Random Acts of Senseless Violenceby Jack Womack
“Fascinating and well written . . . wonderfully inventive. . . . Mr. Womack’s New York has a constant punk-rocker violence, which unwinds with a deadpan humor.” –The New York Times
With his vivid, stylized prose, cyberpunk intensity, and seemingly limitless imagination, Jack Womack has been compared to both William Gibson and Kurt Vonnegut. Random Acts of Senseless Violence, Womack’s fifth novel, is a thrilling, hysterical, and eerily disturbing piece of work.
Lola Hart is an ordinary twelve-year-old girl. She comes from a comfortable family, attends an exclusive private school, loves her friends Lori and Katherine, teases her sister Boob. But in the increasingly troubled city where she lives (a near-future Manhattan) she is a dying breed. Riots, fire, TB outbreaks, roaming gangs, and civil unrest threaten her way of life, as well as the very fabric of New York City. In her diary, Lola chronicles the changes she and her family make as they attempt to adjust to a city, and a country, that is spinning out of control.
Her mother is a teacher, but no one is hiring. Her father is a writer, but no one is buying his scripts. Hounded by creditors and forced to vacate their apartment and move to Harlem, her family, and her life, begins to dissolve. Increasingly estranged from her privileged school friends, Lola soon makes new ones: Iz, Jude, and Weezie—wise veterans of the street who know what must be done in order to survive. And the metamorphosis of Lola Hart, surrounded by the new language and violence of the streets, begins.
Simultaneously chilling and darkly hilarious, Random Acts of Senseless Violence takes the jittery urban fears we suppress, both in fiction and in daily life, and makes them explicit—and explicitly terrifying. Paying meticulous attention to the evolving rhythm and syntax of speech, and their alliance with class and race, Womack demonstrates that woven into the mutable nature of language are clues to the dark and shifting potentials for the future of the society in which we live.
“Fascinating and well written . . . wonderfully inventive. . . . Mr. Womack’s New York has a constant punk-rocker violence, which unwinds with a deadpan humor.”—The New York Times
“Proceeded by a series of electric jolts, as though in narrative fits, Womack’s Random Acts of Senseless Violence erects a video-tombstone for civilization, lit by flashes of blue lightning. . . . The only consolation comes from Womack’s neon prose. It is enough to light up a world gone dark and mad.”—The Times (London)
“One of the most moving and heart-breaking novels of the year.”—Publishers Weekly, Best Books “94
“The central strength of Womack’s arsenal is an ability to fracture the language of the late twentieth century into vicious shards that wound us in unexpected ways.”—William Gibson
“With a street-slick future-speak worthy of A Clockwork Orange and an unflinching eye for the degeneration of our cities, Womack portrays a relentlessly convincing tomorrow that will leave no reader unmoved.”—Publishers Weekly
“Womack . .
. performs feats of brilliance on many levels here. He succeeds in balancing blistering social commentary with shrewd literary experimentation in a heartrending coming-of-age story. Flecked with black humor, this is speculative fiction at its eerie best.”—Entertainment Weekly
Mama says mine is a night mind. The first time she said that I asked her what she meant and she said ‘darling you think best in the dark like me.” I think she’s right. Here I am staying up late tonight so I can write in my new diary. Mama gave it to me for my birthday today. I love to write. Mama and Daddy write but I don’t think they love to write anymore, they just write because they have to.
I got a new bedroom for my birthday too. It’s not a surprise like my diary was. It’s not a new room but the maid’s old room. We had to let her go but I don’t know where she went. Her name was Inez and she was nice but she never said much to me or my sister Boob because her English wasn’t very good. Boob is my little sister and she has her own room now too. Her real name is Cheryl but we have names for each other that we’ve always used. Boob is her name and Booz is mine.
My real name is Lola Hart. Faye and Michael Hart are our parents. We live on 86th Street near Park Avenue in New York City.
Mama and Daddy helped me move everything into my new room this morning after my new furniture came. I have a new bed and new lamp and new desk and chair. I also got new sweaters and shoes and a dictionary for school.
