Back in 2014, Barrelhouse Books published Lee Klein’s Thanks and Sorry and Good Luck, a collection of relentlessly honest, often hilarious rejection letters sent during Klein’s time running the literary magazine Eyeshot. A book of rejection letters might sound like an unkind gimmick which, even if done well, would stop being funny after a couple of pages, but there’s something about the blunt force of Klein’s responses which easily sustains its page count. There’s snark, sure, but there is also heart and appreciation and an expectation that people should be writing good things.
Neutral Evil ))) has a similarly unlikely set-up, one which in the hands of most writers would be completely insufferable: autofiction in which a bearded thirty-something takes some edibles, goes to a drone metal show and muses on US domestic politics, social media and guitar pedals.
Nope nope nope. Even as a 120-page novella, just nope. And I enjoy drone metal.
Happily, and unsurprisingly given Klein’s previous work, the framing device—March 18, 2017, at a Sunn O))) show in Philadelphia, just two months into the current US presidency—is simply used as a way to reflect on a moment in time and the frame of mind of the narrator. The story is about a man adjusting to the demands of a young family, sure, but he’s setting into it, not rebelling against the constraints. The time spent at the show is a gift of sorts from his wife, some time off before she leaves for a business trip and he is on toddler duty for a week.
I’m aware of my thoughts in a way that makes me aware that I haven’t been aware of my thoughts recently. They’ve been benevolently suppressed by routine, by action, or whenever they asserted themselves I elevated their status to that of a tweet, but in general I’m now beginning to realize that I haven’t been thinking, I haven’t had sufficient unoccupied free-range time alone to hear myself think, and now it seems I have an hour or more to myself in a crowd of mostly young men willing to pay $22 to stand and listen to super-loud low-frequency drone-doom minimalist-metal in a converted Spaghetti Warehouse.
It’s the thoughts of the narrator, and the feeling of thought in general, which Klein depicts so well in Neutral Evil ))). There’s a looseness and lightness to the writing which reads like thinking, with tangents, unlikely plans, and memories interrupted and shunted around by the real world.
You might not care as much as the narrator does about guitar amps, but that’s fine. He’s not aiming to impress. This is simply a snapshot of a moment in a life, deftly captured.
Neutral Evil ))) / Lee Klein / Sagging Meniscus Press / 1 May 2020