Wednesday, May 13, 2020

The Petting Zoo - Jim Carroll

Like many people, I learned about Jim Carroll when he came to prominence as a poet/singer with his strange "hit", "People Who Died". I read and enjoyed his The Basketball Diaries, but I don't believe that I've read any other literary works of his before now.

This tale is of a visual artist who is overwhelmed after seeing an Velazquez exhibit and goes through many strange adventures afterwards, including a short time in a psych ward, which he describes with enough detail to make me wonder if Carroll has spent time in one himself. Carroll does have a poetic gift for detail which enhances rather than diminishes the narrative, although there are times when he draws out the minute to an extreme measure and I find myself wishing he would get to the meat of the story. Admittedly that is meant to be a foible of the character so possibly it is deliberate.

There's lots of religious imagery, as Carroll, a former Catholic, would also put in his non-fiction works, along with drawn out (failed) sex scenes (the main character is a virgin), including a teenage hustler scene, which reminds us that Carroll was one as a teen. But mostly, the main character, though highly intellectualized (at times even pompous) monologues or dialogues, wrestles with his inner demons regarding his art, his success and his life in general. Sometimes these seems to devolve into the nonsensical but it does generally make for an entertaining read.

This was the man's final work and while it is nowhere near as captivating (for me, anyway) as The Basketball Diaries, it is a worthwhile read and another glimpse into the mind of the poet. His friend, Patti Smith, provides the forward.