I love my new diary the best of all my presents. I’d better go to sleep now but I’ll be back tomorrow. More birthday treats then, Daddy says. I know he’s telling the truth because his face gives him away when he lies. Good night.
* * *
Today is Sunday and tomorrow is President’s Day and I have a wonderful long weekend to do nothing. Daddy took us to brunch today at Rumpelmayer’s as the extra birthday treat he promised. Rumpelmayer’s is all pink inside like me and Boob. I used to like it more than I do now, it’s not as good as it used to be. Boob likes it but she’s still a kid. We had ice cream sundaes and naturally Boob got extra hot fudge. Daddy wanted to buy me a stuffie but I’m too old for those now, I think. I’m twelve. Mama says “That’s not old at all sweetie not at all” but it is. I already have more stuffies than fit on my bed now anyway. Boob started crying because she wanted a stuffie but Daddy said she didn’t have a birthday so why should she get one? Then he bought her one anyway a little brown rabbit. Mama called Daddy a sucker.
Boob is nine and spoiled rotten but I love her anyway. “Kiss it Booz” she said and then when I wouldn’t she held her rabbit on her lap the whole time we were there. It has fudgy ears now. She wanted to wear her My L”il Fetus pack when we went to brunch but Mama wouldn’t let her. Aunt Chrissie who lives in California sent it to her as a Hanukah present. My L”il Fetus is a doll baby that fits in a pack Boob ties around her stomach. When you press its button it kicks her like a real baby would. Mama and Daddy don’t like it but Boob loves it. She’d even wear it to school if they let her but they won’t.
I hate babies. They’re messy and squirmy and smell bad. I never want to have one. The more I write the more I think about what I want to write. I’m tired though. I have a lot of time tomorrow and think I’ll write a lot more.
I never wrote you on Monday because I wasted too much time thinking about what I should write. I think years from now a diary will be interesting when you can read it and see what you were doing that you forgot about later. If I’d had a diary when I was five or six it would be something to read now. I think I’d be embarrassed but I’d want to read it anyway. I asked Mama if she ever kept a diary. She said “Yes darling but I stopped and I’m sorry I did.”
“Why did you stop?” I asked.
She said “I was a foolish girl.”
“Who said so?”
‘my mother darling my mother always told me I was a foolish girl. All mothers tell their daughters that.”
“You never told me that” I said.
“That’s because you’re not a foolish girl sweetie.”
“I know” I said. “If I never stop writing in my diary then I’ll always know what I did.”
“Yes darling that’s why your father gave you your diary. So you could remember how sweet life is even when it doesn’t seem like it is anymore.” I wanted to talk to her longer but she was working on her r’sum’s and had to get back to work so I left her alone. Daddy was downtown talking to a director. I was bored so I went in the bathroom where Boob was taking a bath. She was sitting in the tub trying to squeeze water out of her baby. “You’re drowning it” I said.
“I’m not” she said and splashed water on me. ‘don’t get wet Booz” she said. I brushed my teeth. Boob started washing her hair and stuck her butt in the air so she could get her hair wet and when she did I goosed her. She jumped and hit her head on the tub and started crying.
‘don’t be a baby Boob” I said. She yelled for Mama but finally stopped when Mama didn’t come in. Boob’s only really upset when she isn’t crying, she’s Niagara Falls most of the time but it doesn’t mean anything and we know it doesn’t. It only works if you don’t know Boob. When she got out of the tub she smacked me with her towel but I ignored her and then she went away.
A typical day. Now I’m lying on my bed wondering if I want to remember everything I do. I don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t.
I’m sticking to my writing schedule much better now and here I am writing you again two days in a row. I’ve decided I’m going to give you a name so I don’t think I’m talking to a wall like Daddy says he feels like when he talks to us sometimes. Your name is Anne, that’s a good name for a diary and I’ll never show you to anyone else. What I tell you is just between you and me.
Let me tell you more about myself Anne. As you know I’m twelve and Boob is nine. We were both born in New York at Lenox Hill hospital but our parents are from other places. Mama is from Los Angeles and Daddy is from Chicago. They’ve taken us to both places on vacation. I don’t like Los Angeles or Chicago. They’re horrible places and I’m glad they’re burning down.
