Pussy, King of the Pirates

James Marcus reviews "Pussy, King of the Pirates" by Kathy Acker

Published December 16, 1995 8:00PM (EST)

| Over the course of nearly a dozen novels, Kathy Acker has refined her trademark madness into a kind of method, which consists of applying the wrecking ball to some literary classic, then raking through the debris for raw materials. In earlier books she drew upon Dickens, Cervantes, Rimbaud, and Pasolini. This time, Robert Louis Stevenson takes the hit. "Pussy, King of the Pirates" represents Acker's spin on "Treasure Island," although the familiar adventure is buried under an avalanche of dream sequences and erotic interludes. The plot revolves around a cast of interchangeable female characters, who dart from one location to the next. Early on, they traipse through an Egyptian whorehouse, which occasions one of Acker's goofy epigrams: "Every whorehouse is childhood." Later, they inhabit a futuristic metropolis and a girls' boarding school. One woman has an abortion; another has a roll in the hay with Heathcliff, who wanders in from "Wuthering Heights" for a cameo appearance. Finally they reach Pirate Island itself, an icky little atoll where the air is "so odiferous that the clams who were lying in the mud-water below, shell-open, and the fish whose mouths were gaping even though they were dead, could see a wall of smell." By this point my mouth was gaping, too: why would anybody bother with this pretentious (not to mention odiferous) twaddle? Acker's politics are as muddled as her prose. And despite her constant yakking about victimization, the only victim in "Pussy, King of the Pirates" is poor, defenseless Stevenson--and, of course, the reader.

By James Marcus

James Marcus is a critic, translator and novelist living in Portland, Oregon. He is a regular contributor to Salon.

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