Reading Robert Stark's Novel Gave Me AIDS
[Originally published April 22, 2018]
What is a true aristocrat? This is one of the questions pondered by Robert Stark in his startling novel The Journey to Vapor Island. Stark, for those unacquainted with him, is the idiosyncratic host of the Alt-Leftish Stark Truth podcast. His program has been an acquired taste for me – Stark’s distinctive low-energy, low-charisma style of presentation can be unimpressive on an initial listen, and the defiantly eclectic array of show topics can be somewhat jarring for those accustomed to strictly political podcasts – but The Stark Truth has subsequently become one of my favorite programs, and I make a point of listening now whenever a new episode is posted. What one begins to understand and appreciate is that there exists a nebulous constellation of seemingly unrelated people, places, things, and ideas that together comprise the phenomenon of the Starkian. Vaporwave, neon, Japan, Sarah Michelle Gellar, the Bay Area, environmentalism, and brutalist architecture are, for instance, all quintessential manifestations of the Starkian – and The Journey to Vapor Island is best described as a literary exploration and an obsessively masturbatory odyssey into the various vapor-misted realms and smelly and shadowy corners of this conceptual constellation. Stark, however, knows little about writing novels, and this is part of what makes his book both so refreshing and so doggedly frustrating for the reader. This is wild, untamed fiction, captured in its brute condition of hairiness and honesty. The author, something of an outsider artist, reveals himself to be both more humorous and less sophisticated than regular listeners to The Stark Truth are likely to suspect. Likewise, it is not only Stark’s affinities with the Alt-Right, but his divergences from it, which make his book interesting, individual, and worthwhile.
The protagonist, Noam Metzenbaum, is a Rodgeresqe mischling, a high school loser obsessed with a wealthy and beautiful blonde Jewess, Natalie Bloom, who embodies his “aristocratic” ideal of Israeli Aryanism. (Journey to Vapor Island cover artist Mark Velard has perfectly captured Noam’s naïve earnestness, ugliness, and beatific sadness, though his Natalie Bloom, it must be said, is decidedly unsatisfactory, bearing more resemblance to Andrew Anglin in a bad blonde wig with her piss-colored t-shirt and filthy brown rag of a skirt.) The trouble is that Noam is comparatively poor and, in addition to having positively zero sex appeal, has no access to the exclusive social circles in which his elusive inamorata moves. He knows her only because his single mother, a whiny liberal idealist, works on the staff of Natalie’s father’s magazine. Noam is stuck with his mother in a confining New York City apartment and attends a disgusting public school where he is bullied by blacks and ignored by the girls he desires. He longs instead to attend the elite Chadsworth Academy in Connecticut, where he can be close to Natalie. Meanwhile, he must endure the dystopian humiliations of life in an ethnically vibrant public education system – the spites and rancors of which are intensified by racial differences and racial competition for power, status, and sexual selection:
Jerome pushes him, “Fuck off white bitch!” One of Jerome’s friends grabs his backpack and says “What you got in there white boy?” They empty out his backpack, which is filled with books. They pull out his favorite book, which is a collectible of old photographs of New York City that his grandfather Saul gave to him.
Jerome proceeds to rip the book up […] into pieces. Noam begins to cry. That was his favorite book, which reminded him of his late grandfather and gave him great aristocratic inspiration. Noam thinks, “They have no appreciation for civilization or beauty.”
Noam yells at them in tears, “You are all descended from slaves, while my father is a great aristocrat!”
One of [the] boys, who is a Dominican named Angel and a baseball star, taunts the black boy “Whacha gonna do bout dis white boy holmes?”
Jerome replies “He’s dead nigga!” and then punches Noam in the stomach. Noam cries as they continue to taunt him.
“Die niggers! Die!” Noam cries out.
“Dat’s a hate crime. We gonna sue you ass white boy!” the Dominican replies. The blacks are about to continue punching him but an administrator catches them and breaks up the fight. Noam leaves abruptly in tears.
