by Scott Bradfield
From: Los Angeles Times
Steve Erickson was post-millennial long before the millennium ever got here. Like those of a Southern California Ballard or Beckett, his novels are filled with a wide variety of end of time-like calamities, both personal and political: suicide cults, alternate-history Hitlers, urban conflagrations, unpredictable weather storms and — most terrifying of all — the endlessly recurring (and continually unbelievable) presidential election cycle. Over several decades of feverish literary production (his first novel, the absorbingly recursive “Days Between Stations,” was published in 1985), he has written consistently and obsessively about people seeking a way out of their own cultural history. Sometimes they’re successful; sometimes they’re not. But one way or another, as soon as they wake up the next morning, they’re lost.
In “Tours of the Black Clock” (1989), Hitler’s private pornographer (who may be a ghost) devises movie scenarios that influence the Third Reich into nonexistence. In “Arc d’X” (1993), Thomas Jefferson’s enslaved mistress, Sally Hemings, is raised among the still-circulating ashes of a slave who was burned at the stake several generations before she was born, eventually fleeing into a future universe presided over by cops, theocrats and librarians. In 1996’s “Amnesiascope” (my favorite), an Erickson-like novelist tries to survive the endless serial catastrophes of Los Angeles — including (but not limited to) fires, floods, forgetfulness and beautiful women. And in his best-known novel, “Zeroville” (2007), a film-obsessed autistic man undertakes a “Blowup”-style search for meaning through the movies he loves — from Victor Fleming’s “Joan of Arc” to Howard Hawks’ “Rio Bravo” — until he vanishes into his own montage.
As in “Zeroville,” the act of emerging from (and vanishing into) nothingness is the primary narrative event of Erickson’s 11th book, “Shadowbahn.” Set in his favorite historical period (one that hasn’t quite happened yet), the novel opens when a truck driver named Aaron (having lost his wallet, he is a “driver without an identity”) witnesses the sudden, miraculous manifestation of the twin towers somewhere off Interstate 90 in the Badlands of South Dakota. It’s a time when America is breaking down into competitive regions of Rupture, Disunion and more, since “no one believes in the same country anymore and probably never has.” Haunted by the specter of a voiceless black president, variously untethered Americans (immigrants and natives, blacks and whites, Mormons and Sunnis) are quickly drawn together to witness this image of what they once were, what they’ve lost and what they may never have again. Which, of course, is having one country that belongs to all of them.