Mama was an English professor at New York University until they let her go last semester. She teaches 20th Century Literature when she teaches. Right now she’s trying to get another job at another school but isn’t having much luck. She also writes books and papers on what writers were really doing when they were trying to do something else, that’s the way she explains it. Students aren’t very good any more she says. ‘darling they’re so dumb you want to pinch them to see if they’re asleep. But sweetie they’re so sweet too and they do try and they have so many problems you have to let them get away with murder sometimes.”
Mama says even when they read something they really don’t. She says it’s because TV erases their minds. But she and Daddy watch TV all the time. Daddy writes for TV. When she was still teaching I asked her if Daddy distracts her students. “Oh darling he writes good things they’d never watch anything like that nobody does’ she said. She misses going to work and I hope she gets to go to another college soon. Doesn’t look good so far, that’s what Mama says.
Daddy belongs to the Screenwriters Guild. He wanted to be a novelist but Mama says he’s no Charles Dickens. He writes scripts for movies. They haven’t produced any yet but he gets paid for them anyway. He’s had shows on TV. Last year he made a lot of money but not much this year. That’s the way it’s always gone before. Mama and Daddy aren’t so good with money I don’t think. Sometimes we have more than they know what to do with and then the next month we’ll be broke. It doesn’t matter. Somebody always owes Daddy money but never as much as he owes somebody else. Whenever Mama and Daddy talk they always start talking about money if they talk long enough. They’ve been talking a lot lately.
Boob tried to put her silly My L”il Fetus on me tonight to see what I’d look like pregnant. I threw it on the floor so she said she was going to turn me in for child abuse. Boob can be so immature. She was fun to play with when I was younger but I don’t want to play dolls with her now. It makes her mad but I can’t help it. I love her but she’s so crazy. When we had the same room she sometimes would crawl in bed with me before I went to sleep to tell me all the nice things Daddy said to her.
‘daddy said I was the best girl he knew” she said. “That’s what he told me Booz. The best girl he knew.” “Go away Boob” I say. “He’s going to take me to the circus when it comes to town.” “Good now go away Boob.” “You want to go to the circus Booz?” “I want to go to sleep.” Usually I have to push her out before she’ll leave. Once she fell on her arm and we thought she broke her wrist. She was crying too much so I figured she hadn’t and she didn’t.
Sometimes even if Boob doesn’t bug me I can’t get to sleep Anne. Seems to me though I can if I write you before I try to sleep. That’s not the best reason to write you but it’s a good one. I want to go to sleep now, I think. I don’t know what I want sometimes.
Today at school our gym teacher Miss Norris showed us a video about sex diseases. What can happen to you if you do. It was a heaver and my best friend Lori and some of the other girls got sick but I think they just pretended so they could go to the bathroom and smoke. It was really boring in school today. If it was spring we could go on the roof and play games. Last month it got up to eighty for a week and Miss Norris put up the volleyball net and we had a great time until it got cold again.
Boob and I love school. We go to Brearley which is a girls only school. Some of my classmates say they miss having boys around but I don’t see how. Boys are really stupid and I don’t know why anybody would want to be around them they’re as bad as babies. Mama asked me last year if I minded going to a girls school and I said not at all, I wasn’t interested in boys. Mama said “Boys are awful scamps and worse my darling but you’ll be thinking about them soon enough.”
“Why should I?” I asked her. She gave me a big hug and kiss.
“Angel that just happens and by the time you realize your error they have you hooked my darling because boys are very cunning that way.”
‘daddy was that way?” I asked her. She shook her head. “Why didn’t you know?”
Mama said “They get more cunning as they get older my darling.”
I’m sure that’s true but I can always outsmart them. I’d much rather write to you Anne than worry about what some stupid boys are doing. It doesn’t make any sense to me. I know you understand.