As Noam is walking home from school he sees Angel making out with the only pretty blonde white girl in the school. His greasy brown skin, kinky hair, and ugly face desecrating the perfect blonde beauty. Noam thinks, “I’ll chop off his balls and murder the beast with my bare hands if I ever find out they consummated the vile act!” […]
Noam was never in class with her but would stare at her from a distance in the yard. She never even acknowledged his existence. He saw her socializing with a group of Dominican guys, one of whom threatened to beat him up if he didn’t stop staring at her, but he never imagined she would ever actually stoop to dating beasts like them.
“A beautiful rose floating alone in a sea of raw sewage, now sullied and disintegrating into the waste,” Noam thinks.
Noam stares at them in rage and wonders “Why would a girl like that date such an ugly subhuman beast and not a true aristocrat like me? The fairer sex apparently has no sense of justice. I will sort things out once I get into power!” Still in tears, Noam chuckles. It begins to rain.
Noam’s misanthropic resentments are not only racial, not only sexual; for him, the prevailing distortions of racial hierarchies, aesthetics, economics, and sexual justice are interconnected:
He thinks to himself, “I don’t need those niggers and spics. They are a useless race of slaves.”
Noam starts writing down notes in his journal, “A true elite would not have to rely upon such filth. A society not ruled by profit and sexual brutes but true justice, true order, true aristocratic radicalism! I will achieve great things, realize grand aesthetic visions of the past and the future. Let society decay. Burn it all down! 99% of humanity has lost its usefulness! A great cleansing of the filth!”
Masturbating to anime, he fantasizes about filling the wombs of idealized Jewish nymphs with his “Aryan seed” and “breeding a new race to save mankind”: “Noam looks out the window and fantasizes of his dream world. The Japanese futuristic city from the Blackstone book fused with the art deco film noir aesthetic of old New York from the book his grandfather Saul gave him.” Elsewhere, “Noam imagines living in a futuristic city, where artists, writers, and true aristocrats have a basic income, blonde Israeli girlfriends, and blonde teens swim naked in the lakes.”
Noam’s grandfather Saul was an architect who had worked with the powerful Blackstone family, his buildings doing much to enhance the Manhattan skyline. It is through him and through his absent father, whom Noam imagines to have been a great aristocrat, that the protagonist feels a connection with the world of the true elite and deludes himself with a sense of genetic and spiritual entitlement. He takes much of his inspiration from the fascistic manifesto of Alistair Blackstone, “Why the True Aristocrat Must Rule”, which explains that there are three kinds of men – slaves, parasitic exploiters, and true aristocrats:
You see the true aristocrat is suppressed, forced to rot in silence. We must rise up and annihilate the false elite, and establish true order, true justice, true Aristocratic Radicalism. We shall build a new imperium that will replace this decaying society, and remove the worst parasitic elements from the human race.
This new elite will breed with the best women, taking the daughters of the enemy while they are still young so we can reprogram them to serve the new master race.
Young nymphets will swim nude in a garden paradise, while great artist[s] and philosophers will observe them, paint them, and draw inspiration from their beauty of true romantic ideals that drive man to reach the pinnacles of greatness.
The Question here is how do we get to this utopia? Do not fear violence; ruthless actions are necessary when going forth in bringing about a new order based on justice and true aristocratic ideals.
The slaves must also be stripped of their rights and sterilized because they serve the parasitic elites.
The protagonist feels he “has been chosen by a higher power to receive this great manifesto and implement its grand visions”. On the following page, however, he is already doubting himself again: “Is he nothing but a speck of dust floating in the wind?” Stark has intimately realized in his novel the mingled arrogance, shame, and ingratitude of an angry and alienated adolescence informed by pettiness, lust, loneliness, envy, hate, and idealism. The result is a retreat from reality and the embrace of megalomania.
