I read Nick Mamatas’ LOVE IS THE LAW in one sitting, and have been mulling over what to say about it for months. This book– just like Mamatas’ other books BULLETTIME, MOVE UNDER GROUND, and all of his short stories–stick with you. I don’t think it is because of off-beat characters or novel mash-up concepts, all of which are very good, but it is the authenticity of the voice he uses.
Dawn (the LITL protag)’s voice is so authentic that what I have been preoccupied with since reading it is whether to believe her or not. Obviously, the unreliable narrator is a trope of confessional stories, but what makes Dawn interesting is her voice reminds me of a certain kind of conviction found in sociopaths, schizophrenics, and religious zealots. They believe what they perceive, and don’t even consider convincing anyone of the truth (usually) because they see it before them–the truth is already there. You don’t see it, but they sure do, and they develop a genius for describing and understanding it.
Have you ever spoken to someone convinced of their beliefs? For example, someone who says they talk to God, and further more God responds. When I ask people what this is actually like—do they really have JC or Yahweh on speed dial?–the explanations are always different, and are always found in the reading of the mundane. A sign can be two missionaries approaching a farmer on his land just as he prayed to God for some extra hands, or words that unfolded from the unconscious brain lobes like a fortune cookie. One woman I’ve met who claimed herself a medium told me you could invoke spirits of loved ones (even living ones) by imitating their mannerism until the mannerism became natural….
And I believe all of them. I don’t believe that circumstances are what they think they are, but I believe they believe it is so.
I don’t get this conviction from other dubious narrators I’ve read in the past. With characters like Bateman and Humbert, I feel like they are just screwing with the reader. I feel like Dawn sincerely wants you to know her tale, as delusional as it may seem to us on the outside.
And whether we recognize it or not, we all talk a little crazy. We all read the world formed by our own language. For example, Freedom is a concept like Magick—who is to say either or both exists or don’t—we make them exist by transmuting the abstract into the concrete—we believe.
So, the book made me think about that, and I thought that was pretty cool.
I also really liked the juxtaposition of socialism, punk, and Alistair Crowley not because it is novel, but because I think that is another truth to the character and about any individual belief system. We’re all mash-up characters. A person is composed of her own private belief system comprised of myriad ideas. Having a complex and polyamorous marriage of ideas and beliefs is what makes us complex and hard-to-pin down creatures. For some reason, it is almost impossible to write characters true to life because of this–it is believed readers want it short and simple. But Dawn has a very developed conviction and it makes her background and psychology quite complex among fast-paced plotting.