in Larson’s killer chaplain friend” is poetry.

Come for the name on the front cover, or Anxiety Press on the back cover, and stay for a world of transgression all its own full of memorable lines. As straight and narrow as Adam Johnson tries to steer it, his road tends to spiral into demented and forbidden spaces.

I have read White Paint three times now and keep it on my bedside table next to Cialis, Verdi, Gin, Jag and of course Covered in Sharpie and Suing for Peace.

Colin Gee

Twitter: @ColinMGee

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