Noam takes further inspiration from the presidential candidacy of eccentric tycoon and “Psychedelic Hitler” Roger Blackstone, the American son of British aristocrat Alistair. Roger Blackstone, as Brandon Adamson has correctly argued, is not so much a depiction of Trump as an embodiment of the radicalism and civilizational will and ambition that many of his supporters probably preferred to project onto the promising candidate:
As Noam and his mom are watching TV together, a commercial for Roger Blackstone comes on. […]
Blackstone is a tall slender man with wavy blonde hair, round glasses, and a pointy nose; very aristocratic in a futuristic sense. He is dressed in a black shirt and an 80’s style gray blazer, vest, and slacks. He looks as if he just stepped off a space ship from a more advanced and civilized planet; an alien here to bring civilization to the lowly human race. […]
Blackstone speaks as if he were a god, “I’m Roger Blackstone. I have dedicated my life to advancing civilization and furthering human progress, from finding cures to deadly diseases, to radical life extension, to building utopian cities. Imagine a world where you can get on a fast train in Miami and be in New York City in 30 minutes. Imagine an end to aging and illness. I have the power to re-write the human genome and end all human suffering. Imagine an end to all ecological degradation, preventing utter ecological catastrophe. I have the solutions to end our petroleum based economy, implementing high speed railway and monorail networks; vertical farms and renewable energy from unknown energy sources. I will help rebuild our suburban wastelands into magnificent walkable communities, accessible to mass transit and parklands; but most importantly true freedom. The freedom to live in the utopia you desire. Whether it is a vertical garden city, a neon lit retro wonderland, or a European style village. I’ve actually built these things and understand that true freedom will only occur when people can live in their very own utopia.” […]
Blackstone continues, “Imagine no work! Robots will do all the work, and there will be a guaranteed basic income. People will no longer be slaves to dead end jobs and will be free to pursue their dreams and reach their full potential. Imagine no ugliness! I will offer economic incentives for the most attractive women to have multiple offspring and implement an immigration policy limited to only the most attractive women; the best looking European models and economic incentives for all young blonde Israeli women to immigrate to avoid military conscription. I will further human enlightenment with the legalization of LSD and DMT. I will fix our broken economy with a repudiation of all debt, home mortgages, and student loans, and an end to all interest with nationalization of the banks. Vote for me. I will make your dreams come true!”
The passages of the book containing these grandiose visions for the future are so captivating and so entertaining that some readers may find themselves wishing Stark had simply written his own manifesto rather than spicing a novel with dashes of this material here and there. The Journey to Vapor Island is ultimately Noam’s story, however, and Stark eventually whisks his protagonist off to magical Connecticut, where, through his mother’s professional connections and personal sacrifices, he will finally be able to attend Chadsworth Academy and be with Natalie Bloom.
In Greenwich, Noam “feels as if he has been transported to a fairy tale setting … somewhere in England perhaps,” with its “colonial architecture, the old Victorian clocks and lamp posts, the immaculate landscaping, the magical forest like setting, and the warm moist scent of marigolds; the scent of what young blonde pussy must smell like.” Greenwich is “packed with rich teen girls, his concubines,” he imagines. “He felt like this was his palace and everything was his for the taking.” He is soon to discover, however, that the shift in scenery will not effect the changes in his life for which Noam has dreamed. “He feels very aristocratic, but is self-conscious that no one is paying attention to him” as he struts around showing off his new polo shirt, a sweater tied around his neck and his nose thrust in the air.
Chadsworth Academy, as it turns out, will be a degrading and psychologically traumatizing experience. Even while riding the bus en route to his first day of school, “Noam feels as if he were trying to gain some respect from a newly found African tribe, ‘The Chad’” – Stark’s term for brutish and bullying Aryan jocks. Intensifying Noam’s frustration is his humiliation at finding himself erotically fascinated by the Adonis-like Chads:
Another boy in front of him turns to Noam. This boy has to be the youngest looking of them all and is constantly munching on candy. He looks down at Noam. This Chad seriously has anime-like eyes that catch Noam’s attention. Noam thinks, “Surely this kid understands I am being bullied by these idiots!”
