By Ben Walker
The cover of Jon Lindsey’s Body High suggests a tale of parasitic infection, and to a degree that’s true. Every character here suffers from dependence in one form or another, with the main character of Leland feeling loss, lust and many more complex emotions on a journey to discover purpose. He’s a needy soul, introduced at a low point in his life, plunged into a downward spiral fuelled by substance abuse. Things are only made worse by a persistent arse wound and the fact that his recently deceased mother’s corpse has been switched for that of a Jack Nicholson impersonator.
Along the way, Leland is aided and abetted by his friend and ex-wrestler FF, and a forgotten aunt, crossing through Los Angeles and meeting various ne’er-do-wells in an attempt to fill the void caused his mother’s death. It’s a vivid journey with imagery so rich and powerful that it almost seeps off the page. Events and characters are often seen through different lenses based on what Leland is experiencing at the time, leading to some fantastically imaginative descriptions and surreal moments as reality and perception bleed together.
Despite this richness of texture and feeling, it’s not a book that will be to all tastes. The blurb skirts controversy a little by describing “misplaced lust” on the back cover, but let’s lay it on the line: this book contains incest. Leland is a broken character, and has many moments of weakness, and there’s one scene in particular where he’s weak to the point of no return. It’s a divisive moment, one that lays Leland’s flaws bare, but it also might be too much for some. I certainly found it a struggle to keep reading beyond that point as the tragedy kept piling on, with Leland constantly second guessing himself. That one regretful decision potentially colours some other choices he makes, as unfortunate secrets from his past bubble to the surface.
All told, this is a downbeat slice of life story which pulls you from slice to slice just to see where things are headed. There’s no ticking clock, no rush to the finish line; it’s more a series of events which force Leland to change direction in an attempt to keep his head above water. A lot of buzz seems to be about how accurately the story represents Los Angeles, and while I can’t speak to that having never been there, it definitely succeeds in setting out mood and tone, to the point where you feel the struggle between despair and hope all too well. Nothing about this journey is easy—as with life itself—so I’d say you have to be caught in the right mood to fully appreciate the book as a whole.
Ben Walker is a writer/reviewer from the UK, with reviews appearing on Ginger Nuts of Horror, Kendall Reviews, and in Unnerving Magazine. He also has a booktube channel, BLURB, and is easily distracted on twitter @BensNotWriting.