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The world failed Diana when her childhood was taken at the hands of a physically and sexually abusive father. Now pregnant and finding no home she wishes to return to, Diana determines not to fail the world.
Everything Must Go (ITNA Press) begins when Diana becomes haunted by the wail of “Earth crying out for euthanasia” and realizes it’s her duty to travel for however long it takes–which doesn’t matter anyway (does anything really matter?), since the thread of time has “snapped for good”–to perform a mercy killing.
While it’s not clear how the means-to-the-ultimate-end will present itself or why it’s Diana’s destiny, it’s clear that civilization is imploding. This dystopia unveils, under La JohnJoseph’s self-aware eye for macabre and excessively meaningful imagery, nuns with melted eyeballs, reality TV stars panhandling, and children armed with AK-47s holding corporation CEO’s hostage. While gaining her bearings as a new teen mother, Diana steps out into this harrowing landscape, her gender hanging on like an outfit slightly askew, her preternaturally conversant fetus trying on outfits and throwing shade, and her life story destined (or desperately needing?) to mean more than “I grew up too fast […]”
This impressive debut novel is fast-paced, witty, and irreverent as it relentlessly sheds swirling neon light on the shadowy corners of human potential, and our culture’s collective dark urge to take advantage of society’s most vulnerable. Set “ between the revolution and the Apocalypse,” children are a striking a backdrop: precocious leaders and faceless casualties, they are all the outcomes of being raised to become sexual prey and capitalism’s pawns. Humanity’s escalating detachment towards violence is eerily familiar, as are attempts at self-medication through television and consumption.
Earth itself morphs in turn with humanity’s degradation. The information overload of the Internet age maps itself onto an endless, winding road of constantly shifting time and location. Cultural icons are planted along roadsides if only to show the still childlike Diana that they will let you down if you become too intimate with televised fantasies IRL. The narrative is a richly detailed gut-punch that keeps pushing a reader towards uncomfortable questions. Are we leaving a world worth inheriting? Is our world so far gone that the next generation should simply tear down the damaged one and rebuild it?
Such thoughts have been increasingly evoked by queerness cultural presence, and more recently within queer theory, where titles like No Future (Lee Edelman) and The Queer Art of Failure (J. Halberstam) reflect this novel’s themes perfectly. As LGB family shapes have moved towards marriage, monogamy, 2.5 children, and the perfect dog (here lambasted by protagonist Diana’s Lassie-like pet Sisterhood, who Diana is ordered to kill, in lieu of that abusive father, by a “murder bush” no doubt related to Little Shop of Horror’s Adrienne II), the queer question remains whether this is actually the best thing for LGB people or for the entire world. When our unchosen blood relations can do so much damage, when we can form more intimate bonds to television characters and inanimate objects, why not hit “reset” and create a new world where we build our own families?
If queer theory offers an academic way of trying to answer this, then Everything Must Go offers the literary equivalent. To that end, it draws masterfully on the places literature can go where theory falls short, pushing for maximum engagement with the absurd and taboo, gleefully layering pop and subcultural references over each other (the more historically inaccurate the better), and creating a hypercharged reality where a child can talk to its mother while in utero and where time, place, and genital configurations never rest. The result is a multivalent read that can be both quick or dense, depending on a reader’s approach.
The novel offers enough enjoyment alone from a quick jaunt through the wordplay and humorous juxtaposition of images and characters. But ultimately, Everything Must Go begs multiple readings to chew on those serious questions about whether our world is worth saving–and a reader will likely come to a different conclusion each time. Such is the effect of a satisfyingly unsettling read.
Everything Must Go
By La JohnJoseph
Paperback, 9780991219643, 166 pp.