A series of enormous explosions rocked the grounds and Jeremiah hit the deck, pieces of glass and other debris raining down upon him, pattering his shoulders. Thump! Ka-thump! Thump!
Now it is too late to turn back, he thought to himself, and wondered if Satyena, wherever she was, were laboring under the same yoke: the yoke of wanting to destroy a thing while at the same time yearning (paradoxically) for its embrace. Then he was up and running, running for the base of the cliff, wanting to look back and yet too terrified to do so, a Bible quote from one of Kill-sin’s sermons echoing in his ear: But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.
Jonesing for a drive-in theater and a hotrod El Camino?
It’s the dawn of the 1970s and everything is changing. The war in Vietnam is winding down. So is the Apollo Space Program. The tiny northwestern city of Spokane is about to host a World’s Fair. But the Watergate Hearings and the re-entry of Skylab and the eruption of Mount Saint Helens are coming…as are killer bees and Ronald Reagan.
Enter ‘The Kid,’ a panic-prone, hyper-imaginative boy whose life changes drastically when his father brings home an astronaut-white El Camino. As the car’s deep-seated rumbling becomes a catalyst for the Kid’s curiosity, his ailing, over-protective mother finds herself fending off questions she doesn’t want to answer. But her attempt to redirect him on his birthday only arms him with the tool he needs to penetrate deeper—a pair of novelty X-Ray Specs—and as the Camino muscles them through a decade of economic and cultural turmoil, the Kid comes to believe he can see through metal, clothing, skin—to the center of the universe itself, where he imagines something monstrous growing, spreading, reaching across time and space to threaten his very world.
Using the iconography of 20th century trash Americana—drive-in monster movies, cancelled TV shows, vintage comic books—Spitzer has written an unconventional memoir which recalls J.M. Coetzee’s Boyhood and Youth. More than a literal character, ‘The Kid’ is both the child and the adult. By eschewing the technique of traditional autobiography, Spitzer creates a spherical narrative in which the past lives on in an eternal present while retrospection penetrates the edges. X-Ray Rider is not so much a memoir as it is a retro prequel to a postmodern life—a cinematized “reboot” of what Stephen King calls the “fogged out landscape” of youth.
He went into the kitchen and poured her a glass of water. “How long has it been since you’ve eaten?”
“I’m not hungry,” she said. She seated herself slowly, tentatively. “Two, maybe three days. Ever since Sister Samain wrested control of the coven from the Council. Thank you …” She took the glass from Jeremiah, still looking at the paintings. “They’re all done by the same hand, aren’t they?”
He took off his wide-brimmed hat and studied them. “The same eye. Sometimes Jasper’s hand shakes uncontrollably and I have to steady it with my own. Other times I am his hand, and he tells me what to do.” He laughed a little. “He says that I am an artist, just as he. But even I know it’s the eye that sees, not the hands.”
She continued staring at them. “No, I don’t think that’s true. These pictures have lines of grace … look, see how the fingers are elongated, and tend to curve up or down depending on the position of the body. They dance upon the canvas … surely you can see that. I think you paint them together, Jeremiah.”
He swung the strap of the respirator over his head and set it on a mantle. “I’m just his hands.” He moved to leave the room again.
“Just? But hands are for feeling,” she said.
He paused at the entrance to the hall. “And they’re for killing, too.” Then he disappeared into the dark.
And she thought, It’s the heart that kills, Jeremiah. The hard one by slaying others … and the soft by slaying itself. Then she pushed it from her mind.
They were the kind of musical notes men and woman once swayed to—even worshiped to—or so Jasper had told him, ground from an instrument called an “organ”—which had once been common, or so he’d said, but had vanished from the face of the world. So, too, were there cymbals, which echoed throughout the crew compartment of the War Wagon like tinsel—if tinsel could be said to have a sound—and mingled with the steely whispers of their muskets and tanks and other gear as the truck rocked and their harnesses held them fast.
“When a maaan loves a woman,” sang a hearty and soulful voice both inside and outside the compartment, and Jeremiah knew they were close, else the driver wouldn’t have cued the music, and when he scanned the other Witch Doctors, strapped in six to a bench in the wagon’s cramped confines, he knew that they knew it too. What was more, he knew that, however fearsome they looked in their black jumpsuits and white flame-retardant vests, their goggled respirators, their buckled hats—they were frightened, too.