Low Rent Less Than Zero: u.v. ray’s drug story
Imagine Bret Easton Ellis’s debut taking place in the early 90s, narrated by drug dealer Rip (albeit a philosophical, much less moneyed Rip), and set in Birmingham City, England as opposed to Los Angeles for an approximation of u.v. ray’s latest novel from Murder Slim Press. Rendered with the author’s trademark disregard for punctuation, drug story is an audaciously underground book in both content and style.
Narrator Mark Costine is an alienated young man who sells drugs at bars and nightclubs. He refuses to work a straight job as this would entail doing “sum thing i don’t give a flying fuck about.” On the surface he couldn’t care less about the big issues.
The narrative is a hedonistic romp interspersed with frequent arias in which Costine espouses his non-participatory ethos, attacking politics and capitalism with equal vehemence. Utterly disgusted with the mainstream, he opts for various escape routes. He drinks, takes drugs, sells drugs, has sex, and views a lot of porn on VHS. When he watches the news or reads a newspaper the stories are invariably grim, ranging from race riots to a “little piece about sum motherfucker called George Hennard in Texas who’s shot 23 people dead in a Killeen city restaurant.”
Costine lives in a flat above a “closed down an boarded up” restaurant. His druggie friends are named “Superfast” and “Electric.” When the former dies of an overdose, Electric and Costine shoot speed at their deceased pal’s wake.
Still, for all his jadedness and punk nihilism, Costine is an intensely passionate individual. He claims to not “give a fuck bout anything” but this doesn’t jibe with his many extended rants. He most definitelydoesgive a fuck. Otherwise, he wouldn’t spend so much time ruminating on what he sees as a sick society. A man of contradictions, he likes “man made things more than nature,” yet marvels at “undeniably beautiful” stars and a “beautiful sunrise of amber.”
Early in the novel Costine says he “never had anyone to share anything with, an never wanted no one either,” but the morning after having sex with ex-girlfriend Samantha he betrays his vulnerability: “. . . the following cold morning after she’s gone again her lipstick stain left on the wine glass sitting on the table next to the bed compounds my sense of loneliness. i feel utterly alone an empty . . .”
His need for female companionship is more than just sexual. Losing his mother to “a brain tumour” at the age of “6 months,” Costine spent his youth in a “care home” characterized by “imposing walls” and “gothic stone edifices that seemed cruel.” Of course drug-addled Amy and uni student Sam will never be able to fill that void, nor will the drugs and porn, but temporary relief is better than no relief at all: “we are the narcotic generation, the generation that finally found our escape.”
There’s a crime subplot concerning a bouncer who confiscates Costine’s product and is subsequently whacked in a drive-by shooting. This neo-noir element adds a sense of impending doom to the proceedings. Costine’s supplier, a one-eyed thug named “Slant Eye Joe,” is responsible for the hit; perhaps our narrator will be a marked man if he ever tries to leave the business. Not that this is likely to happen. As Costine states: “drugs are not the contagion. drugs are the antidote.”
ray has stated that this is his last novel. If this proves to be the case, then he has definitely exited on a strong note.