From the first page of Carl Watson’s new installment of the misadventures of Frank Payne, Idylls of Complicity, the reader knows they are in for a bumpy ride. After spouting an apocryphal run-in with John Wayne Gacy, Frank muses that everything he says will be taken as a metaphor for some repressed desire. He proceeds to concoct a globe-slumming yarn (not forgetting the trots) that bristles and squirms with desire and metaphor, leaving very little repressed. My metaphor for Frank would be a pinball, being shot spun, slapped and ricocheted from one impressive woman to another in a slow decline until he rolls up against Sophie.
In Backwards the Drowned Go Dreaming, Watson’s man explored a landscape of the American seventies astride a motorbike, but this installment finds him in the next decade, bogged down in a Chicago scene where not to be some kind of poseur is to disappear entirely. Like one of Colin Wilson’s angry young mystics, he is compelled by the unknown, in the form a vengeful Hindu goddess, who broods over the story from one end to the other. He and Sophie travel to India, possibly because that is the only thing they can agree on doing. Does anything good ever happen in India? Not to them, anyhow.
Watson is incapable of wasting words, and nothing is beneath his observation. A ringing phone can springboard you into a harrowing dissertation. Not since the Wizard of Oz have I encountered a work where such a large percentage of the content was devoted to dreams, but they are operatic in scope and given an equal weight as waking life.
They get around and get along well enough for a while, but as Frank passes through India, a parasite passes through him leading to ‘a week of living expulsively,’ and when he recovers, Sophie has gone off on her own, or possibly with a somewhat sinister fake fakir. Her pessimistic optimism was incompatible with his optimistic pessimism, near as he can tell. He makes a few inquiries, but returns home alone.
No one is satisfied with his account of her absence, least of all her parents, so the third act is concerned with his return to the subcontinent trying to track her down, maybe even save her from a cultish prostitution ring. But Frank can’t even find himself, acknowledging ‘there was no reality left to me other than my own obsessions.’
What we have in this mystifying oracle of a novel is a ‘Thinker’ sculpted by Rodan, the winged Japanese Kaiju, not unlike Kali Ma, laying waste to our desires.
Review by Kevin Riordan, March 2016