My favorite fiction revolves around my favourite thing: fiction. The story about the story, if you will (and you will, I promise). See movies Adaptation (Spike Jonze) and Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman) and see books Fear and Loathing (Hunter S. Thompson) and Haunted (Chuck Palahniuk).
If you haven’t seen Adaptation, please stop reading this article and use whatever method of film viewage you use and get it in your brain, then continue reading where you left off. Thank you. The screenplay is written by Charlie Kaufman about a screenwriter named Charlie Kaufman (Nicolas Cage) who is adapting the real-life book, The Orchid Thief (by real-life author, Susan Orlean), into the movie you are watching. And that’s just the beginning.
A couple months ago, I happened upon a book entitled ‘You Only Live Once’ by virtually unknown author James Hunt. The book is about a failing college writer named James who has no talent or inspiration beyond his own misguided, solipsistic mental chatter. James drunkenly decides to kill people to garner material to write a novel about a kid named James who kills people.
What grabbed me about Hunt was that he also resides in Colorado. Rather, I was led to believe he committed suicide in Colorado by the vague epitaph at the end of the book. I won’t fully ruin the ending of the novel for you, but let’s just suffice it to say unless it was a very long and very inappropriate suicide letter, the timing was too perfect.
Now, I’m sitting across from the man in a booth at the bar "Anthology", in Loveland, Colorado. He looks a bit dishevelled and smells vaguely of booze, and to enhance this impression he orders a pint. He tells me he won’t talk to a journalist unless they’re drinking too, so I less than reluctantly ask for one as well.
“Everyone takes stuff like this so seriously. Not that they shouldn’t, I guess, because it sucks when someone you know dies or when someone like Kurt Cobain kills them self that you look up to,” Hunt says, filling himself with beer.
He goes on to explain how blurring the line between reality and fiction is the point behind his faked suicide and how he hopes it pisses people off.
“That’ll weed out the non-believers. Those people who are so stuck in reality they don’t give fiction a chance. I don’t know. I guess it’s not a good move business-wise, but fuck it. I don’t care about that,” he says.
Hunt is passionately recalling the more intricate details of Adaptation and the book House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski which he says create a world leaving us to wonder where that world ends and ours begins.
“That all sounds really vague and pretentious, doesn’t it? Let me just say that I am under no illusions about this book. I know it’s about a cocky college kid with no life experience, a hipster, probably one of the biggest targets of hate right now,” he says.
The book is stained with nihilism and self-loathing mixed with the high-tech gadgetry, tight-fitting fashion, and self-indulgent mentality of our generation: iPhones, moustaches, thinking of life as a series of status updates and tweets, etc.
“I was really trying to encapsulate the whole notion of today’s youth: the narcissism because of Facebook and Twitter, the blind subscription to a political party’s list of ways you should think. And how shallow it seems like we’ve all become,” he says.
Hunt says the anti-hero is loosely based on himself and his time in college. With intense hatred, copious drug use, and humorously sloppy murders added in to sweeten the deal, of course. It all feels really schizophrenic, sitting here talking with him about a character he’s both disassociated with and yet connected to.
“When I was in school, a lot of this is how I actually felt, and how I felt other people felt. Blind judgements and pretentiousness that come with being a ‘college intellectual.’ I was apart of it, and I hated it and I hated myself for it. This book was sort of an exaggerated confession in that regard.”
Hunt assures me he hasn’t killed anyone.
“It’s actually funny how disturbing it is, getting into the mind of a character who is a sociopath. That mentality kind of leaks into your everyday life. I was a real asshole for the couple of years it took me to write it. I think I’m getting better though. Now that I’m dead and all,” he says followed by a laugh.
His characters all seem to have a predilection for psychoactive chemicals, especially the over the counter variety such as those that exist in Robitussin. When taken in excess one becomes high, it is an act called “robotripping.”
“My drug use has severely trailed off in the last few years, but it’s something I’ve always tried to incorporate into my fiction. I think it’s funny. But then again, I have a twisted sense of humour, so who knows what has come of it,” he says. “I think if you know your drugs, know your body, know your mind, and you’re safe about it, drugs can be fun and enlightening.”
He’s adopted a similar view to the late, great journalist Dr. Hunter S. Thompson’s view on drugs: “I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they've always worked for me.”
“But sometimes one goes too far and I don’t condone that. Junky behavior is funny in fiction and terrifying in life. Much like suicide, I guess. Or maybe not, I don’t know, I’m high as shit,” Hunt says.
Buy James Hunt's book "You Only Live Once" here