Sex, Blood, and Rock 'n' Roll
With all the schlock of a B-grade horror movie but none of its sly sense of humor, Sex, Blood and Rock ’n’ Roll is a silly book that takes itself very, very seriously. The novel’s protagonist, Cassie, is a punk-rock waif eking out an existence on New York’s Lower East Side in the early ’90s. She’s getting screwed on hours and wages at her lowly retail job. She also, as we learn in the first few pages, likes to imagine cutting guys up to get her ya-yas out. Thus she is ripe for the opportunity that arises when a friend recommends her to a professional dominatrix outfit. As it turns out, young Cassie has a real talent for the trade—but when a rough customer whacks her on the head, she loses the baby she’s conceived, and her fantasies spin out of control and into reality, and voilà! We have on our hands a bona fide serial killer.
The setup has all the makings of a dumb, fun, bloody romp, but Kimberly Warner-Cohen just means it a little too much. It comes off like a book written by a talented 16-year-old with a taste for the Dictators and the Misfits. Her friends have names like Alundra and Leaf, names with which they presumably christened themselves one day in 10th-grade study hall, congratulating themselves on how cool they sounded. And as much as Cassie comes to hate men, she has an even stronger disaffection toward pronouns—much of the book is written in a style that aims for terse, tough, and taciturn but runs smack into dumb monster-talk instead. “Mouth twists into a grin as I’m about to giggle, but then stop. Instead, sit on the couch, put my hand on his.” What’d you do next, Frankenstein? Eat his brains?
The book ends with Cassie assuming a new identity and boarding a plane to London to slice up some Limey meat as “Alicia Bayham.” It also ends with a little ink/blood splatter on the end on the last page—the print equivalent of the cinematic rising-strings “It’s not over! She’s only just begun to kill!” music just before the credits roll. That little detail is so gleefully over the top that you find yourself wishing Warner-Cohen had pushed that sensibility through the whole book.
What’s too bad, though, is that Warner-Cohen isn’t a terrible writer—she can turn a nice phrase here and there, and when she’s not too wrapped up in avoiding lame bourgeois grammatical rules, elements of a strong descriptive tone peek through. She can move a story along well enough; the book is, if nothing else, well-organized. It’s possible that Warner-Cohen has it in her to write a good novel—or to at least embrace the schlock and write something truly deliciously bad.