‘Something has settled in. I am helpless like a crumpled car, Spencer says. I am helpless like a crumpled car, he says, and this is how he wakes up every day. Something has settled in and run amok. The alarm rings, the phone vibrates and glows in the dark. There is a scratching feeling at the back of Spencer’s throat. As a bad habit from growing up impoverished in foster homes full of kids, Spencer never eats breakfast. He never even thinks about eating breakfast. He does this insane thing of waking up early in the morning: waking up at three in the morning. With a purpose, a will, and a way. Sleep is a mask and waking up is a portal, he thinks.’ — Richard Cheim
‘Richard Chiem’s King of Joy traces an abandoned girl’s tragic trajectory from unloved teenager to abandoned bride to snuff porn queen. This experimental literary novel is the right amount of both dreamy and dark.
‘Corvus, limp and poisonous as a human cigarette, is at the end of her rope. She exists in a creative, hysterical subculture that’s one party after another, stuffed into “an empty Olympic-size swimming pool, filled with mostly half-naked bodies, awash in fog, perspiration, and more neon flashes.” Of course, it can’t last.
‘Corvus, staged by her playwright husband Perry, achieves cult status. When she loses him, Corvus goes from grey to black. She drifts through the underworld of bespoke pornography, where she meets Tim, her new director, and her co-star Amber, who’s a golden foil to her permanent midnight.
‘The novel is lush, packed with jarring details, and surprisingly tender. Corvus—who seems doomed to circle the drain—instead revisits images, dialogue, and objects that link her past to her present.
‘Although sex and porn drive the plot, Chiem chooses to leave the act itself offstage; this puts the novel’s focus where it belongs and intensifies the characters’ connections. In King of Joy, everyone is either an actor or a voyeur, including the reader. Chiem’s command of perspective is excellent, and each sensory detail feels like a nail on the skin.
‘The novel is enticingly bitter at times, juxtaposing sharp images against pastel-sentimental landscapes. As Corvus trails Tim down a flight of stairs, she notes the tiny tattoo on the back of his neck: “MOM.” The balance of acid and sweet is King of Joy‘s strength. Corvus’s relationship with Perry, in particular, is unexpectedly moving, natural, and tender.
‘King of Joy is a delicious, demonic novel that fades through adjacent, looping worlds in the magical early 2000s. Chiem evokes a lost decade and suggests the shape of the monsters that churned beneath its surface.’ — Claire Foster, FOREWARD
Richard Chiem Site
RC @ Twitter
Richard Chiem’s Quiet, Violent Magical Realism
Urban Hymns: ‘You Private Person’ by Richard Chiem
13 Things recommended by Richard Chiem
The Talking Book Podcast: Sky Up By Richard Chiem
‘GOOD LOOKING OUT’
‘DEEP INNER THOUGHTS OF THE CASHIERS OF EXTREME COUPONING’
‘KAFKA WATCHING THE NBA: LA, KLAY, SADNESS, AND DAME’
Excerpt: ‘King of Joy’
Excerpt from King of Joy
‘Ten Times Gravity’
‘Back Pockets Full of Dynamite’
‘Vile As I Am’
‘Baby is Going to Die Tonight’
The Second Coming
READ ALONG WITH RICHARD CHIEM
Buy ‘King of Joy’
Richard Chiem reads SAVANNAH | VOMIT
richard chiem, frank hinton and the apparatus of independent online publishing
testing we are a goldmine for frances
March 5/Seattle/Elliott Bay Book Company, 7 pm
March 7/Portland/Powell’s Books on Hawthorne, 7:30 pm
March 12/NYC/McNally Jackson, 7 pm
March 14/Los Angeles/Skylight Books, 7:30 pm
March 19/San Francisco/Green Apple Books on the Park, 7:30 pm
April 2/Seattle/Third Place Books Ravenna, 5:45 pm
Matthew Simmons: Do you have any feelings about being referred to as the Wong Kar-wai of prose by Stephen Tully Dierks? Do you like Wong Kar-wai? Do you think the association is an apt one?
Richard Chiem: I really like Wong Kar-Wai. In The Mood Of Love and Happy Together especially. I haven’t been really watching his movies much recently, but I like the actors he works with too. I wrote a story that mentions Leslie Cheung, who took his life in 2003 by jumping from his hotel window. He was one of my favorite actors. He was also a huge pop star, which added this weird element to his death and his acting. He was a person of many worlds and complex obligations.
