Author: Hunter S Thompson, (4/5),
Screwjack is a small collection of three short stories. Initially only 300 collector’s copies and 26 leather bound books were published, and one could expect to pay upwards of a thousand dollars for a copy.
The book is introduced by Thompson’s instructions to his editor; “As for the order, I think Screwjack should be last & Mescalito first - so the dramatic tension (& also the true chronological weirdness) can build like Bolero to a faster & wilder climax that will drag the reader relentlessly up a hill, & then drop him off a cliff…That is the desired effect, and if we start with Screwjack it won’t happen. The book will peter out.”
This gives the reader some idea of what to expect; in Mescalito nothing happens. The reporter, trying to meet deadlines and waiting for the morning, types on his typewriter. Having run out of his precious dexedrine, he takes some speed-laced mescaline in order to stay awake. The bulk of the story is a stream-of-consciousness style account of his drug trip. It all gets a bit meta; he is writing about writing the story that we’re reading. Despite being mostly devoid of plot, the story is gripping. It is an artifact of the intensity that nothingness can gain under the influence of mind-altering substances.
While the first story reads like a deleted scene from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the other two show more of Thompson’s breadth as an author. They are short, sharp and dark. Death of a Poet contrasts with Mescalito with its multiple twists and turns, despite only spanning six pages. It recounts a visit to a friend, and for once it is the madness of someone other than the narrator that drives the story to its grim conclusion. Unfortunately, this story loses some value by being sandwiched between a slice of life piece and the title story, which readers will no doubt be sucked straight into without time for consideration of the unsettling undertones of this short story.
Screwjack describes a disturbing relationship between Raoul Duke, Hunter S. Thompson, and a black tomcat. It blurs the lines between Thompson and his alter ego. Who is writing about whom? Thompson implies that Duke is the crazy one, yet he acts only to distress the reader with his peculiar behaviour. At first I didn’t like this story. It is weird, and it is disconcerting. The more I thought about it, however, the more I was able to appreciate the skill of writing and the fact that its intention was most likely achieved, given my reaction. The “editor’s note” at the beginning and its shocking content places it firmly in the world of fiction, but the change of perspective and writing style gives it a realism that will play at the back of your mind for days. I’m not sure about being dropped off a cliff, but the “chronological weirdness” effect is most certainly achieved.