Book Reviw: First Aide Medicine by Nicholaus Patnaude
First Aide Medicine is Nicholaus Patnaude’s first published work. It won the International Emergency Press award from Emergency Press. Nicholaus Patnaude did social work before moving to Istanbul, where he teaches, and travels giving readings from his work.
What you first have to know about First Aide Medicine is that it is a story of love and loss. It is a timeless tale, nostalgia induced, through visions, hallucinations, and dreams. But what would you do if your only love, your only life–guard, committed suicide?
This is where Jack takes us, to his hometown. A vacation beach town where he works at a self-proclaimed surf shop that mostly sells key-chain reminders of, what will be, last year’s family trip. But no surfboards. He meets and falls in love with Karen, his lifeguard, at a video store. Haunted by her suicide, Jack moves on to blame Old Man Mason by planning 66 ways to kill him. By the way, Old Man Mason was known around town for throwing teenage parties. And intoxicating Karen on many occasions, even managing to sleep with Karen once. Jack believes that this is what killed Karen. The rest of Jack’s voyage deals with decayed bodies, gummy witches, fuzzy monsters, and Karen’s ghost creeping out of the endless ocean of Jack’s depression and vengeful crypt scheme. First Aide Medicine also includes comic strip caricatures embedded in the text, converging this book into a graphic novel.
The novel itself is a short sprint of will lasting a few 101 pages, gushing with B-horror movie imagery. Which is probably why Travis Fortney from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography, and many similar reviewers state “there’s no plot,” the majority of the characters have no true voice, and they are not “fleshed out”. And I agree. In order to read First Aide Medicine readers have to suspend their perceptions of a literary text. Like what an ordinary text looks, reads, or feels like. This could be uncomfortable, frustrating, or lead to new literary territory.
To start-off Nicholaus Patnaude summons Shakespeare’s spirit in the book’s epigraph, only to whisper “infected minds to their deaf pillows will discharge their secrets.” Then he lets Jack unleash an unsettling stream of consciousness at the reader. For example, on one of Jack’s ordinary nights, he fades and floats in and out of his dingy parents basement, longing for Karen, with words streaming “I am a thief God of the night too, Karen. I wish to be blood passing so easily through you, above and beyond you, beating my dusty wings into you. I am a moth made of unused organs the doctors never knew about.” The whole novel serves as a meditation in atmosphere and mood, and the abject, or grotesque.
But what is the point of reading something so singularly depressive and headbangingly abrasive with images of maggots, moths, and general decay? For the same reason B-horror films have cult followings, teenagers go through a black metal phase, and for the same reason people lie awake at night. The grotesque, the abject, give us reflections on our reality. It manifest in trick-mirrors and smoke, and in the case of First Aide Medicine, it is often disguised as “bad writing”. Similarly, Mark Twain fools generations of readers into believing Huckleberry Finn is a racist novel, by narrowing the reader’s experience through a young boy’s eyes. Though, Huckleberry Finn did position itself on a rooftop boldly pointing a shot-gun at the hysterical masses. (kudos to those that recognize this reference. And if you do not, go read the book. It is a classic.)
By the way, as a lengthy side-note. The novel makes an obscure reference to black metal through the novel’s fictional band Blue Smoke’s album De Mysteriis Santha, which shares similarities with Mayhem and their album De Mysteriis Dom Santhanas. I prefer San Diego’s local Hardcore band The Locust’s “moth eaten deer head” from their self-titled LP, which I think is not so satanic, or at all, but is equally as abrasive and grotesque as First Aide Medicine. But please judge for yourself by listening to each song while reading the following excerpt from First Aide Medicine. This is just an exercise in mood or atmosphere:
“Just stick your hand through my leg for five minutes.” His stumpy leg had a horrible looking gash in it. There were green inch worms and pink earth worms crawling around inside it. He leaned back in delight and his eyes rolled to whiteness… I pried apart the wound and thrust my fist inside. He nodded like it was okay for me… The gash moved. It suction-sucked and massaged my hand so hard against my knuckle I had the feeling my fingers were being rearranged.
It is OK if that did not make sense. This is just a preview of what this novella does. It works on the abject and on mood. It is suppose to be uncomfortably disgusting.
By creating a blundering experiment in the abject, Nicholaus Patnaude produces a truly organic voice for his protagonist Jack. How else would a depressive metal-head high-school reject sound like when they are drunk? Well, Jack might banter on about his and Karen’s parents, who complain that Jack’s and Karen’s “usual excursions into these nights of infinite danger suicide. But what they didn’t understand is that the blue light of these modern dream machines had colored not only their nights but also their days a frozen hue… Time can never be regained in the fantasy world…or lost.” Jack has a voice that drunkenly stumbles and intoxicates the romance of his suicidal incursion.
First Aide Medicine seems like an art-house B-horror comic melodrama, and most likely is, which might seem inaccessible to a mainstream audience, or anyone in general. But First Aide Medicine deserves a read. It will definitely squirm, ooze, confuse, and read as the most absurd 101 page novella. But take a risk, dare yourself to read a book emerging away from the mainstream. Read something novel, some–thing running away like Frankenstein’s Wretch, and love it for all its imperfection. For all its monstrosities.