That’s sweet of Stephen to make the comparison. That seems really cool. I think it makes sense too, because most of my stories are usually love stories. But I don’t think it’s a perfect comparison. I am a fan of Christopher Doyle’s and Wong Kar-Wai’s work together, but I kind of like darker directors: Kelly Reichardt, David Cronenberg, and Kubrick, mainly because they work or have worked in a lot of different genres but remain themselves. I want to try to approach writing in the same fashion and try different settings, however weird or terrifying or mundane, to make a narrative work. I’ve watched Dogtooth a few dozen times in the past couple of years too because the world there is so mesmerizing, so detailed in its storytelling it’s almost isolating, and I think there is a lot to learn from watching. I really like mumblecore right now too. My favorite mumblecore movie right now is actually Mumblecore by Megan Boyle and Tao Lin. I think they made something really beautiful together because it was raw and honest. It’s really its own monster. I want my stories to be their own monsters.
MS: I was also thinking that a lot of your characters react in understated ways, or the way you describe them frames them in an understated way, but at the same time, they have a real concern with the quality of light and the feeling of temperature within them. Like the stories are quiet but really bright. You seem introspective. When we talk, you seem to pay a lot of attention. I feel like you are cataloging a lot of things. Are you?
RC: Yes, I think I am cataloging things but not for stories. I think I’m just trying to be a good listener. When someone engages with me, I want them to realize that I am listening and they have me. My characters are usually the same, meaning they are there to be present, even when they are severely depressed, despondent or distracted. But they are alive and trying and ultimately a part of the world. They live in a place like ours where there are a lot of things to survive, with boredom and apathy being just a few of those things. I have always been a quiet person, absorbing different conversations as they happen and making silent adjustments, watching the scene. I have always had the same impulse of listening before saying a word.
MS: Even though you are quiet and prone to listen before you speak—and write stories that reflect that—do you feel ambitious? As a writer? As a person? Are you interested in “taking over the game?” (Secretly, I hope you are and I hope you do.)
RC: I do feel very ambitious, because my goals are to be happy and to somehow be good at what I do. For a while, I was obsessed with famous suicides and writers and musicians who had killed themselves. I wanted to know what happened to them to make them do that. I came to a realization a few years ago that I will always be writing. That would be my one constant. There were a few truths that I needed to know and practice for everything to turn out how I would envision, especially in a long vibrant life. I would absorb everything that I wanted to absorb, and use what I learned as I go, at a pace I would invent. Read and write every day and think carefully. Be a good person. Romanticize every hardship, perceiving them as other cells you have to absorb in order to get to the other side. I would like to play in “the game,” if there is one to play but right now the focus is simply to write, which is simple but not easy. It takes every day.
Richard Chiem King of Joy
Soft Skull Press
‘Corvus has always had an overactive imagination. Growing up, she develops a unique coping mechanism: she can imagine herself out of any situation, no matter how terrible. To get through each day, Corvus escapes into scenes from fantasy novels, pop songs, and action/ adventure movies, and survives by turning the everyday into just another role to play in the movie of her life.
‘After a tragic loss, Corvus finds a sadness so great she cannot imagine it away. Instead, she finds Tim, a pornographer with unconventional methods, who offers her a new way to escape into movies. But when a sinister plot of greed and betrayal is revealed, Corvus must fight to reclaim her independence, and discovers she is stronger than even she could have imagined.
‘Written in Richard Chiem’s singular style, King of Joy is equal parts sledgehammer and sweet song, a neon, pulsing portrait of grief.’ — Soft Skull
THERE ARE SCRATCHING noises outside the door, with the light vibrating underneath. Corvus washes her face with her hands, and smiles for a breath before opening the door only slightly ajar. For a moment, she doesn’t see anything, only the same narrow hallway and eerie carpet. There are paintings of the same landscape repeated along the entire length of the wall, what looks to be simply waves and rocks and a girl standing out at the edge of a cliff. The only sound is the drone coming from outside, and muffled screaming, disembodied happy girls. For a second Corvus almost forgets she isn’t alone here.