At dinner tonight Mama and Daddy were talking. She was asking when he’d be getting money from the producers. Daddy said he thought he’d be coming back with a check when he got back from Los Angeles. He has to fly out there tomorrow to meet with them. Mama said “Oh darling they’re not hiring at Yeshiva they’re cutting back just like the city I heard from them today.” They talked about tenure and why she didn’t get it. I wasn’t sure what they were talking about and Boob was hopelessly lost like always. Boob asked “What’s tenure?” ‘sweetie if you have tenure you’re always a teacher no matter how bad you are.” “Why didn’t you get tenure?” I asked. “I wasn’t bad enough” she said and she laughed but later she took a Xanax and I don’t think she feels very good.
Daddy never comes in to check on me in my new room and I’m glad. I don’t want to be tucked in anymore. I was able to write as long as I wanted tonight. He was in with Boob for a long time talking but I couldn’t hear what they were saying. Once I asked Mama if Daddy wishes Boob was their only child and she said ‘don’t be silly darling he loves all of us.” Boob’s talking in her sleep now. She jabbers on all the time. I can hear her through the door but at least I can sleep through it now. Our rooms are separate and I’m GLAD, GLAD, GLAD. I like having my own room. Weekend’s almost here! Night night, Anne.
Today my friends Katherine and Lori came over. We almost always do something on Saturdays. They’re my age and go to Brearley with me. I’ve known them since first grade. They’re my best friends.
Daddy flew to Los Angeles yesterday and so Mama slept late because she knows I can fix breakfast for me and silly Boob. Sometimes Boob goes along with us when we go out on Saturdays but not today ha! ha! she had homework to do. It was so warm out today we thought we’d go to the park. Mama said to us “Be careful little geese and don’t go far past the museum. There’s perverts in every bush.” Mama calls us geese but Daddy always calls us the vipers because he says we’re always up to no good.
We went to the park and we weren’t going to go far but Anne you know how it is when you start walking and talking. There were hundreds of people in the park and the next thing you knew we’d walked down to the lake around the ramble. There were men down there sunbathing in their bathing suits. One of them that was hairy like a gorilla gave another one a kiss. “Look at them they’re bendover buddies,” Katherine said. Lori started giggling. I asked “What’s so funny?” “How do they walk?” Lori said. She meant with their things between their legs. “You’d know,” Katherine said. Lori went out with a fourteen year old boy named Simon Norris last Halloween. He was a brother of her brother’s friend. They didn’t do anything, she told me. She said they kissed for a while and he tried to take off her bra but she wouldn’t let him so he stopped. “You’d know, Lori” Katherine kept saying. Lori said ‘shut up Kat you’re so stupid.” They’re always arguing.
I finished my Coke so I took the can and stuck it between my legs and walked around all straddle legged. “They walk like this’ I said. Lori fell down laughing and Katherine acted like she didn’t know us. “That’s so disgusting” she said. She’s a real prisser.
We walked back to the east side of the park because Mama says it’s safer on that side. When we got ready to cross the road we smelled something burning. There was an ambulance and some people and policemen were standing by a tree and we ran to see what happened. Somebody set a homeless person on fire a rollerblader woman told us. Katherine got sick and said she was going to spew. Lori and I tried to see if he was all burned up but they already put him in the ambulance. “That’s nothing you want to see” an old man said to me and I wanted to say how do you know but I didn’t. Katherine was all green and shaking but she didn’t blow. Lori called her a sissy but Lori didn’t look like she felt good either.
On our way back we saw some black and Spanish girls breaking bottles on the wall of the park. From the way they were laughing I just knew they set the man on fire. “You’re racist” Lori said when I told her what I thought. “I am not” I said but she said I was. I think Katherine thought I was right but she didn’t say anything. I’m not a racist but I’m sure those kids did it, I don’t know how I knew but I do. When we walked by the homeless people we saw on 86th Street Anne I wondered how many times somebody tried to hurt them or set them on fire. Mama and Daddy always give money to homeless charities but there’s still homeless everywhere.
We went back to Lori’s apartment and hung out in her room for awhile. Lori and her parents live on 83 rd between Park and Lexington. Katherine said she was worried because her mom said she should be getting her period soon but she hadn’t yet. Lori said don’t be in any rush. When granny comes to visit me it’s not so bad. I think I came out lucky, it only hurts the first day and then not anymore. Katherine says she doesn’t want to use tampons, she tried to use one and it hurt. “Then you’ll have to use mouse mattresses’ Lori said. “No tampons for sissies.” Katherine got mad again but not for long. We listened to music and then I came home.
