For those who have never heard of Gene Gregorits, this may appear to be more of a rant than a book review. I would recommend reading our interview with him first, followed by the review of Do You Love Me?, a collection of stories about him written by his friends and foes.
There was a year period when I was completely obsessed with Gene. I brought most of his books until they stopped turning up when I paid for them. I donated money via Paypal to him and his cat. I watched the Facebook rants and friend deletions and back-tracking and saw the people who were dealing with him in real life in his Theatre of the Grotesque shit-show. I quit Facebook and about 6 months later a friend told me he was going to prison.
Bigger Than Life at the Edge of the City: A Novel is the product of Gene waiting in prison to be sentenced for a rendezvous with a 17 year old girl (the age of consent in Florida is 18). It takes place after the publication of his first book Dog Days. Gene sees an initial rush of interest mostly prompted by the shitty as Vice article Lisa Carver wrote about him (look it up yourself, I’ve always hated that 10 second attention span hipster BS site). To be fair Gene’s lifestyle is a shit-show. He is half performance-artist in the way that GG Allin’s spectacle was performance art. But the guy is fucking intelligent and his prose at times is worth sticking through all the degeneracy. It’s like you’re drawn to Gene for the controversy and you stay for the content.
Bigger Than Life is his most accessible book by far but it’s still not for the fainthearted. Shit, blood, cum, sepsis, dog wounds, frostbitten toes, sweat… it is gross. I’ve never read On The Road because I read two other Kerouac books and thought “EDIT”, but Bigger reads like a road journey through depravity, decay, desperation and utter poverty. I kind of felt like I was watching “Benefit Streets”, this horrible kitchen sink drama of someone’s life in just utter shambles. But he seems to thrive in it. He loathes anyone who pities him and uses them – they loved to be used so it’s not a shitty thing – but he always remains like so regal, better than them and so contemptuous of their pity.
The book sees his life near-perfect life in Florida fall to pieces. The way he writes about St. Pete Beach and the beach life is heartbreaking because if something as simple as a Universal Income existed maybe he could have got by. Gene could have been comfortable enough to keep the landlords at bay and really focus on his art. The one good thing, and yes it’s sad he is in prison, is that hopefully he has the space and time to just write and write.
Anyway, back to the review. He has a crappy apartment but has a semblance of balance, he has a place in the world to write and be himself. Then the evictions, beatings, dog attacks and self-destructive ways reappear and things just get worse. This part was kind of horrible for me because I talked to the lady in the book who helps out Gene and he can be so ruthless and unrelenting in his descriptions and judgements. Cynthia is recently divorced and basically becomes Gene’s mother, she feeds him, clothes him, buys everything he needs and wants but that “motherly” love goes a bit to far when Gene wakes up to his dick being sucked and other such things.
The pair head up North and split their Time between New York and New Jersey and all the old ghosts from his previous stomping grounds come out to haunt him. He was at a time, in a relationship with Lydia Lunch and it’s like he can’t escape it. Everyone wants to ask questions about her and she even ends up in town playing with her band “Big Sexy Noise”, or as Gene called them “Big Sexy Nose”. His humour and name-dropping of bands and directors he loves is something else I appreciate because he’s not a hipster douche-bag and he has great taste. Although we will never agree on The Ramones – they’re just fun.
I know this doesn’t read like a very articulate review but it would be far too simple and lazy to say “he’s a modern-day Bukowski with a GG Allin/Marqui-De-Sade view on life”. But he is more than that. There’s the crazy antics that terrify me, but I never wanted to hug GG Allin and tell him everything would be OK. I loved their freak show nature but with Gene I know of him because of his freakish shit but I deeply care about the voice and the words he has to share with the world. I feel angry that people have turned their back on literature in favour of Facebook and Netflix. It hurts that the culture that produced him doesn’t really care about his voice, because it takes a hell of a lot to put someone through the most disgusting aspects of your life and not have them think you’re a piece of shit. That’s Gene’s charm.
Bigger Than Life at the Edge of the City: A Novel is available on Amazon.
Gregorits, Justin DC #R87343
Apalachee Correctional Institute, West Unit
52 West Unit Drive
Donations can be made at www.jpay.com to Prisoner R87343 of the Florida State Prison System