Cabinet of Subversive Books usually considers fiction and non-fiction books, not short stories. But for Irvine Welsh’s (author of “Trainspotting”) short story “The Acid House” I will make an exception. Since I’ve now made an exception in this case it’s quite possible I will do so again in the future. Fair warning.
The reason I’ve selected “The Acid House” short story, which shares a title with a larger collection of Welsh short stories, is because it involves such a surreal and hilarious plot with Welsh’s characteristically hysterical prose style. While Welsh is no stranger to the imaginative and surreal, perhaps even magical realist literature (for lack of a better term), “The Acid House” stands above many of his stories in its ability to at once be silly and though-provoking.
What briefly follows won’t be a long essay on the story, but hopefully a good recommendation that will cause D&T readers to pick up a copy of “The Acid House” short story collection. Reading should be a discovery not a game of waiting for a critic’s highlighted events. To that end, I’ll air on the side of brevity and limited spoilage.
The main character is one Coco Bryce, “one ay the Hibs Boys,” an Ediburgh-based football hooligan “service.” The reader encounters Bryce as he gazes up into a dark sky that looks as though it were sliced open with something about to spill out of it. It may just be the effect of the LSD Bryce dropped or some combination thereof. The point is Bryce is tripping balls and fixated on a storm that has a surreal, supernatural quality to it.
Then he is struck by lightning and finds his consciousness, his very being, transported to some other place. That place being the vessel of a human baby hurtling toward the birth canal. Bryce says to himself, “This fuckin gear isnae real. Eftir ah come doon, that’s it, that’s me fuckin well finished!” Translation: No more LSD for Bryce.
And this is where I will leave any potential readers intrigued by Welsh’s basic plot.
How is it subversive, you might ask? Well, as with anything, subversion is often a matter of opinion, but Welsh’s short story is really subversive because I say so. Kidding, of course. The story’s subversion lies in its Looney Tunes-esque imagining of the potential to be found in psychedelics‘ ego death and a cosmic Tibetan Buddhism-like rebirth. The foundation of the story echoes, in a sense, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which is sort of a how-to manual for recognizing one’s death, getting a handle on the underworld hallucinations of the same, and preparing one’s soul for re-entry in another vessel. (Gaspar Noe explored this theme in his fantastic and surreal film “Enter the Void.”)
“The Acid House” also shares superficial similiarities with the opening lines of James Joyce’s “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,” in which we get a sense of the baby Stephen Daedalus’s first moments of consciousness:
Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming
down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road
met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo…
His father told him that story: his father looked at him through a
glass: he had a hairy face.
Except, Welsh makes Coco the baby quite a bit more vulgar than young Daedalus for comic effect. The author also messes around with the arrangement of words on the page to replicate the disorientation being felt by Coco in the pre and post-natal state.
Final analysis: Anything involving psychedelics, a baby, life and death is a good subversive read.
[Photo: Jeffrey Delannoy]