The boy mumbles with his mouth full of candy, “Hey, are you gay? I heard you like sucking dick?”
“Why the hell do you think I am gay? I already have a crush!” Noam gets up and shouts. […]
Noam realizes that he has to prepare for taking a shower after gym class because he never had the opportunity in his entire life to be around such good looking guys naked. He thinks, “What if I accidentally get an erection. Don’t stare at their dicks.” […]
The bus stops at school. He has arrived at his final destination. He is on a mission, and he isn’t going to let these morons stand in his way.
The boys continue laughing and block his entry.
“Get the fuck out of my way!” Noam shouts.
Nick starts doing a humping motion towards Noam, grabbing his dick, “Yeah bitch. You like what you see? Wanna suck it?”
The other boy says, “If you don’t reply, that means yes.”
“Then I guess that means yes,” Nick says. “No worries. I got my dick sucked by Stacy last night with her retainer on. I doubt he can give worse head than that.”
Noam gets up and trips […] landing right on Nick’s lap, with his dick brushing against his face.
Noam rises again, hunching over trying to hide his erection.
“What’s wrong with your back? Stand up straight,” Nick says.
Noam gets up, and they all notice his erection.
One of the boys says, “Looks like the new kid likes dick!”
The boys’ locker room and showers are places of special dread for Noam and will eventually play a decisive part in the indignities leading into the first act’s climactic night of horror and gory cataclysm. Stark explains:
At Noam’s old school he was always terrified of the locker room and avoided it at all cost. Being the only white kid with rough black and brown kids was a terrifying experience. […]
Noam had only showered once at his old school, and the sight of those […] naked beasts just made him sick to his stomach, their dicks like giant turds.
As much as Noam despises the Chads this was his first exposure to the male figure in an aesthetically pleasing form, [prompting him to reassure himself,] “You’re not a homo Noam. It’s the feminine qualities that are bringing you to arousal. The blonde hair, smooth skin, cute faces. Yes, like girls. Exactly! Oh but the toned muscles and big dicks. Stop it, Noam! Stop thinking homoerotic thoughts! You disgust me!” […]
Then Noam accidentally gets a glimpse of Nick’s dick. It is one of the most beautiful things he had ever seen; cute and smooth, yet powerful and masculine; a pale tan line from his speedo and a nice dark bush that makes it pop out, and it was uncircumcised too. Noam gets a massive erection and is about to cum his pants. He thinks “Stop it, Noam! You should be thinking about chopping the monster off, not fantasizing about fellating it!”
Worst, the protagonist’s destined entrée into the world of Natalie Bloom is an unmitigated disaster from the outset:
The teacher continues roll call.
Noam flinches. He thinks, “Did she notice?”
His entire world sank. It was as if time froze and one second became an eternity. Every heart beat he could hear like the slow ticking of the clock.
His significant other is in the very same room as him, just a few feet away, as if their hearts beat together as one.
Noam looks over his shoulder briefly. Then quickly looks back at the fat teacher. He can hear the Chads laughing in the background, “Oooooo, someone’s got a stalker crush.”
Then he hears the popular blond girls giggle. “What a weirdo,” one of them remarks.
He looks over at his crush again. She looks uncomfortable. “Did I screw things up?” Noam thinks.
He has still more self-sabotage in store for himself, however. A simulated presidential debate in Noam’s history class – with Noam stumping for fellow visionary Roger Blackstone – furnishes the context for one of his greatest embarrassments:
There is an awkward silence. All three of the blonde Jewish girls Wendy Silverstein, Lisa Goldberg, and Noam’s crush Natalie are looking at him awkwardly.
[Noam’s rich Jewish sexual rival] Zack says, “Yeah Noam. We all know about your creepy stalker fetish, and it’s not cool. You’re just objectifying women like your idol who’s going down big time.”