There wasn’t anything about the man on the news tonight. I remember there used to be when they set people on fire. I didn’t tell Mama or Boob about what we saw in the park because it gets Mama upset to hear about things like that. Boob gets so mad when I see something and she doesn’t that I’d never tell her. So there, Boob.
Daddy’s in Los Angeles. He comes back tomorrow. Mama said he called late last night after we went to sleep. I asked her what he said and she told me he sounded happy. She didn’t say if he had his check or not. I bet he doesn’t.
It was raining out today so I did my homework this morning instead of tonight. I’m supposed to read Silas Marner but it’s so awful. Daddy calls it Silas Mariner because he says George Eliot must have written it underwater. I think if Miss Dudley gives us a pop quiz on it I can handle it but I wish we had other books to read in school. I read Life Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson again tonight. I’ve read it a dozen times before, I love it so much. It’s all about this crazy family. I love to read stories about crazy families. Like I don’t know any! Daddy says he knows people who knew the people in the book and they were even crazier than the book says. I wish I’d met them. We’d have a lot of fun.
Boob got one of those silly magazines somewhere and asked me if I thought the guy on the cover was cute. “You think he is?” I asked.
“He’s cute cute cute” she said. “Here’s a picture of him riding a horse. He could take me for a ride.”
“You’d fall off” I told her. “Go away Boob.”
We watched TV while we ate dinner. Mom sent out for Chinese. I had noodles. The news was on and the TV people were talking about riots in Miami. They said there wouldn’t be riots in New York. They don’t know, they’re always wrong though they act like they know everything. I hope there aren’t any riots here.
Daddy came back this afternoon before we came home from school and when we got home he was in his office making some phone calls. Mama said “They gave it the old thumbs down darlings.” She meant they didn’t buy his idea so it’s going to be harder than it’s been around here because I think he was counting on signing the deal. I know there’s been a lot more bills coming in lately than usually and Daddy’s accountant was over last week talking to him about taxes. It’s all making him and Mama a lot more upset this time. After he finished talking to people he went for a walk down 86th Street and while he was gone Boob and I asked Mama if we were in bad shape.
“No no no darling” she said but I could tell she was fudging. I can always see it in her face. ‘michael’s a sweetie but he’s such a spendthrift. I guess we both are but what can you do. He has to come up with something new but he doesn’t know what yet and here the wolves are at the door.”
Boob went to look. “I don’t see them” she said. Mama laughed.
“Why doesn’t Daddy save more money?” I asked.
“Angel we try but it’s very hard with prices going up all the time. They go up every week the way it is now and devil take the hindmost. New York’s not an easy place to live in the best of circumstances.”
“I wouldn’t live anywhere else” I said.
“No sweetie and we wouldn’t either but living in New York means you’re going to have to spend a lot of money you ordinarily wouldn’t spend.”
“Unless you were Daddy” I said.
“We’re going to have to think what to do’ Mama said. “Get a plan of action. It may be a little hard around here for a while but not for long my darlings.”
“How long?” asked Boob.
“Not long” said Mama. Then Daddy came back and he called the Chinese restaurant because Mama got distracted talking to us and forgot to fix dinner. I think she took too many Prozac it makes her forget things too easily. The fellow brought our food and we ate dinner. I had shrimp with cashew nuts and Boob had beef in garlic sauce and Daddy and Mama had sesame noodles because they said they weren’t that hungry. While we were eating we watched the news. The President said things aren’t as bad as they seem so nobody should worry. He’s such an idiot said Daddy.
“A buffoon” said Mama. “If I went to school with one of him there must have been a hundred. Now they’re in charge of everything.”
Everything, Daddy said.
“But you say things aren’t as bad as they seem so don’t worry” I said. “Just like him.”
“He doesn’t know what he’s talking about darling” Mama said. “He hit himself over the head with that golf club one time too many.”
