There is a base-ball analogy that when something puzzles you, you're being thrown a curve ball. That doesn't do justice to Jesus Angel Garcia's BADBADBAD. It's more of a knuckleball. A controlled chaos that aims to shake you off your certitudes and make you see things from a different angle. First of all, it's not just a novel. It's a transmedia experience that comes with a playlist and a documentary. While I couldn't finish the whole experience, I'm going to review what I did. I have never read anything like BADBADBAD before and while I approached it with the confidence of a seasoned reader, it deceived me and chipped away at what I took for granted as a reader. While it's not an easy and it requires patience, BADBADBAD will work you up if you give it the time and the effort. Trying to find it a genre, I had to settle for noir, but this doesn't really have a genre. It's a dark literary...thing. Think of BADBADBAD as a well studied mix in between a psycheledic twist on AMERICAN PSYCHO and Heath Lowrance's THE BASTARD HAND. Quite eclectic, I know. But I told you this isn't like anything else.
Following a drastic break up with his wife and child, JAG (Jesus Angel Garcia) is going adrift. He ends up in a church, doing webmaster work for an uptight Reverend while bonding with his son over musical preferences. Cyrus (the son) also initiates JAG to a completely different sort of web site, called fallenangels, where damaged people are looking for redemption through sexual perversion. JAG is at first trying to balance both lives, but following a first encounter with a fallen angel named Shannon, he starts seeing "the bigger picture" and to "understand" his mission as a healer. I'm putting those description in brackets not to mock, but illustrate how the dual lifestyle started drawing a very clear picture in the mind of a man who doesn't know who he is anymore. From there, JAG is diving without fear into the world of fallenangels, looking for the most tortured souls to save, while his own is still hurting and drifting further and further from reality.
This is not your average noir. There's no typical cops and robbers routine and this is a slow novel in general. What makes BADBADBAD so sneaky and interesting is that Jesus Angel Garcia, like a good filmmaker, takes pleasure in deceiving you. Many times, I thought I knew where the storyline was going, but was brought through a carefully planned zig-zagging path. Don't expect a straight storyline, but rather a character and an environment study. BADBADBAD deals with issues of control and worship in great depth. While I thought there were a little too many characters and some disturbing scenes that were put there just for their disturbing beauty, well they all fitted the point Jesus Angel Garcia was getting through with BADBADBAD. To paraphrase Marilyn Manson (who is also a part of the playlist), we're all looking for a savior, something to attach our soul to. Whatever it is, whatever the cost. Whoever is offering. BADBADBAD draws a great portrait of despair and those who use it for personal gain.
Now if you're looking to get into the transmedia experience, I would suggest to access the YouTube playlist the author has set up himself on the novel's web site. While I discovered a few songs, the videos that go along seem to have been carefully chosen to reflect the spirit of the novel. A lot of old, live videos are being used and while I had the playlist running on my PC, I had the impression of watching an old television, tuned in to a music station, alone and in the dark. Music plays an important role in BADBADBAD (in JAG's life) and it adds a dimension to Jesus Angel Garcia's words to feel the slight shifts in JAG's moods through the music he listens to. I have to admit, I watched only one segment of the documentary, a series of interviews with people about their biggest fear. It's fascinating to see people scramble for answers and it feels like nobody is really telling the truth. Except maybe for one guy who's recalling a terrible memory of a man dying alone. You can see the fear of his own death reflecting in his eyes while he tells it. The other parts of the documentary are supposed to deal with other themes of the novel, but due to time, obligations and technical issues I didn't have time to watch them before this review. It's worth the watch though. The aggressive honesty of Garcia's approach is refreshing.
BADBADBAD is one hard nut to crack. It's a short novel and yet it requires a slow and thoughtful reading. But like good writers do, Jesus Angel Garcia rewards the patient readers that went through JAG's story and gave it enough thought process. It's not really a beach read, but it's something done with a genuine artistic purpose and with a point to get across. BADBADBAD is a psychedelic, perverted arthouse novel that has the purest goals, to examine what we do with the darkest human emotions and the most painful longings. It's off-road for the most intellectual crime fiction readers. I liked it because I like to challenge myself with books. Those for whom literature is escapism and a hundred percent pleasure might not appreciate it, but if you're looking for fiction with a purpose, BADBADBAD is right up your alley.