Then she sees from down at the end of the hallway, heading south for the stairs, a pack of brown pit bulls treading in rhythm, each lively and muscular. One immediately senses Corvus, and runs back down, jumping in the air to her open door. It slams mindlessly against the hinges, crashing into her right side. Corvus leans down, using the door like a shield, looking as though like she was almost about to smile again, like things were going to get better if only she didn’t blink or look away or appear like she didn’t believe in the things that were happening. She spends a few minutes convincing herself that her hand is not broken, shaking her hand as though wet.
Corvus opens the door right when the dog charges again. This time the animal stays, doesn’t pounce, and looks up at Corvus, who’s bleeding from her hand. Whatever movement she makes she makes without breathing. The dog has lipstick prints all over his face, all different shades and colors, panting in place with his entire muscle of a body. She holds her hand out. The dog comes over and licks the cut on Corvus’ hand, whimpering as she comes down to him low to the ground as natural as gravity. Corvus says, Good boy. Good boy. I love you already.
She walks downstairs.
HER EYES GROW accustomed in the dark and she can see figures emerging in the room. The dog is no longer panting by her side and has trampled off somewhere, Corvus can hear him faintly banging against cupboards and yelping. The pitbull is a little space she owns in the dark, a small truth she uses to calm down, something to isolate and follow in her mind. Listening to the sound of a door opening with no door to be seen, and with no light emitting, she almost wants to say something. Instead of struggling to see, Corvus clenches her fists, bites her lips, and waits for what’s next, breathing so slowly she feels a slight euphoria. Nothing suddenly changes for a few minutes, no movements, the large dark ahead remains, every fiber of sound seems imagined while she inhabits herself still in place. Corvus crouches to the floor, consciously cracking her knees. She says, I can’t remember the last time I was this scared.
Lights slowly go on in the basement, as though coming alive, a flickering dim then suddenly bright room. She forgets how to talk to people and what to say all of a sudden. Her eyes see everything. All the girls from outside dancing around the burning trees are lined up touching hip to hip only a few feet away from her. Corvus could see empty porn sets being lit up behind them, almost every one filled with clouds of balloons or stale rose petals. Everything clean and soft and motionless. Tim comes walking in through double doors with a camera and tripod in hand shaking the floorboards and says, It’s time to clock in.
Amber steps out from the row, the first of any of them to smile, and says, Don’t be scared. She takes a long time to walk over to Corvus and pets her hand, held inside her own. Her aureoles are small and tan like the rest of her body, her pulse is the softest warmest ticking. With Amber still there caressing her hand, Corvus hasn’t seen Amber blink once since they first made eye contact, before she suddenly winks.
They lean into each other’s ears and whisper things back and forth.
Tim sets up his camera, lighting a cigarette as he aligns the viewfinder with the floating balloons. Some of the girls wave at him but he stares straight ahead to the backdrops, blowing on his cigarette, watching it burn.
After a moment, Corvus nods and steps forward, no face on her face. She takes off her shirt and starts to lightly stretch, her shoulder blades rotating like a dancer warming up and under her breath she says, I fear there is no such thing as being naked.
AFTER TWO DAYS, Corvus begins to find her rhythm, her forearms and abdomen get stronger by the scene, and by day’s end she can hardly describe the way she feels. It is quite possible that she feels nothing. Already, Corvus keeps to herself, nodding and smiling to everyone but never asking any questions back or saying more than she needs to. Wandering the hallways, always to a balcony, she says, I don’t mind being alone here. She wears a black mask, once a hot prop, everywhere around the large wooden house in the woods. She learns from Amber that there is more than one wind that blows here, that there are four winds. Corvus leans against the glass doors and watches the forest as though something is about to arrive.
There is a stale taste in her mouth, and she licks the inside of her teeth sitting on the cold floor of the marble balcony, secretly empowering herself by being alone, enjoying the little quiet. Corvus still gets dressed in the morning although she realizes there is no need to. In her flannel, she is the one quiet girl in the chatter, and Tim uses her in every scene. Amber says, Lights, camera, and throws something like a firecracker on the bed that explodes into bright stupid confetti. Corvus at first says nothing, losing feeling in parts of her legs, grabbing ahold of the headboard. She uses every single breath in her lungs for timing, not making a noise, and for a moment she thinks, hiding safely inside her head, that some things are easy.
