2009: An Autopsy, written and self-published by Elberto Mueller, is a novel about a young guy living in Minneapolis who shoots heroin, rides the rails, paints graffiti on things, and falls easily for women due to his youthful, romantic, poetic proclivities. He travels back and forth across the country with a few sidekicks here and there—including a sometimes-anthropomorphized 2009—having misadventures together, scoring drugs, and meeting people. The guy is aware of his shortcomings and inability to do the “right” thing, but doesn’t aim to change. As a reader, it was hard to parse whether the narrator was trying to exorcise his failures or extol the scumbag life.
Mueller’s book isn’t about much more than adventuring across America in a very Al-Burian-meets-Jack-Kerouac-meets-the-guy-who-played-Kenickie-in-Grease-when-he-was-on-that-season-of-Celebrity-Rehab sort of way. Some might argue that because the book is about life, it’s about everything.
The problem with the book being about everything is that it is full of barriers that keep the reader from fully understanding the story. Between the thick and hazy prose—rife with references and half-descriptions—and the drug use, making heads or tales of the story was a struggle. But that’s okay.
Sometimes books are about having excellent stories. Sometimes books are about having excellent prose. Books that have both are deemed literary marvels, and those that have neither rarely see the light of day.
Mueller has written a book that is about the prose, not about the story. Sort of like how life is about the journey, not the destination.
While sometimes Mueller’s rhythm and style a little intense, and reading 2009 is at times akin to being involved in an awkward conversation with a burgeoning beat poet (think that scene in Peggy Sue Got Married when Kathleen Turner gets high with that leather-clad poet) there are sections of his prose that are stunning, where Mueller allows himself to relax and write something untouched by his cultural predecessors: “We drove to the gas station for coffee then struck out through the predawn and the dawn, the rolling kills of South Dakota laid out in front of us, an ongoing landscape of screaming weirdos beyond the pink sun-frosted hills over which we rolled like endless dice.” There are times that Mueller lifts us from the fog and writes something that pulls the story back to earth by signaling a universal youthful feeling: “It was the same old story of the magical, the poor, the depraved, the defective: angels lured to earth by sex and trapped by the devil in human skin in which they would never be comfortable.”
It is at these moments that I wonder how Mueller’s narrator and I can be so far apart despite living in the same state and being (roughly) the same age. At these parts of the book, I paused to wonder why I feel so old and crotchety when the narrator is living five times the life. I’m no explorer. That’s what books are for. In a way, Mueller has given readers passage to another world, where obscure writing is the native language (sometimes, you might hear a phrase you learned in college and you heart will skip a beat). If you want the adventure, you have to figure a way through all the muck.
Kudos to Mueller for having the guts, knowhow, and drive to self-publish. There was a sweet launch party for the book at Cult Status Gallery last week. Let Mueller’s gusto be an example to each one of you out there who’s completed a book but doesn’t have the cojones to get it out there.