In his extraordinary debut collection, Pure Slaughter Value, Robert Bingham tracks the conscience of a generation that grew up educated, privileged, and starved for meaning. Bingham's strange sense of morbid fancy collides with a gutsy realism; the result is splendid wreckage: a young man is seduced by his first cousin (or maybe it's the other way around) at her brother's wake ("The Other Family"); a bored couple plot to kill a man during their ski-resort honeymoon ("Marriage Is Murder"); a yuppie banker risks his whole perfect life for an affair with a junkie ("The Fixers"); an insurance-company bounty hunter tracks down walk-aways from drug and alcohol rehab ("Preexisting Condition"); and in the title story, an eleven-year-old boy is caught at the exquisitely uneasy intersection of the safety of childhood play and the pain of grown-up love and longing.
These lean, potent stories are utterly original, and yet by turns recall Salinger, in their intellectual acuity, emotional depth, and wicked, dark humor; Fitzgerald, in their vivid chronicling of a new, restless social elite; and the work of "transgressive" writers, in their pervasive sense of the imminent possibility of danger and violence, even in the most civilized surroundings. Above all, the stories in Pure Slaughter Value mark the debut of a striking new literary voice--unsparing, bold, ironic, and true--that will haunt us for a long time to come.
The new Lost Generation finds an accomplished mouthpiece in Bingham, whose sure, nervy storytelling elevates this slim first collection of stories above the usual fare. The beautiful and the damned of Bingham's world are jaded rich kids and yuppies strung out on familial malfeasance and their own immaturity, blocked from satisfaction in either work or love. In "The Other Family," the unemployed, 20-something narrator attends the wake of his junkie cousin and has a botched encounter with the cousin's sexy, headstrong sister, forcing him again to confront his lack of personal direction. The hung-over protagonist of "This Is How A Woman Gets Hit" crosses a final line in his relationship with his unfaithful girlfriend. A vacationing banker in "Reggae Nights" finds a bale of marijuana and gets fatally entangled with local drug dealers. In "Preexisting Condition," a young alcoholic in rehab escapes to track down and rescue his cocaine-addicted lover, only to find that she has teamed up with an insurance company bounty hunter. Throughout, the characters struggle to enliven their connections with each other but succeed only in exposing their own bedrock aridity and cynicism. Bingham is an agile, savagely funny writer, and it's fun to watch his brainy, abject characters tie themselves in knots. But it's as if he can't bring himself to apply the coup de grace of insight that would finally force them out of their self-pity. For this reason, too many of the stories never quite rise above the merely anecdotal.