“The fact that we don’t consider grift central to our identity is just baleful amnesia.”
In case you weren’t aware, here’s an introduction to Gary Indiana, who was born Gary Hoisington in New Hampshire.
In 2015 Indiana released an “anti-memoir” called I Can Give You Anything But Love, the title of which mimics the 1928 pop standard by Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields (“I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby”).
Forgotten Authors No.46: Gary Indiana, by Christopher Fowler (The Independent)
Some authors are less forgotten than ignored. Gary Indiana is an author whom it is more convenient to overlook. He belongs to a special breed of American urban writers who take cool pleasure in dissecting the lives of the rich and ugly, and is possibly the most jaded chronicler of them all. On a good day, he makes Bret Easton Ellis look like Enid Blyton, yet many, myself included, think he might already have written the Great American Novel(s).
Indiana was an actor before working at New York’s influential Village Voice as an art critic. He became an essayist and journalist, and wrote non-fiction on cultural phenomena from Pasolini to Warhol to Schwarzenegger. However, his first love is the satirical novel. A loose trilogy lightly fictionalised criminal cases and their accompanying media frenzies: Three Month Fever (1999) follows the disintegrating personality of Gianni Versace’s murderer in Miami and the grotesque sensationalism of its press coverage; Resentment (1997) is a work of angry genius based on the circus which followed the trial of the Menendez brothers, wealthy Californians who killed their parents and left a screenplay version of events on their computer; Depraved Indifference (2002) explores more charismatic sociopathy, as a pathetic heiress is killed by mother-and-son confidence tricksters. Indiana’s language is precise, literate, painfully honest and shockingly funny. He views these end-times with a reptilian eye, watching who gets to eat and who is eaten. His characters are disappointed with their share of the American dream, and become slowly poisoned by it.
The Bookseller referred me to this piece by Peter Goldeberg in The Baffler: All-American Amnesia. In America, most years are the “year of the grifter,” since con games are a long-term pillar of exploitative capitalism.
The year 2019 (and 2018, and 2017, and likely 2020 to come) was supposedly the year of the grifter. Newly reissued by Semiotext(e), Depraved Indifference reemerges ready for the trend. Given the timing, encomiums of “prescience” don’t feel inaccurate.Indiana would probably counter that most years in America have been years of the grifter. In his essay “No Such Thing as Paranoia” on the history of conspiracy theories and the actually conspiratorial mode of American power, collected in 2008’s Utopia’s Debris, Indiana looked back toward the Bush family and didn’t stop until he hit the Robber Barons. Citing a train crash staged in the nineteenth century to manipulate stock prices, the history of the fourteenth amendment’s usage to protect corporations, as well as more familiar sights of modern conspiracism like the Kennedy assassination and Bohemian Grove, he mounts his argument: scams, at least in the upper echelons of our society, are foundational to the United States. The fact that we don’t consider grift central to our identity is just baleful amnesia. While lamenting the American tendency to forget the import of such aspects of our society is a hobby horse for writers on the left, part of what makes Depraved Indifference enthralling is how it turns this symptom into a condition, enlivening it with a certain literality. This is a nasty, satirical, and often hysterical book, chronicling the fate of tremulous selfhood in the face of heedless, all-American hustle.
Con artists, grifters … they’re close enough for musical theater.