Matthew Thompson was born in the USA. He is writing his first book, a work of novelistic reportage about the allure of risk, set mostly in Colombia. Before striking a deal with Pan Macmillan, he was so profoundly bored as a daily newspaper reporter in Sydney that he would take his annual holidays in the wars of the southern Philippines, enjoying Pepsi with jihadist bombers and raw goat with Marines. While working on the Colombia book Matt lives in a tiny country town in Australia. He has written for Heat, The Sydney Morning Herald, Inside Sport and Dazed and Confused, amongst other publications. Here he discusses Anonymous's Go Ask Alice.
Matthew Thompson on Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
I must have been about 13 when I watched one of my elder brothers, the shifty one, get glued to his chair by Go Ask Alice. When he was all dirty-thumbed and obsessive about a book, it meant it had scenes and words that would feel strange and thrilling to read. Usually, he would take pleasure in saying I was too young for such books; that I wouldn't understand them or they might give me nightmares. So he'd flaunt them as he read - carrying them everywhere, keeping the covers showing - then hide them or shoot them back to libraries.
William S. Burroughs' The Naked Lunch was one of these and when I found it in a drawer I got some strange feelings, sure. What 13-year-old wouldn't feel weird when they discover adults publish such utterly dishevelled books with scenes of orgies where boys fuck on a vibrating chair, then one is hanged from a gallows covered in mouldy jockstraps as a girl impales herself on his dead but springy cock before biting it off? But a few weird feelings aside, The Naked Lunch had little effect. I think even at that age I understood Burroughs couldn't write books.
Go Ask Alice, on the other hand, ate me alive.
Have you read this wild and harrowing diary of a middle-class drug casualty? Did you read it with the gullibility of youth or at least before the Internet came along to tell you about the book's 'editor', Beatrice Sparks? It turns out Sparks, sometimes Sparks PhD, has an industry in publishing startling diaries of troubled youth, churning out what purport to be gritty personal accounts of teenage Satanism, teenage pregnancy, teenage homelessness, teenage AIDS, teenage gang-life, teenage eating disorders and more.
But I didn't know that, so Go Ask Alice had the voyeuristic power to haunt and disturb me. A 15-year-old girl really was enveloping me in her secret life, whispering dangerous things and showing me that transcendental experiences were within reach. Piercing through to another world of heightened senses was something I'd always wanted, and something I felt had been falsely promised in my family's Catholicism.
God's love is amazing, I was told, the best. So I figured all these adults filling up the churches and dragging their kids along must be experiencing something. Or why would they go? There must be some tangible experience for the faithful, I thought. Something no one is allowed to discuss with the uninitiated. So I waited for my first Communion, expecting visions and voices to coincide with the wafer dissolving on my tongue. Nothing.
Rather than throw out years of masses and religious instruction, however, I figured maybe revelation would come with my confirmation. The day came and I lined up and the bishop confirmed me as a member of the faith and still nothing. Very disappointing and I had to wonder if the adults were a bit dim.
So along came my brother with Go Ask Alice, which even my mother urged me to read because of its message that drugs and sex lead almost directly to insanity and death. And what an enlightening read it was. The diary entries told me LSD was the real Eucharist, the real ticket to revelation.
The girl is slipped some acid at a party and 'soon whole trains of thought started to appear between each word. I had found the perfect and true and original language, used by Adam and Eve.'
And to someone always drawn to the synaesthesia and negative capability of Keats, how mesmerizing it was to read the diarist's experience of the senses:
... the music began to absorb me physically. I could smell it and touch it and feel it as well as hear it... each note had a character, shape and colour all its very own.To have nature unfold before me, to see heaven in a wild flower or a magazine cover, surely these were worth braving the dangers that claimed the girl after her free-spirited run through California came to an ugly end.
And, for lovers of gothic literature, the dangers have a delicious appeal. The higher the price the greater the knowledge. And the accounts of madness and alienation are so high:
The worms are eating away my female parts first... I wish the doctors and nurses would let my soul die, but they are still experimenting.Our diarist recovers, stays clean and ends her journal on a positive note. Then we're told she died three weeks later, 'only one of approximately 50,000 drug deaths in the United States that year'. So many Saints to call on when negotiating the mysterium tremendum.
Of course I was upset at the abrupt ending which seemed to contradict the mood and content of the final diary entries. 'People lie, even to themselves,' said my mother, glad this book had hurt me.