Nick pulls out a piece of Noam’s manifesto that he stole when he wasn’t looking. He turns to Zack, “I got it from here.”
Two false rivals destroying the real threat to the established order.
Nick starts reading imitating Noam’s voice, pretending to cry, “I dream about that blonde Jewish girl every single night. Her golden blonde hair, almond shaped eyes, and pointy little nose. I want to lap at her golden labia and kiss her buttocks. I love her, my crush, and I know she loves me, too. The moment I laid eyes on her I knew she was mine! It is destiny pure and simple truth.”
All the girls start laughing. Noam’s crush looks mortified.
Noam screams, “I love you, Natalie Bloom!”
Natalie runs out of the class utterly humiliated.
The entire class laughs at Noam. Noam runs over, grabs his manifesto and leaves the room.
This is the final straw. Noam thinks, “Now that my crush hates me, I have no reason to live.”
He heads off to the bathroom in tears.
The antihero’s failure to win Natalie Bloom and his accumulated loathing for himself and his enemies send the troubled teenager over the edge, and his experiences in the first half of the novel culminate in a night of terror for the Chads and their guests at a decadent sex party that seems to have been inspired by the notorious sequence from Eyes Wide Shut. Stark, however, rather than attempt to imbue Noam Metzenbaum’s defining act of vengeance with the expected gravity or sense of awe, has opted instead to describe it like a cartoon and almost in passing, trivializing the climax of the story’s psychological crescendo.
After serving a sixteen-year prison sentence for the horrible crimes he commits that night – plus a few false accusations – Noam emerges a man in his thirties, more confident but still a disgusting, perverted adolescent on the inside. “I am no beta; I am the ultimate alpha,” the weirdo deludes himself. His life is also transformed by the fact that his notoriety as a serial killer has turned him into a minor cult figure, with a biopic in development from a sleazy Hollywood director named Ari Meschel. After committing a few more murders – “Now is the time to wreak havoc on the wicked and establish a true aristocratic order!” – Noam accepts an invitation to visit Meschel at Blackstone’s utopian Vapor Island. Most of all, he hopes to be able to reunite with Natalie Bloom. “I know my crush is still out there waiting for me,” Noam declares, also entertaining the curious notion that her youth and sexual pristineness have been preserved especially for him.
Before catching up with Natalie, however, Noam diverts the reader with his explorations of Vapor Island, “that magical world where the past meets the future that Noam had always dreamed about.” This retrofuturistic Shangri-La, which will serve as the setting for the remainder of the story, is essentially a playground for Robert Stark’s id, his descriptions of its retrowave-and-vaporwave-inspired aesthetics achieving almost the same obsessive and masturbatory quality as the dozens of pages of tacky sex scenes. Indeed, Noam “gets a massive erection thinking about all the grand architectural visions that are being implemented”:
A map on the airplane shows the island is located directly east of the Carolinas. “The Island is right outside the Bermuda triangle and enjoys a superb subtropical climate,” the pilot remarks.
As they approach the Island, it appears to be a giant magical star floating in the night sky, made of elements of pink, purple, turquoise, and golden light. As they move in closer to the island they can make out it’s a landform.
Noam looks out the window and admires the glistening, colorful skyline of the island. He has finally arrived in his electric paradise. […]
From the landing strip of the airport, Noam can see the skyline across the bay. He admires the uniform color pattern of the skyline: black glass with gold, turquoise, pink, and purple neon.
There is a giant black, gold, and pink, neon pyramid, and the tallest tower which resembles the shape of the empire state building. […]
Noam takes in all the details of the aesthetics of the island; like rediscovering remnants from a dream. […]
They turn away from the waterfront up the main boulevard, which is lined with Parisian style lamp posts, wide pedestrian walkways, palm trees, and a cityscape of black glass with animated gold, pink, and purple neon; the Blackstone color pallet [sic].
They drive by the massive Blackstone Galleria which is all black glass, covered in the same neon color pallet, but as they drive closer, Noam notices a gilded glass atrium, golden statues and lamp posts.
