DOWN AND OUT IN THE IVY LEAGUE
J. G. Eccarius
III Pub / 192 pages / (October 1998)
In order to be adequately prepared for this collection, it might be wise to be aware of Eccarius’ previous works. With titles such as The Last Days of Christ the Vampire, We Should Have Killed the King, and Resurrection 2027, you know this is not going to be your average, corn-fed reading experience. Just so you are aware of that up front. Not a denunciation, but a caution for those of delicate sensibilities.
If you do tend to swoon at the occasional blasphemy, you might want to try very hard to avoid Eccarius’ material. Don’t waste your time and energy; this is the kind of work that forces its way into the public conscious, refusing to be ignored. Groups are going to jump on some of the stories in this book just to demand that they be banned. That’s fine, though: it will only call attention to it and make people curious enough to read something they might otherwise have overlooked. And to overlook Eccarius’ writing would be a shame.
It’s far from perfect, but it’s good. It pushes the limits. And, it wakes up part of that other 90% of brain cells that go unused.
Okay, let’s get the shocking part out of the way. It’s true that there are parts of the book which draw parallels between Jesus and vampires and Jesus and that perennial sub-human, Charles Manson. If you’re old enough to remember the Tate-LaBianca murders, any mention of Manson is probably unsettling. It should be; he’s a living example of the worst things charisma and a need to find something to believe in can lead people to do. None of you is old enough to remember the other guy, so we should all be able to read those references without arrhythmia.
It is that old bugaboo, religion, though, so there’s going to be a bit of a ruckus about that. We’re all strong people; we can survive it.
An unfortunate fallout of all that controversy may be that other parts of the book will be lost in the fray. The most shining work is in the section likely to receive the least attention, because it is the most normal. Normal, however, doesn’t do justice to the stories in the Past segment of Down and Out in the Ivy League. Here, readers will find a narrative voice that matches any of the memoirs crowding the bookstore and rises far above most.
“The Death March,” a duck-and-cover reminiscence, and my personal favourite selection, literally took me three tries to get through; it’s impossible to read when your eyes are tearing from laughing. Yes, it is a sobering subject and a shameful example of what war has done to children over the last few decades, but, so help me, every time I tried to read one particular scene I was overcome with giggles. That aren’t many better feelings.
Eccarius is one of those rare writers who can mix real-life tragedy and horror with a shot of humour and not diminish the final product. Do yourself a favour: set your Appall-O-Meter to “off” and give Down and Out in the Ivy League a try. You can do it. I believe in you.