As Paris was used for Hemingway and Woody Allen as a specific motif, Rodger Jacobs uses L.A., the city in and of itself, as the setting for his most recent work The Furthest Palm (2012). The title, taken from Kerouac’s masterpiece On the Road, exhibits the penultimate stage of one’s career and life, where the protagonist has reached the furthest palm and is forced to contend with the nothingness thereafter.
The coldness of L.A. is something visited by various writers, including Bret Easton Ellis, James Ellroy and Raymond Chandler. Even in Seinfeld, Kramer utters, ‘What do you want me to say? That L.A.’s a cold place even in the middle of summer? That it’s a lonely place even when you’re stuck in traffic on the Hollywood freeway?’ The point to take away from this is that L.A.’s existential nature, like other notorious cities, changes depending on the characters and the narrator, and evidently the writer. So there is Chandler’s Los Angeles and here we read Rodger Jacobs’ Los Angeles.
The non-linear method of story-telling, while epitomised in works such as William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, Lawrence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five and James Joyce’s Ulysses, is still an undervalued method of conveying scenes and characters for more contemporary literature. While Rodger Jacobs’ The Furthest Palm is not completely out of linearity, it breaks the story up enough so that it delivers to the reader a semblance of otherworldly delirium. The movement of the story feels as though Trace is coming into things near the end of one large meta-narrative, into a time where everything new has been absorbed, and that the source of creativity has been tapped. On author Hunter S. Thompson’s death, Trace laments, ‘Everyone and their mother is writing about his death already. I don’t know what I have to contribute. I can say that a great deal of what I know about writing I learned from reading Thompson but everyone else is saying the same thing. This is as big as Fitzgerald’s passing.’
What strikes me is the cautious optimism of the character, similarly to Jacobs’ Lewis Hogue in his play Last Summer at the Marmont (2012). Trace appears to be living in a time that exists in the wake of all else that has been, a severely postmodern attack on contemporary existence. Where there was a golden time, there exists now simply the present. As Jacobs says, ‘The unifying theme of the 70 pieces that comprise The Furthest Palm is the disintegration of one’s sense of self, and the inability of the protagonist to reinvent himself in a town (Los Angeles) that, paradoxically, people are known to flock to for just that purpose.’ But rather than being wholly consumed by existential grief, Jacobs’ Trace appears not entirely nonchalant but at least determined to orchestrate something from nothing, as my favourite quote from Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris attests to: ‘The job of the artist is not to succumb to despair but find an antidote to the emptiness of existence.’ Thus Trace is not a defeatist but somewhere in between an optimist and a pessimist. And this is the main strength of the character, avoiding the ‘bastard with a heart of gold’ cliché, and instead adopting the more humanly and believable character of the bastard with a weary heart.
The memory of F. Scott Fitzgerald re-enters the author’s nostalgic typewriter, so much so that the Fitzgerald’s subtle mythology acts as a parallel to many of Jacobs’ protagonists. And why not? The great writer was both esteemed as a genius but also familiar with the hollowness what was the Hollywood life. The poignant memory in Marmont, where Lewis recalls the story of Fitzgerald’s death near the mantelpiece, is here substituted with the story of his funeral, in which Dorothy Parker, at Fitzgerald’s mortuary, says ‘Poor Sonofabitch.’ One can assume Trace half-heartedly hopes the same may be uttered at his own passing.
The work is rather metafictional, a postmodern technique (or postmodern reinterpretation of earlier techniques) that works as a book within a book, or mise-en-abyme. While we read the assorted tales or drugs, human excrement, salacious affairs, and the everyday problems of McDonald’s workers, we also read of Trace attempting to become inspired to write his magnum opus, and we later enter a parallel universe where Jacobs is attempting to sell the work. There’s a connection between Jacobs and Trace, as Jacobs’ identity is later confused with Trace’s. After all, Marcel Proust wrote that the novel is a mirror held up to reality, but that the virtue of the work is in the quality of the mirror. The work also borders on gritty existentialism, a tougher look on the emptiness of existence though nicely balanced with private investigator Dan Knight’s rough-and-tumble ‘bad guy’ character costume. Meanwhile a montage of literary and filmic heroes from Henry Miller to Franz Kafka, and from Sam Peckinpah to Herman Melville and Humphrey Bogart, are delightfully injected into the text as what feels like a cultural homage, a deliberate nod to Jacobs’ own cultural tastes but, of course, an example of all the ghosts of L.A.’s artistic past that forever haunt the creative efforts of those living in the present. As Jacobs prepares to leave the fiction arena in late 2013 for creative non-fiction, it is safely assumed that The Furthest Palm is a good work to go out on.
The work is available at Amazon