Jerry Stahl, a writer who got his start putting one-liners into ALF’s mouth, was saved by drugs in the best and perhaps only way they can save: by providing material. Two decades after his TV-writing gig imploded (which he chronicled in his memoir, Permanent Midnight), he has become one of our most reliable dispensers of drug-addled novels. With Painkillers, he gives us something extra: Josef Mengele. The plot is intriguing, and local: A man who may or may not be the Nazi war criminal is serving time in San Quentin, itching to be recognized for his contributions toward science instead of toward horror, torture, death, and unspeakable medical experiments. A former cop and current addict is sent to ferret him out by posing as a drug counselor. Unexpectedly, his former wife (also an addict) is at San Quentin, too, entertaining the Jewish head of the Aryan Brotherhood in a pretty weird conjugal visit. Also unexpectedly, but not really, our hero unearths a stash of WWII–era morphine (only somewhat expired) and a ancient box of wine (ditto), and celebrates his first night on the job with a solo party of oblivion and sadness. Things get weirder. The plot careens, drug-addled and twitchy, in a lively mix of drugs, recovery-speak, prison life, Nazi atrocities, Jewish history, cop talk, and frightening sex. It’s all very unsettling and unholy, but also a little sweet. Self-destructive people are cuddly like that.
Stahl’s appearance tonight includes readings by Bucky Sinister and Sarah Fran Wisby, music by the Yellow Dress, and a performance from Permanent Midnight by improv troupe Crisis Hopkins.
Fri., April 3, 7 p.m., 2009