A novel by Josie Demuth
Available as ebook only
For many millennia, heterosexual men on the prowl laboured under the misconception that, in order to convince heterosexual women to sleep with them, it would be necessary to somehow please them– by making them laugh, say, or feel good about themselves (“be nice to women,” as one sleazy old timer once advised me, “as if they were animals, or children”). Oh the naive fools! Nowadays, the average berk instead apparently knows much better, and rather than hit the town armed with a swag bag of schmaltzy one-liners and lewd puns, carries instead a selection of choice insults, with which to upset the would-be seductee’s confidence in their intelligence, looks or whatever the berk in question perceives to be their primary sensitive spot.
As the average berk tends to hate women, they’ve taken to this phenomenon – known, famously, as ‘negging’ – with spectacular gusto and aptitude. Slightly more surprising is that the average bird apparently hates themselves enough to respond to it, so that nowadays the average booze soaked modern meat market resembles, if one tunes in to the background noise, some insane effort to cultivate as much intra-gender animosity as possible in a dark room smelling of spilt sambuca.
Personally, I find it harder to say whom the phenomenon of negging reflects worse on – those sexually cynical enough to employ it, or those pliable enough to so readily go eating from the palm that just slapped them (they deserve one another, perhaps). Something of the same dilemma adheres to The Guest, debut e-Novella by La Bouche Zine editor Josie Demuth, in which the ostensible heroine/victim April, is, whether intentionally or not, easily as objectionable as the sociopathic villain/hero Gideon, a sort of super-negger who attempts to kidnap April’s psyche as part of his ongoing grudge against womankind.
I should here stress that this Gideon, a derelict schizophrenic as well as a crack seduction-psychologist, doesn’t merely draw upon negging for his amorous arsenal, but also covert hypnosis and the whole psychological gestalt that negging ostensibly exemplifies (as David Foster Wallace puts it, “somewhere between symbol and synecdoche”): our increasing awareness of what makes us tick… and how we might be made to tick. As such, Demuth’s Gideon (think Derren Brown on the pull) is an interesting invention, and the author deserves credit for espying this bold and relevant theme and fashioning it into a narrative that often moves with impressive momentum.
There are some stylistic weaknesses – frequently the world of The Guest can seem rather hastily sketched, and a few of the plot devices – such as ‘the Nine,’ the extra dimensional assembly (familiar to any occult dilettante) that Gideon imagines are dictating his pathological behaviour – can strike one as being almost as heavy-handed as a negger’s chat-up line (randomly googled selection: “Your nose is a little red. You’re like an Eskimo”).
Having said that, there’s promising material here. Such as the novella’s finest detail, the teeming key ring Gideon carries with him at all times and that presumably provides him with access to an infinity of back doors and bedside tables. “They were great little companions, his keys,” writes Demuth, honing in. “Something so small and delicate effortlessly mobilising something so strong, something a man could not move with all his might, a key could budge with the flick of a wrist.”