Mark my words, if it hasn’t happened already, Rayo Casablanca‘s 6 Sick Hipsters (Kensington Publishing, 2008) will soon be touted as The Catcher in the Rye of the hipster generation. Or something like that. Press for the book already claims, “In this hilarious, adrenalin-charged debut, Rayo Casablanca does for modern day Williamsburg, Brooklyn, what Bret Ellis’s Less than Zero did for ‘80s L.A. — but with a knowing grin and a far cooler soundtrack.”
Only Hipsters isn’t all that funny. It tries way too hard, is far too self congratulatory and isn’t near as clever as it presumes itself to be.
Set in gritty Williamsburg — Brooklyn’s much larger Lexington Ave. area — Hipsters gets off to a fast start, introducing a confusing snarl of characters and their lifestyles. They work for dot-coms, they teach, they hang out in cafes and have weird afflictions. One is going blind. One is going crazy from drinking absinthe. There’s a lot of smoking of cloves and glaring and crusty punks. Music is referenced, real and otherwise. Or maybe the fictitious-sounding bands/artists/films are real, but are so underground that unless you’re a scenster you couldn’t possibly know.
Yet Casablanca wants us to know. He’s dropping all the insider references and still painting enough of a picture so the squarest of readers can get a sense for hip Williamsburg (Billburg or Billyburg, to those who know). The author wants us to be in on the joke (hence the wink) and to warmly embrace the Kill Bill dispatching of his characters while still sort of wishing we could be cool like them.
The text goes like this: “‘Are you on something?’ Harrison asked.
‘I grabbed some pills from Cooper at the party. Took them an hour or so ago. Helps.’
‘Knitting f**ked up, how original…’”
The characters are truly that unbearable, which makes it hard to be terribly upset when they begin to be picked off by a deranged serial killer. Maybe that’s okay — it’s one way to write a book, to create such unlikable personalities that the reader winds up rooting for their demise. But the fiction fan in me rails against that. I want to like, or at least in some way relate to, the lives in which I’m being asked to invest hours of my time.
And then there’s the murder itself. The killing is the stuff of a Tarantino film. Grotesque, unbelievably gory, viciously creative and completely over the top. And as the plot winds down (there really isn’t much of a story line: Hipsters take drugs, do various things of little consequence, get offed) the killings pick up pace until the narrative is little more than a dizzying account of graphic murder.
Some readers will, no doubt, love it. But for those looking to this to provide some insight into our generation or Brooklyn subculture or the underground art scene, don’t bother. This isn’t the next Grub or Reality Bites. It’s certainly no Hipster Handbook; it’s not even a worthy heir to Pulp Fiction.
— Alli Marshall, A&E reporter