Corvus imagines another her walking into the room being shocked and sad and taking everything in one detail at a time, already slowly adapting to raw circumstances as she stands there a witness, as though her organs moved and vibrated inside her when she could feel herself being destroyed, ready for the thought of even more life. The basement stays lit and bright for hours.
Tim provokes her to say something.
Corvus tucks her head back and, from inside her hair, stares into the eye of the camera and says nothing. The lens zoom and expand. Her face returns no rise. The bed shakes the mattress and the box spring as one.
Tim almost reddens to act before Amber touches his arm and says, Stop.
She whispers, Leave her alone.
Amber fires another confetti kaboom above the room and says, Look, I have goosebumps, holding her arm to Tim’s face and Tim smells her arm. Corvus starts quietly moaning so only she hears. The scene ends with every single floating piece of confetti stuck motionless to the ground, altogether too numerous to count.
Corvus comes back later, in the hot stuffy evening, to walk over them barefoot, all the smooth plastic strips, when she tosses and turns and cannot sleep for the life of her, and she resolves to wander the hallways, turn off and on lights. She discovers the breeze on the floor in the basement to be the coldest air in the entire house, in the dark in the woods. Corvus says, Four winds, falling asleep there, flat on her back, briefly imagining that if she could, she would sleep in pitch dark for hours and hours in a warm or cool deep crevice and want nothing. Almost forever.
p.s. Hey. Today I’m super happy to employ the blog as an usher at the event of Richard Chiem’s novel’s birth. He’s one of my favorite younger writers. I’m kind of in awe of his prose, which has so many seemingly at odd qualities, from utter precision to deep mysteriousness, happening concurrently that his writing, or its effect, can seem almost 3-dimensional a lot of the time. Anyway, his long awaited first novel ‘King of Joy’ met reality yesterday, and I highly recommend you visit this welcoming post and, more importantly, duh, read the book. ** Keatswana, Darkening is a door’s Xanadu. What’s the work that’s turned you dawg-like? Yes, I think it is/was Mardi Gras from what I read. Too social and alcohol soaked for me. New blog stuff! Everyone, sidle over to Keaton’s blog among blogs and take in his new stuff: ‘Role Models’, ’10 Sexy Writers’, and more. Thanks, bud. ** David Ehrenstein, My rare pleasure to introduce you to a filmmaker you don’t already know. Score. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi. Well, if you can handle the format, ‘Angelus’ is online in full. Enjoy your quality Mum time. ** Corey Heiferman, Hi. Not bad: a mere week to rename a breakup a boon. Paris is for anyone with a functioning brain. I made a Robert Kramer Day, if it’s of interest. It’ll be coming up on the 19th. Those reasons not to are in fact the reasons to think about your cousin maybe? However, caveat, I’ve always encouraged my brain to go as difficult as possible, and I seem to have learned how to become its riveted, emotionally settled researcher. ** Steve Erickson, Ha, no, I too don’t see myself buying Hatari on vinyl or anything. HEALTH aren’t what they were anymore. The new one is grim, I think. Noe’s reviews are divided here as I guess they are everywhere. The more thoughtful, leftward places and papers (Liberation, Le Monde, L’Humanite, etc.) take them seriously to one degree or another while the more rightward, populist venues treat them as scandal-provokers. The heat is on! Enjoy winter’s last hurrah. ** Kyler, Oh, gosh, thanks. I can’t explain it anymore than I would guess you can explain yours. Lucky breaks? Oh, wow, the whole film is online? I just made a Malle Day, and I missed that, and I will now insert it and hope the video isn’t killed between now and launch date. Thanks a bunch! ** Misanthrope, Hi, G. Well, my practical side jumps in to note that the earth is already overpopulated, so that would mean no more baby-making, which I personally think would make life tedium on earth. I think some evolved version of Dorian Gray or vampires without the Goth and maybe without the biting might work though. Nice: the new bed. I got new heat, which is, you know, sort of kind of in the same realm. Ah, your niece is cool. Dude, you’re like an episode of on of those rare watchable./enjoyable reality shows but without the camera sadly. Enjoy that shit. ** Okay. Dig and dwell within my intro to Richard Cheim’s novel if you feel so inclined. See you tomorrow.