Danny Bland's In Case We Die is a deeply troubling, thoroughly intense, brightly written mindfuck of a novel about a heroin addict and porn store employee in early 1990s Seattle.
Bland, a veteran of such Seattle bands as The Best Kissers in the World and The Dwarves, and road manager for Dave Alvin and the Supersuckers, delivers a bracingly vivid novel that puts readers inside the mind of a man whose life seems always to be careening out of control. Bland's writing style is bright and direct, confrontational and revelatory as protagonist Charlie Hyatt puts readers into places where we quiet middle-class suburban kids never go: shithole apartments littered with drug paraphernalia; dive bars that serve watered down cheap drinks; Champ Arcade, a sticky-floored peep show theatre in downtown Seattle that is populated by the desperate, the lonely, and the crusiers; the inside of a drug clinic where desperation makes way for a resigned sort of acceptance.
Along the way we watch a romance, see bank robbers become folk heroes, meet the noblest janitor in the world and the most assholish Wayne Newton ever encountered.
It’s a thrilling, sprawling, energetic seat-of-the-pants sort of novel, the kind of reading that grabs you intensely with its energy and passion and then gut-punches you with the kinds of brutal scenes that can only come from hard-earned experiences of pain and sorrow. It's a rock and roll life, but Bland isn't writing about the Rolling Stones, and the only fame in this book comes in a surrealistic and thrillingly bizarre sequence. Most of In Case We Die dwells on the underside of human experience, on the world that appears when most of us are at home watching Seinfeld reruns or that happens in those places that you drive past on your way home from work, pondering aimlessly about who would live there.
I was hypnotized by this novel; when my friends at Fantagraphics gave me a copy of In Case We Die for review, I expected to hand this off to a more empathetic reader and feel happy that I didn't need to live with these sorts of people. But from the first page onward I was caught up in the life and experiences of Charlie Hyatt and his unexpected romance with poor, doomed Carrie Finch. I couldn't put this book down, no matter how painful the events became, because Bland is such a vivid writer.
Judge for yourself if you're interested in picking up In Case We Die. You can listen to an NPR podcast about it here, read an excerpt from the book here and even listen to an excerpt from the audio book (which features narration from Dave Alvin, John Doe, Aimee Mann, Duff McKagin, Marc Maron and an all-star roster of underground favorites) here.
In Case We Die is like a latter day Bukowski, a viscerally written and intensely powerful book that makes me just the tiniest bit nostalgic for the days when Seattle was a seriously fucked-up city full of deeply broken but thoroughly fascinating people.