Harry says, “Oh yes, the Galleria. It was inspired by the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele in Milan. Anything you can think of is there. Maybe if you’re a naughty lad, Carlos will get you into the Erotic Emporium, but I shall warn you … it’s not for the faint of heart.”
Blackstone’s presidency resulted in the launching of a mass-scale eugenics program, the teenage fruits of which go frolicking in lovely droves on Vapor Island. Noam convinces himself that all of this has been designed and implemented specifically for his amusement, based on his own original vision for a futuristic society, and feels betrayed as he discovers that not everything on the island is necessarily in keeping with his lofty aristocratic conceptions. His ordeal, now that he has arrived, will be to resist the many boutique temptations that confront him during his sojourn as he searches for Natalie in fulfillment of his messianic destiny. Skynet readers will need to purchase the novel to find out if Noam succeeds, as Stark’s book, while deeply flawed and appalling, is also hilarious and very much a worthwhile experience.
Stark has described The Journey to Vapor Island as “a whole book that’s basically nothing but trolling and memes. […] I mean, my book would have something to offend just about anyone.” If the foregoing quotations from the novel have been insufficient to get this point across – if, for instance, the reader has been absentmindedly skimming this admittedly lengthy review until now – then prospective readers are hereby reminded again that this is not a book that caters to the sensibilities of conventional racial politics or moral traditionalism. If, for instance, facetious reference to how “great Roman emperors engaged in the fine art of pederasty” is a deal-breaker, then The Journey to Vapor Island is definitely not the book for you; but Aryan Skynet is recommending Stark’s novel not because of the copious quantities of faggotry it contains, but because it conveys an original literary voice and approaches racial and aesthetic politics from a unique perspective.
Racial identities and differences are implicit, if not explicit, in everything that occurs and in every social and psychological dynamic at work in The Journey to Vapor Island. One of Noam Metzenbaum’s objectives is the godlike ambition to father and forge a new race – perhaps even a new species. “The entire human race is scum!” Noam storms in his journal as an angst-ridden teenager. “Noam, you are not a lowly homo sapiens but a human alien hybrid. That’s right! That is why the lowly human race does not understand your greatness. Your father came down from outer space, choosing one human female to impregnate. Noam you are of a great master race.” He also expresses the drastic intention to “exterminate all Chads once and for all” – one of his schemes being to goad his enemies into destroying each other by instigating a race war at Chadsworth between the jocks and the Jewish elite. “When I’m emperor,” he later adds in one of many loving references to classical excess, “the only sport allowed will be hunting Chads for sport.” Noam’s journal, meanwhile, reveals an evolving position on the African Question. “I hate niggers and Spics!” he writes in a moment of anger. “They are a worthless race of slaves who have done nothing to advance civilization and are used to prop up the false elites!” Elsewhere, however, he refers to the possibility of a Wakanda-like “new Afro-Futurist order where the colored race shall reach the pinnacle of civilization.” Some of the funniest moments in the book are the several outbursts of racial animosity – such as his parody of Roosh V as a “sand creature” and this exchange set in a futuristic pleasure hotel staffed with sultry sexbots:
The bartender who Noam recognizes as Scarlett Johansson (but has not aged a day) handed him his martini, “Virgin martini? Martini for a virgin? I can change that.”
Noam is confused but soon realizes that she is a robot. […]
He is quite concerned that her image might be desecrated by being used as a sex robot for horny Chinese businessmen, but he isn’t going to allow for that injustice.
Noam usually doesn’t initiate conversations with strangers but he is curious about finding out more about the new civilization he has inherited.
He starts small talk with the Chinese businessman next to him, “Nice place.”
The man replies, “Very nice. He he.”
“Where are you from?” Noam asks.
“Shanghai,” the man replies. “This here have best sexbots this side of Pacific.”
“You’re a rich man. Can’t you find a mistress?” Noam asks.
