Friday, July 29, 2011

Christa Faust

Well on the way to becoming a staunch fan of the energetic and entertaining noir pastiche artist Christa Faust. Actually "pastiche" is the wrong word for what she does, implying irony or even parody, and Faust seems to be quite serious about re-using the classic paperback-original devices she's absorbed into her bloodstream. She's responded deeply to the vintage Gold Medal and Lion originals she avidly collects and expresses herself naturally in their broken-nose idiom.

She's also a bit of a genius when it comes to devising punchy two word titles, and for a person of my inclinations its a huge plus that she sets each book within a different underbelly subculture, a self-contained universe she's interested in exploring. In Control Freak its the Manhattan "meatpacking" SM scene, in Money Shot the San Fernando Valley porn industry and in Choke Hold the square circle of Mixed Martial Arts tournaments. The books aren't always as transgressive as their subject matter seems to promise. Money Shot, in particular, is a disappointing arm's-length view of the world of professional smut. (It should be much dirtier.)

My favorite of her novels so far is Hoodtown, a what-if, alternate reality novel that first had to create the subculture it investigates. Best comparison may be to something like Who Censored Roger Rabbit?? (Gary K. Wolf's sarcastic novel rather than the softened Robert Zemeckis film). In that case it was Warner brother-style cartoon characters made flesh and living among us, set apart in an LA neighborhood called Toontown. Here it's a fully-developed society and culture based on the iconography  of lucha libre, Mexican masked wrestling -- set apart in an LA neighborhood called Hoodtown, opressed by the majority of maskless Skins.

The details of Hoodlife are worked out with as much attention to detail as in any alternate history opus, from the grooming and health ramifications of the fact that the masked are put into their hoods at birth and never take them off (there's talk of "underhoods" and "bathing hoods," and anti-bacterial lotions to prevent skin infections) and suggestions of a cult religion that deifies wrestling legends. In a church there are "lurid stained glass pictures of the Hooded Virgin reaching down out of golden clouds to bless the holy silver mask of Santo." And characters mutter "Santo" under their breath rather than "Jesus."

In a variation on the tradition of the quinceañera, Hoods at fifteen design their adult mask and take the wrestling name that will be theirs for life. The big-boned wrestler heroine, who dubbed herself X, is roped into investigating a series of crimes in which wrestling women are stripped of their masks -- the ultimate violation. The plot is a crisp and effective noir murder story, with a surprisingly powerful grim ending, but my favorite details relate to Hoodtown itself and its vividly invented fusion culture, which mixes the pop artifacts of Mexico with those of Japan, the only other nation that has embraced masked wrestlers in a major way. In one scene, X enjoys...
...a huge bowl of the house special, Ramen Al Pastor. I seasoned my food liberally and when I had everything just like I like it, I snapped apart a pair of chopsticks from the juice glass by the napkin dispenser and dug in. It was fantastic, as always. Succulent pork sliced fresh off that huge, sizzling hunk turning on a vertical spit at the end of the counter and served floating in a dark, spicy broth with chopped green onions and tons of chewy noodles, topped off with near transparent slivers of roasted pineapple. I sat and chewed, mindlessly content for the first time in what felt like ages, forgetting all the bullshit and the drama in the simple distraction of a good, greasy meal.
The way to a man's heart.

UPDATE: Those of us who still enjoy movies, who haven't written-off an entire art form, may feel that there's film potential in "Hoodtown." The rub is that it would be pointless to cast popular actors in these roles and then keep their faces covered. I can see two options: One would be to modify the taboo against removing the mask to make "shedding" the ultimate intimacy between lovers. Then in a few key scenes, at least, the "naked animal faces" of the stars could be exposed.  Animation might also be a thought, a medium in which we don't expect to be able to see the actors who are supplying the voices.

Cool, eh? No need to pay me. Just invite me to the premiere.


Tulkinghorn said...

A desperate Google brings up no actual Ramen al Pastor available anywhere in the real world..

Shame, that.

You fail to point out that Faust is a true hack -- not merely a pretend, pastiche hack. Her credits on Amazon include media tie-ins for Supernatural, Snakes on a Plane, Nightmare on Elm Street, Twilight Zone, Final Destination 3, and the Gabriel Hunt action-adventure series.

Tulkinghorn said...

And by "hack", I definitely do not mean anything but high praise. The entertainment business is full of writers who are trying to make a big score rather than just getting on with the job. Can't stand that.

I've remembered for twenty-five years a comment that Bruce Sterling made about the generosity of SF writers who create a cosmology for a book that sells for a couple of dollars -- "the simple distraction of a good, greasy, meal."

David Chute said...

The Gabriel Hunt books appear to be a project of Hard case Crime's Charles Ardai; series writers include Faust's husband David Schow.

JRSM said...

I had no idea she'd written anything other than the two Hard Case Crime books. Thanks for this--I'm definitely getting 'Hoodtown': such an odd idea, pursued so intelligently and thoroughly, sounds fantastic!