by Jesus Angel Garcia
The title would imply that Jesus Angel Garcia’s novel badbadbad is loaded with all the familiar elements of sin and punishment, but this is also a novel of subtle misdirection, of well-chosen masks, a novel that forces the reader to question the distance between real and imaginary, between the roles we take on or that are bestowed upon us, our culpability for our actions and the actions of those around us.
badbadbad is, on the surface, the story of Jesus Angel Garcia (JAG) and his attempts to regain visitation rights with his young son, his work developing an internet presence for the First Church of the Church Before Church, and his rabid interest in the online dating site, fallenangels, where women suffering from abuse or bad relationships post requests for perverse and occasionally violent fantasies. Much lurks beneath this summary though, for each of these storylines contains elements of deception and control, and by virtue of the close first person narration, the various threads keep the reader unbalanced and uncertain, even as Garcia’s charming and sympathetic voice, his good intentions, assure him of the reader’s empathy.
The most subtle of these deceptions occurs before the book even begins: Garcia dedicates badbadbad to his son and as a confession to his brother. This has the effect of both elevating and destabilizing the narrator’s credibility, before ultimately obliterating all reliability by suggesting, offhandedly, that perhaps the character known to the reader as Jesus Angel Garcia is in fact a man known as “Green.”
And JAG is only one of many identities assumed by the narrator throughout the novel, as he becomes more and more invested with the fallenangels site, eventually no longer working at his day job (the Church’s website, as with everything else in the novel, eventually falls apart under his negligence), and losing himself in his obsession:
post[ing] several different versions of myself on the site, varying age, height, hair, race, occupation and hobbies to match (within reason) the requested specs of the girls…. I invested in haircare products, colored contacts, glasses with fake lenses, teeth-bleaching, platform boots, vintage to designer clothes, plus a few professional costumes, suits and such.
With many of these women, JAG insists he is only reaching out to those he can help and never judging them for their sins or blemishes or wants. And mostly these requests involve dress up or flagellation or defecation while occasionally they beg him to cross boundaries he is (initially) unwilling to cross:
On a designated night, you would follow this script to the letter. You would break into my place by smashing the window at the back door, unlocking it from the inside. You would have to be brutal, slapping me in the face, calling me filthy names, threatening to kill me, binding my wrists behind my back, tying my legs to bed posts…
Throughout, JAG insists the allure of the role-play is in helping women to find peace and happiness, but readers must question this assertion they must come to question all others, wondering if it is not the role playing itself which consumes JAG, the simultaneously creative and destructive quality of losing one’s old self and assuming a new identity, of being born clean, forgetting the sins and frailties while allowing oneself new transgressions in an unfamiliar guise.
Finally, badbadbad degenerates into a blur of violence, obsession, addiction, paranoia, and deception, all told by a narrator who refuses to analyze his actions and motivations and past, or even to define himself, leaving the reader to pass judgment. It is in this process, when we are called to be judge and jury over a character we, finally, know little about, that starts us wondering about what truly defines who we are and what we do. Is it our perversions and secret desires? Our misdeeds and failures? Our upbringing and the events of our youth? The whims of our popular culture? The commandments of our church? Ultimately, the conclusion to JAG’s pursuit of his son suggests that all gods stand as false gods in the space of those we have loved and wronged and that nothing may truly cover over those we have lost.
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