The man looks insulted, “Fook you American White man. You had your chance, but you let Chad defile your women. You no find girlfriend. You no have waifu. You no fight Chad, but we in China had no choice. Government mandated one child policy and female got aborted. We have no women, but you people disgust me!”
“Look Chink,” Noam replies. “I fought back against the Chads, and they locked me away in the dungeon but now I’m back and this world is in for a rude awakening!”
The Chinese man realizes who Noam is and says, “I very sorry sir, please forgive me. I no idea who you are. Chinese men love Noam. We support you. You have admirers worldwide. Can I get selfie with Noam?”
Stark’s engagement with the Jewish Problem is also of interest. The author’s decision to focus on the struggles of a biracial outsider, rejected by both tributary peoples, links the character with both Elliot Rodger and Dylan Klebold – with Noam downing some capitalized “Vodka” (Klebold’s nickname) before unleashing his night of terror on the jocks. It may also indicate Stark’s partial identification with Jews – his mixed feelings on the eternal JQ – as his stance toward the Semitic presence in western civilization has tended to soften over the years and he enjoys associating with moderately goy-friendly blood drinkers like Alex von Goldstein and Joshua Zeidner. (An interesting question that may loom uncomfortably over the reader’s experience of The Journey to Vapor Island is the extent to which the author’s antihero is autobiographical. Clues may be gleaned from Stark’s inadvertent shift from third to first person on page 182 and his Freudian slip 31 minutes into his fun interview with Luke Ford.) Noam himself, however – while entertaining pungent fantasies about fair-haired Jewish women, themselves reflective of a racial hybrid ideal – explicitly identifies with his European ancestry and voices disgust with his Judaic half: “I’m not a Kike, I’m a real Aryan. You see those filthy rich Jews resent me […] They are false elites who shall be annihilated and their unearned wealth confiscated. Hitler was right in a sense, but his only mistake was not impregnating the Jewesses and breeding a new blonde Nordic Jewish super race.” Not even his identification with his Aryan half saves Noam from having paranoid fashwave nightmares about Nazis, however.
Stark’s depictions of Jews in the book are many and varied – some flattering and some not. Natalie Bloom never really materializes as a fully developed personality, but exists mainly as an ideal of virginal purity and racial excellence in the Metzenbaumian imaginary. Noam’s grandfather the architect Saul Metzenbaum presents an even more impressive figure, representing the Jewish greatness of intellect and fine cosmopolitan taste that complements, enhances, and elevates the host civilization rather than tears it down: “Saul had great knowledge of European art, history, classical music, philosophy, and he could speak German, French, and Russian.” His more stereotypical grandmother, on the other hand, “knew nothing of great culture and sophistication and only cared about money.” Stark also uses the grandmother to parody the stereotypical Jewish nihilism and tastelessly materialistic attitude toward the environment: “While they drive through the woods, Noam’s grandmother remarks, ‘Look at all this empty space. I mean they could make a fortune in real estate, but it is just sitting there full of trees!’” Noam’s mother, who shares with her son a concern for environmental conservation, embodies the Jewish ideal of social justice – a true believer in the selfless, progressive values she voices. Far from a disingenuous liberal Jewish elitist, she even scolds her son for his offensive racial insensitivity: “And I shall have zero tolerance for your racist crap. Where are you learning that? The internet! […] I’ve seen which sites you visit, and I’m not pleased!” Occupying the sleazier end of the spectrum are Jewish movie director Ari Meschel and his daughter Sarah, the archetypal Hebrew seductress and spy. Whatever the reader’s preconceived notions of Jews, Stark ought to hit the mark with at least one of his self-consciously stereotypical characterizations.
