Xstabeth by David Keenan

“My dad was a musician. A famous musician. But he was friends with a musician who was even famouser…”

So begins the unforgettable Aleylina Andropov, from her hometown of St Petersburg where base is Snork’s, a DIY underground folk bar, full of weirdo bootlegs, and crate-digging maniacs hard on vodka. I know Aleylina, I like her. Her obscene and fatalistic realism is endearing. From debut alcoholic poisoning “I had been sick all over the bed twice” to sliding from naivety towards grace, as she slips her finger up the arse of a stripper in a chilly Siberian strip joint. She does it to please this famouser musician whom she is soon having an affair with. (Of course as a flailing rockstar, he wasn’t watching, half-shot, haranguing a swimsuit n heels on the other side of the club, before falling over, forcing Aleylina pull a gun on herself, shitty finger slipping on the trigger, saved, shortly before impregnating her.) It’s a brawling Celtic tongue which can carve the brutality of feminism with a soft lick, the same androgynous tongue as indie musicians from the same town who shelter from Glasgow gales.

The fourth novel from David Keenan, born 1971, he rockstars out of the open-wound of a performer’s ego, with the main story framed as a magickal punk bildungsroman by another facet of himself, a ‘David W. Keenan’ who somewhat dramatically throws himself from the Tower of his St Rule’s School of magick, tarot and bibliomancy, after self-publishing Xstabeth as a riddle of a lost recording.  Presenting Aleylina’s story as a sacred text, it is “Illuminated” by intercuts from groupies of science and fiction, attendees of St. Rules. They splice through their guru’s novel in a collage of parallel universes.  Aleylina will lay it down: “At least my father believes in something. I went to say. But then I didn’t”, with a student such as Denise Kaufman (SR | SIF) offering some quasi-logic: “anomic aphasia is the feeling that a word is on the tip of tongue”.   These stylistic jolts scape as metaphysical threads, mirroring ‘David W. Keenan’’s obsolescence – he died singing that he is disappearing much as Aleylina stutters like Sartre, unsure of herself, “By the time we crossed over town. By the time we crossed over town everything had changed”, wondering if “I am pregnant with mummy”, to knowing she’s been played by a pro: “He compared me to certain months…to the beauty of a wild mountain…it all went to my head.” It is a novel of synchronicity.

The poetry is the theme of the incomparable love reserved for our parents; the great unfuckables, who fly like shining Blake visions, reassuring as the hetero-norms of the latter day patriarchal saints of Leonard Cohen, Nick Drake and Bob Desper.

With a shaman’s knife, sentences rarely weighing out beyond an average of five word spells, Keenan samples the sleaze of Nabakov, and bleak indulgence of Dostoyevsky, yet it is Bulgakov’s humour that strains into west Scotland midway, like John Niven on a golf buggy (that magical artistic echo, St. Andrews being Keenan’s home). Aleylina plummets max trash as a golf-groupie, having an “affair with a dastard” (dastardly champion golfer) who dresses Aleylina like a hooker, asks to be called daddy, and fucks her harder than the baby kicking her spine.  

“I’m such a little tramp daddy.”  

True Daddy can’t see it, drawing birds, having his own existential crisis (with Sheila who doesn’t like music):  “True love is when you see yourself out there, in the world, completely, and when you forgive yourself…the art of love.”  Gently echoing Mother, who hangs on every page like the title, an empress, till the final curtain call.

The book is a duality, of fight and resigned futility. Of football casual graduating to golf, trapped in an acid house lad’s fantasy, looking for the same spiritual belonging through literary Russian and occult grandiose.

Resonating the gentlest white light, this wizardry is the debut fiction offering on superstar editor, Lee Brackstone’s new White Rabbit Books.  Hail Keenan as the rock n roll literati’s new prophet. He denies remembering writing much of Xstabeth, as he downs mezcal at his desk. Just as we would hope from an art-on-sleeve Glaswegian headlining the pyramid stage as the all-seeing-eye.  Author as rockstar, weaving his own need for love, he leaves me begging for an encore. Save me, Big David Daddio! 

Instead, there’s a prequel, The Towers, The Fields, The Transmitters on pre-order.

Kirsty Allison

XSTABETH, David Keenan, White Rabbit Books, £14.99 www.whiterabbitbooks.co.uk

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