SCREAM QUEENS OF THE DEAD SEA
By Gilad Elbom
Reviewed by Tim Lieder
In Orange County Kevin Kline's literature professor/writer character posits that all great writers have an ambivalent relationship to their homes, citing William Faulkner, James Joyce and Milan Kundera. Despite being an annoying self-congratulatory ode to the movie itself, the speech rings true. It also encapsulates the work of Gilad Elbom--Israeli, left winger, death metal enthusiast, North Dakota associate professor and internet provocateur. With his premiere novel, Elbom has composed one of the nastiest love letters or one of the most affectionate fuck you letters to Israel since those poop eating passages from the Prophet Ezekiel. While nominally the story is about a nurse at an Israeli mental hospital, Scream Queens of the Dead Sea takes its meager plot and runs circles around Israeli society for all its checkpoints, random bomb threats and pathos.
Elbom at his best can turn a phrase so gloriously evil that you hate yourself for laughing. Early in the book, the protagonist's girlfriend calls him to give her thoughts on the Israeli astronaut and rant about his military record. On her second call she focuses on his Holocaust memorabilia that he was carrying when the shuttle blew up on reentry with:-
“Still, it's very clear that the purpose of this triumphant debut Jewish space voyage was not to land safely in Florida but to explode over Palestine, Texas, in an orgasmic display of emotional pornography: burnt body parts and Holocaust memorabilia raining from the heavens on peaceful redneck communities, washing both America and Israel in a glorious torrent of human debris and nation mourning.”
Even without the Arab patient who stabbed an Israeli soldier in order to get shot, and becomes a political prisoner instead, it's clear that this is no leftwing Israeli guilt trip such as A.B. Yehoshua's Facing the Forest. Elbom is running on guns blazing bridge burning psychotic rambling adrenaline. Carmel, the protagonist's married girlfriend, makes sex plans around her dying husband's mortality. One patient claims Faith Deficit Disorder while another one writes religious poems dedicated to B-movie goddess Julie Strain (hence the title.) Most of the protagonist's time is spent watching television or listening to death metal. One riff on a death metal band named after an unsolved murder in Norway, jealously notes that you can't get killed in Israel without five terrorist groups claiming credit.
Unfortunately the last fifth of the book breaks down under its own excess. If you enjoy meta-fiction, particularly the meta-fiction about writers writing the novel that you might be holding in your hand, you can masturbate to the last fifty pages. Otherwise, feel free to skim the final scenes where our hero journeys to the Arab casino, has anal sex whilst watching Star Wars and trips into a forgettable resolution, losing most of the supporting cast in the process. In a lesser work this would be a deal breaker, but the writing beforehand is so brilliant, so funny and so original you can't help but forgive Gilad Elbom for his meta-wankoff ending.
Scream Queens of the Dead Sea by Gilad Elbom. Tpb, 288pp, $14.95 or £8.35. Published by Thunder's Mouth Press.
Available here from Amazon UK
Return to Whispers review archive