Notwithstanding its several strengths, Stark’s bizarre effort is marred by several problems that warrant discussion. One of the first things the reader will notice about The Journey to Vapor Island is the truly atrocious proofreading, which actually gives the impression that the entire book was rattled off in the altered state of a frenzy of onanism. Placement of punctuation frequently makes no sense at all, and confusing logistical holes in the timeline of Noam’s days at Chadsworth may leave readers scratching their heads. Most egregious, however, is Stark’s neglect of his own most interesting ideas and creations. Unaccountably, billionaire and presidential candidate Roger Blackstone – easily the most intriguing character in the novel – never actually makes an in-person appearance in the story. Blackstone’s conspicuous absence – a betrayal of the grandiose scope that the first half of the novel appears to promise – is all the more upsetting once the reader comes to the end of the book and finds himself mired in entire pages devoted to masochistic ass-licking pornography. Noam’s discovery in one of Blackstone’s hotels of “an old portrait of a boy from the 18th Century that resembles himself” and which corroborates his feeling that he is “descended from a great aristocratic bloodline” – a clue which seems to promise further disclosure regarding Noam’s mysterious father – is oafishly dropped and then never mentioned again. Disconcerting, too, is Stark’s reluctance to let his book express heartfelt emotion. Too often he is content to allow his novel to be self-deprecating, a safely tongue-in-cheek joke that works at the expense of his almost inhumanly grotesque protagonist – though one very well-drawn scene set at the Blackstone Plaza Hotel demonstrates Stark’s capacity to create a touching moment when he desires:
He walks up the stairs to the clock tower observation deck. He looks out and admires the view of the town and sun setting over the sea. He can even make out Chadsworth in the distance, still haunting him in his place of refuge.
He fantasizes about being in his palace’s fortress, shooting cannon balls down onto Chadsworth but thinks, “What is here to protect when I am all alone in such a romantic spot? I should be here in my royal tower with my maiden.”
As he watches the sunset, he can see the lights of the town and the glow of light from the hotel’s neon sign.
He hears steps going up the stairwell. He turns around and sees one of the blonde Israeli girls. He is speechless. “Did she come up here just for me,” he wonders.
They awkwardly make eye contact with each other. Noam doesn’t know what to say. She then walks away to look out at the view.
Trying to quickly make a move he says, “Nice view?” The girl smiles awkwardly.
He says “My name is Noam, Noam Metzenbaum. This is quite an exquisite locale?”
“Yes,” the girl replies. Noam thinks maybe she can’t speak good English.
“What’s your name?” he inquires.
“Shir,” she responds.
“Nice to meet you, Shir,” he smiles.
She smiles back at him awkwardly.
They both look out at the sunset.
“Very romantic,” Noam says.
The girl looks uncomfortable. “Oh, I know. I’m meeting my boyfriend.”
Noam looks away in despair, trying to hold in his tears. He tries not to make eye contact with her.
He hears steps coming up the stairs. Her boyfriend appears, and he is a swarthy Middle Eastern looking guy.
He ignores Noam and says something to his girlfriend in Hebrew. Then they start making out. Noam rushes back down the stairs in tears, thinking, “How does such a disgusting pig like that get such a beautiful blonde!”
Probably inadvertently on Stark’s part, his characterization of Noam’s mother’s relationship to her son is actually rather affecting, and her disappointing disappearance from the second half of the narrative diminishes its appeal. The fact that Noam at no point spares a thought for the poor woman following his release from prison, never reconciling with her or coming to an appreciation of her sacrifices, is also distastefully dehumanizing and makes the protagonist even more revolting than Stark intends. Whatever the misguided nobility of his intentions, Noam never comes across as better than a visionary but mentally deficient peasant straining in pain at the tether of his meager capabilities.
Why should anyone bother to read this urine-soaked absurdity? Why should discriminating readers take an interest in the slobbering gothic sci-fi fantasies of Robert Stark’s diseased brain, throbbing gristle, and butt-suffocated degenerate soul? Because this is where Stark’s literary career begins. What is a true aristocrat? True aristocrats are those who have ventured that terrible voyage of vengeance and neon Promethean destiny – The Journey to Vapor Island.
Rainer Chlodwig von K.
Rainer is the author of Drugs, Jungles, and Jingoism.