Zeroville by Steve Erickson is a cult novel. You can tell it’s a cult novel because it’s full of very hip cultural references and it’s hero is a disaffected wanderer with tendencies towards violence. I like cult novels and I liked Zeroville.
Vikar Jerome, the novels hero, sort of strays into Hollywood without much of a past and without much of a plan for the future. What he does have is a head full of cinematic knowledge; so much so that it is actually visable. He has a tattoo of Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor in a scene from A Place in the Sun on the side of his head. Vikar reminded me very much of Hazel Motes from Wise Blood, probably because I just read it, and of Ignatius J. Riley from A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. I think if you crossed the two of them and threw the product into The Day of the Locust you’d be pretty close to understanding Zeroville.
I fear that, so far, this probably sounds like I didn’t like the book, but I’m just not sure quite what to make of it yet. One of the characters talks about seeing a movie six times and saying “God, I hate this movie,” every time, then seeing it a seventh time and saying “God, I love this movie.” I think that may be a common experience with readers of Zeroville.
After Vikar wanders into Hollywood, he sort of wanders into a series of jobs in the movies culminating with a chance to direct his own film. Along the way he meets various people and befriends them through no real effort on his own part. All he really wants to do is watch movies, and watch movies he does. Erickson spends a lot of time summarizing the movies Vikar sees; sometimes he names them and sometimes we have to guess what the movie is. He does the same things with the people Vikar meets, naming a few celebrities and letting us figure out who the rest of them are. Far from becoming annoying, this is actually fun. In fact, I plan to thumb through the book and add most Vikar’s movie lists to my Netflix queue.
Throughout the novel Vikar is haunted by a recurring dream and by the idea that all movies contain a secret movie that wants to be released. How readers react to the way this idea plays out will probably determine whether or not they end up liking the book enough to seek out Mr. Erickson’s other work. I’m not really sure what I think of it, but I’ll be thinking about it for a while; I’ll also be looking into other books by Steve Erickson.
I confess. In the years since I first ran this review on my old blog, Ready When You Are, C.B., I have completely forgotten how Zeroville ended. I do remember enjoying the book, and I will say that this is the book that got me into reading Europa Editions, which I still do on a regular basis. Europa Editions have proven to be a bit of a mixed bag, but I have found more than a few wonderful reads by reading the books Europa publishes. I still have my copy of Zeroville around here somewhere. Maybe it’s time to finally thumb through it and add all those movies to my Zetflix queue.