Book Review : Brian Alan Ellis - Something to do with Self-Hate (2017)
The writing of Brian Alan Ellis is either stripped and ironic or heartbreakingly earnest. It's either one or the other and it can never be both at the same time. It often is the former, but it's the unexpected earnestness that people find endearing about his work. He is witty, observant and undeniably cooler than you'll ever be, but there's a relatable human being underneath his smartass character. That elusive inner self of Brian Alan Ellis takes over for the first time * in his novel Something to do with Self-Hate, which he recently published through his own company House of Vlad. It's quite the departure from his usual style, but not an unpleasant one by any means.
Something to do with Self-Hate is a breakup story. There's a lot of novels out there about lonely and brokenhearted white men, but I believe this one is worth your attention anyway. The narrator (who is never named), is going through a violent post-breakup depression and quite possibly the longest and most intense drugs and alcohol binge of all-time with his friends Hector and Let's Name Him Dave. He is torn between trying to destroy himself and seeking a way to feel like he once did. It's a simple novel written at the second person, like the narrator is coming to terms with his experiences. Something to do with Self-Hate couldn't be any more different than Brian Alan Ellis' trademark fragmented and whimsical cynicism and it's great the way it is. His fans won't feel disoriented or anything.
Something to do with Self-Hate is a somewhat impersonal novel about heartbreak, which is how rock songs also function. They chronicle powerful, life-altering feelings everyone experience at least once, yet remain as vague as possible about their context. Nickelback built a career off writing songs like that. The narrator of Something to do with Self-Hate is never named, the context of his breakup with Willa is never fully explained, you're never put in a position to judge or take sides and yet experience the distress and well, self-hate of the narrator in an intimate manner. I'm not trying to compare Brian Alan Ellis' novel to a Nickelback song here, but who knows what would've been if Chad Kroeger wrote novels instead of ultra-formatted three minutes-long, radio friendly hits. Some people refuse to explore certain depth of their own personal turmoil and Brian Alan Ellis is not one of these people. He bares it all here.
So, Something to do with Self-Hate is somewhat of a radical departure from Ellis' vibrant wisecracking style. It's a simple and heartbreaking novel about loss. I don't think it's going to be labeled as white-man-writing-about-his-life literature because it appeals to universal feelings. Breaking up with someone you love is always difficult and painful, because you're breaking up with a part of your life and the person you've become alongside your loved one. It literally forces you to start from scratch and become someone else. That harsh reality transpires in Something to do with Self-Hate. Sure, a breakup is not the end of the world for anybody ** but it's incredibly painful for anybody who seriously committed to a relationship. If The Great Gatsby was about the impossibility of living the past again, Something to do with Self-Hate is about the impossibility of going forward and the weird social netherworld is creates.
Something to do with Self-Hate is the first novel from Brian Alan Ellis I had the privilege of reading. I already loved his pop culture-laced musings from A Series of Pained Facial Expressions Made While Shredding Air Guitar and Failure Pie in a Sadness Face, but this book here connects the dots of Ellis' unique and ambiguous fiction/non-fiction style. It's where it becomes a more tangible thing. Brian Alan Ellis is obviously a white-man-writing-about-his-life but it's fine because he's writing about all of our lives too. He doesn't buy into the convenient truths so many feel entitled to. Something to do with Self-Hate is not a journey to the dark side, it's the sudden realization that there is no light and that you'll need to get used to the dark if you want to see again.
* To my knowledge, anyway.
** Unless it is. But people who commit suicide over a breakup are often judged as unstable because they're not there anymore to defend themselves.