Horse Crazy

by Gary Indiana

Penguin Books Canada

218 pages

Only a handful of living writers can come close to chronicling the depths of their inner and outer worlds as provocatively as Gary Indiana has done. It has something to do with the smell of death.

In Indiana’s novel Horse Crazy, the protagonist is, like the writer himself, a well-known New York arts writer quickly gaining respectability. One afternoon he bumps into Gregory Burgess in a bookshop, and his obsession eventually finds its way onto crumpling pages, baring sentiments like “I’m open to any urge you might have, however perverse or cruel,” which go unsent. Instead they settle on the floor of his apartment like the first wave of an impending disaster.

Arrangements are made, and soon it seems they are a couple, though Gregory refuses “Indiana” any sexual intimacy. Yet strangely Gregory still professes some sort of perverse love as he grinds atop Indiana, outstretched on the floor, then leaves him with just a kiss on the collar.

As their relationship progresses Gregory’s behaviour grows more strange; he borrows money and breaks dates, and Indiana’s obsession strings itself out on precarious wires. He worries he embarrasses himself over a man seven years younger, while at the next moment bemoaning the possibility it is his age and looks which turn Gregory off.

Soon it becomes apparent Gergory is sleeping with other men, and Indiana grows suspicious that Gregory never did kick heroin (as he claims he did many years ago). Gregory exploits every power which Indiana gives him, every inch of psychic territory he’s allowed to occupy is harvested with dark ambivalent emotion. But Gregory plays oblivious to the consequences of his actions, twisting every accusation and complaint against him into an attack on Indiana’s obsession — while at the same time fostering it. Eventually, as Indiana’s obsession does wane, the relationship unsurprisingly dissolves with it.

Gary Indiana the novelist ruthlessly expounds on the architecture of his own freaky obsession, unlocking all the windows and doors through which the voices of friends resonate with a despairing chuckle. Either they admonish him for submitting to such ill-treatment, ro they come as strained and distant reminders that close friends are dying away from AIDS. A few are sympathetic.

But where Horse Crazy could have been an interminable case of claustrophobia, it instead relives the awesome breadth of similar obsessed fables like Andre Breton’s Nadja and Leonard Cohen’s Beautiful Losers. Even more frightening than the relentless tone of his obsession is his open fear that he may have AIDS.

For much of Horse Crazy, AIDS, and how it has affected New York’s Lower East Side bohemia, sets off a cold frequency which underlies his obsession. In earlier chapters he meditates on the possibility of his having come into contact with the virus — he dredges up many erotic encounters in which he has swallowed semen or blood. He can only temporarily escape by waxing philosophical on the properties of mind and body, an intellectual game to divert his attention from the reality of his situation. His reaction to an ex-lover, who lies dying in a hospital of AIDS, is a mirror of his own worries that he may have contracted the virus. The ex-lover exists off-stage for the first half of the novel, though several voices inform the protagonist of his condition and urge him to visit, which he has little desire to do, it seems.

Indiana’s lengthy sentence structure often integrates several sources of dialogue which build up to frightening conclusions, and inadvertently lay bare many a fragile thought process. Horse Crazy is consumed by this perverse sense of vulnerability, defences are wasted away by faces, words and viruses.