The President blinks his eyes like Mama and Daddy do when they say everything’s fine so I bet he’s fudging too. Somebody asked if he was going to do anything and the President said people have troubles because they make their own reality and there’s nothing you can do about it. Then he got in his helicopter and flew away. There was a riot in Detroit and one in Seattle and in Miami. Not to mention Chicago and Los Angeles. There’s too much reality these days, said Daddy.
Yesterday wasn’t a good day Anne. Whenever Daddy’s upset Boob flips and she could tell as soon as she saw him something upset him really bad today. I asked Mama what the matter was but she said “Nothing sweetie don’t worry.” At dinner Daddy and Mama started talking and before you knew it Anne they were talking about money like they always do. Daddy said he didn’t know where to get any.
“Get the bank to give you money” Boob said. “Go in and say give it to me now.”
Daddy told her they wouldn’t let him in the door at the bank anymore. Mama said ‘darling you worry too much you shouldn’t.” Daddy said he had some ideas but nobody was buying anything right now with the way things were. He looked at me and Boob and said he wasn’t sure what we were going to do.
“What can we do to help?” I asked. I figured he’d say nothing because that’s what he always says and sure enough that’s what he said. “Are you sure?” I asked. He shook his head.
‘darlings there is one thing we’ve been talking about” Mama said. “It probably won’t be necessary but we thought I should talk to you about it.”
“About what?” Boob asked.
“About moving somewhere for a while. Not long darlings just while we’re in such perilous straits.”
Boob didn’t say anything but she kept looking at Daddy while Mama was talking. ‘moving where?”
“We’d stay in town darlings but we’d get a smaller apartment for a while. We’d rent this one out. Just a couple of months over the summer or even in the fall. Not for long though sweeties, not for long. And it’s just maybe.”
“How long?” I asked.
“We’re not going to Long Island this summer?”
“Oh darling that’s out of the question even if we had money you know it’s a bit rough there what with the accident and all the Chrissies out there in a tizzy.”
“We wouldn’t move out of New York would we?”
No, Daddy said. That would cost too much money. We’d just find a smaller place in Manhattan for a little while he said. He said he just wanted to know how we’d feel about it if some things had to change.
“What other things?” I asked. He shook his head and said probably none but they’d be big things if they did have to change. “How big?” I asked. He said he wasn’t sure but he asked if I thought it would upset us. ‘depends on what the big things are” I said. “Are you and Mama getting divorced?” Boob didn’t say anything but the way she looked I could tell she was real upset. No no no he said not at all. “I didn’t think so. I’m glad” I said. He said whatever happened it would be the four of us sticking together there wasn’t any question about that.
“When do we have to move?” I asked. We may not have to he said so don’t worry about it yet.
‘don’t worry about anything my geese not anything at all” Mama said and then we finished dinner. Well of course I’m going to worry about it. I don’t want to leave here even for a little while Anne, I’ve never lived anywhere else. Boob wants to leave here even less than I do.
Just as I was getting ready to write you last night and tell you all about what happened Boob knocked on the door and asked if she could come in and sleep with me. I told her sure and so we went to bed. “Are you all right Boob?” I asked. She nodded and didn’t say anything and I knew she wasn’t. Usually she keeps me up half the night talking if she gets half a chance but she didn’t tonight. She was so hot it was like having a fat puppy in bed with me and I kept pushing her off in the night and she kept rolling back. Poor Boob.
Anyway that’s what happened yesterday. Today everybody acted like nothing happened at all so I’m not going to worry about moving yet. I don’t want to worry about it. I may not write you tomorrow I should wait and see what happens.
Nothing’s happened so far Anne so I thought I should write you before you forget I was here. Daddy and Mama haven’t said anything else about moving so maybe they were just getting crazy and worked up about something. They do that all the time. They worry themselves crazy and then they act like there wasn’t anything wrong like it never happened. When I was little it used to upset me but now I’m used to it. Poor Boob she’s not used to it, she’s been sick ever since we talked, or at least she says she’s sick but she seems fine to me. I think she’s just got herself all worked up. I’m glad I’m calm. Somebody has to stay calm around this place. Not much else to say tonight Anne so night night.
Copyright ” 1993 by Jack Womack. Reprinted with permission from Grove Atlantic Inc. All rights reserved.