The best liminal books guaranteed to drive you out of your skull

Stephen Wright Author Of Going Native
By Stephen Wright

Who am I?

I’ve always had a special fondness for novels that either touch upon or are entirely written from a point located somewhere within liminal space, that hazy borderland between wakefulness and dream where conventional reality undergoes powerful alteration and the imaginative force comes alive and speaks most vividly and truthfully. Works written in this manner are those I most like to read, those I most like to write. 

I wrote...

Going Native

By Stephen Wright,

Book cover of Going Native

What is my book about?

It was while watching the 80’s TV show America’s Most Wanted that I became fascinated with questions of identity and violence and the mysterious connection between the two. That, combined with Hume’s notion of the self as an unknowable bundle of sensory impressions led to the writing of this novel which is yet another depiction of several crucial months in the life of a serial killer. In this case, though, the conventional storyline has been turned inside out with the central character being relegated to the background and the traditionally minor figures whose lives our psychopath moves disastrously in and out of are presented center stage in separate disconnected chapters that trace a criminal journey westward through a contemporaneous addled America.

The books I picked & why

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Gravity's Rainbow

By Thomas Pynchon,

Book cover of Gravity's Rainbow

Why this book?

The best reading experience I’ve ever had, and I’ve read a lot of great books. It will expand your consciousness and thrill your soul. Contains nearly everything you need to know about the confusions of the last hundred years: the paranoia, the conspiracy-mongering, the inexhaustible flirtation with sadomasochism, the ever-pressing themes of Pavlovian and Freudian psychology, the dystopian misfirings of the dominating male ego, the Frankensteinian accumulations of capitalism and subsequent corporatization of the world accompanied by its perennial buddy, the rape of the environment, the love of drugs of every composition and of movies of every genre and quality. In fact, the entire novel can be read as a musical comedy in which the stars sing and dance their way toward a dazzling apocalypse because this entire kaleidoscopic onrush of imagery takes place beneath the looming shadow of the Rocket, the white whale of the 20th century.  

The narrative, such as it is, begins in London 1944, the city under nightly bombardment from Nazi warplanes and the newly-developed V-2. Turns out our hero, the American lieutenant, Tyrone Slothrop, is prone to erections that display intriguing connections with the latest terror weapon from the skies. This is the mystery that propels the plot and mushrooming subplots through the coyly labyrinthine prose to its final explosive conclusion, the book itself a verbal facsimile of a rocket aimed directly at the reader’s own unprotected head. For those with brains properly attuned, a real page-turner. Read this book. Now.

Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West

By Cormac McCarthy,

Book cover of Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West

Why this book?

The ultimate GOAT western. A blistering account of a hardscrabble gang of scalp-hunters roaming the American southwest and northern Mexico in the late 19th century, willing to kill anyone for any price and provide the fresh scalp of the victim as proof of a completed job. Original in scope and construction, the book’s hypnotic prose is an unholy amalgam of the King James Version of the Bible, Herman Melville, and Sam Peckinpah. As is standard operating procedure with McCarthy his characters are denied any conventional interior monologue and can tend to appear as flat as figures of fable and legend, check out the knights and ladies of Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur. McCarthy is working ancient forms here as well as resuscitating ancient visions. What is brought to life through this narrative is a perception of evil so consuming, so unremitting it might be considered almost un-American or, on the other hand, as American as cherry pie. There are numerous pages not for the faint-hearted.

The major character is the land itself, the inhuman, the southwest depicted as a Dantesque hallucination, sheer landscape painting as gorgeous as any in American literature which abounds in beautiful descriptions of nature.

This was one of Harold Bloom’s favorite contemporary novels. An intensely demanding critic, he considered the book to be, among other things, a convincing Gnostic allegory. That’s how much juicy material can be found in this richly flavorful historical novel. Maybe it’ll become one of your favorites, too.

An American Dream

By Norman Mailer,

Book cover of An American Dream

Why this book?

Three harrowing days in the broken-down life of Stephen Rojack, self-appointed existential psychologist, TV personality of dubious distinction, novice mystic, and all-around deeply-frightened soul who one night strangles his wife in a fit of rage over a particular sexual practice of his, goes downstairs, buggers the German maid, visions of the four Nazi soldiers he killed during the war dancing through his head, tosses the wife’s corpse over the balcony which causes a traffic jam down below whose complications will reverberate throughout the rest of the novel and all that’s just in the first two chapters.

The whole feverish melodrama is recounted in a compelling, first-person, metaphorically-enriched voice of which the electric charge of simply one of its crackling paragraphs would power several pages of many lesser novels.

You’ve seen the almost daily news stories: "Ex Kills Wife and Family" and "Man Stabs Girlfriend of 5 Years". This provocative work offers troubling suggestions as to why.

Naked Lunch: The Restored Text

By William S. Burroughs Jr., James Grauerholz, Barry Miles

Book cover of Naked Lunch: The Restored Text

Why this book?

The granddaddy of the borderland novel. An alien-scape of the good ol’ U. S. of A. No plot, no continuity, no narrative arc, no bourgeois psychology, no discernible structure, no comforting signposts whatsoever, just line after line of acidic corrosive prose whose sureshot relentless honesty will leave the perfect reader with lingering discomfort and a heady state of pure exhilaration. And it’s damn funny. This obsessively thorough psychic exploration of one drug-addled consciousness ensures that its elaborate mapping touches somewhere upon your own. And it’s damn funny. Pay special attention to the insects.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

By Hunter S. Thompson,

Book cover of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Why this book?

More America. More drugs. Go together naturally, dontcha think, like love and marriage. Hunter Thompson, inventor of gonzo journalism, takes a chemically-enhanced trip through America’s own heart of darkness: Las Vegas. Bats swoop down from the sky, slot machines say howdy, parti-colored reptiles slither in and out of the rooms, people turn into monsters, monsters into people. Nothing is what it seems, it’s worse. The entire unbridled carnival unfurled in Thompson’s idiosyncratic but highly engaging prose style. And having said that, know this is also the lightest read on the list.

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