At one time, I was a great fan of Michel Houellebecq. Perhaps 'great fan' is too robust a phrase. Maybe 'had a peculiar fascination with' would be a better expression of my feeling for his work. See, the dude is dark. But once upon a time, 'dark' (as in psychologically messed up) appealed to my sensibilities. The first Houellebecq novel I picked up was The Elementary Particles from one of the bookstores I trudged to after work when I lived in D.C. I read about protagonist Bruno's plight--specifically, the horrible experiences he had in private school (experiences with which I could identify, having been in private school for several years). And there, I began to see a deep and abiding truth to Houellebecq's characters, to his view of the world and the emotional physics of its inhabitants. I will admit that it depressed me deeply. Things in Houellebecq's world are bleak, pornographic, and nihilistic. But along with all this is keen insight into human character.
I should also say that I read Houellebecq after 9/11, when the city changed, when it temporarily fell under martial law...when military police directed traffic at every stop light downtown...around the time I walked home to MacArthur Boulevard from K Street because a woman on my bus announced to us all that she heard on her Walkman the news that Bush had been attacked in the White House. I immediately pulled the cord, got off the bus at the next stop, and began walking home according to my internal compass, partially following the bus line. I knew the lady was nuts, and I wanted to get as far away from her as possible. But I digress...I read Houellebecq at a time when things looked particularly bad, at a time when I felt especially isolated. This colored my view of his work and caused it to resonate with me in ways that it probably wouldn't now. And yet, yet...I titled a story that was nominated for a Pushcart Prize three years later "Essential Wreckage" as a secret homage to The Elementary Particles because that's what The Elementary Particles is really about: human wreckage and human suffering. The collateral damage caused by living. The unintended (or sometimes intended) hurt we cause ourselves or others by moving through life in ways either mild or violent.
And really, you have to dig a writer who has such a superlative array of high quality shots, like the one below. It doesn't look like the man above, does it?. Who, I say, who has been at the gin today? Michel, the liquid level's well below the top of the label. And buddy, you might want to tip that ash away, too.