"America loves a murder, and I am a murderous American," observes Clyde Wayne Franklin, who is considered by many to be the foremost poet in America. No ordinary killer, he is equal parts writer, obsessive lover, alcoholic, moralist, ex-con, clown, and butcher. The Alphabet Man is the story of his ruthless search for carnal love and spiritual redemption as he moves through the underworld of Washington, D.C., a sadistic landscape peopled by drug dealers, prostitutes, and assassins-for-hire. Part thriller, part psychological and linguistic masterpiece, Grossman's explosive fiction convinces us that if there is a pure poetry in the modern world, it must be rooted in madness, prophecy, and bloodshed.
"Clyde Wayne Franklin.... is the most horrifyingly beautiful and monstrously lyrical narrator to stalk the pages of American fiction since Nobakov's Humbert Humbert."—Larry McCaffery
"One of the best novels of any year, it is brilliantly structured to match the painfully coherent structure of Franklin's schizophrenic consciousness; it is also stylistically impeccable, managing to sustain its multiplicity of voices flawlessly." —Booklist
"In this very dark, very daring first novel by Richard Grossman, words are the only palpable reality. The dense texture of this novel is immediately compelling - words are enlarged and mutilated, they are strewn across pages, they are thrown together in mad, uncommon, even ungodly combinations." —Review of Contemporary Fiction
"The Alphabet Man is a dark joke, unsparing and uncommonly harrowing. It is also a novel with a split personality to match its protagonist's: part brilliant narrative, part lexical and typographical mutant." —Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Dark humor enlivens what is essentially an absurdist, postmodern fairy tale probing the psyche of a serial killer." —Publisher's Weekly
"Richard Grossman writes the perfect novel for our times." —Jerome Klinkowitz
There are layers of blood on my hands. They are bright bright red, much redder than any clay. I share these hands with another, and they perform the will of another. They can caress or draw energy through the creep of a shotgun trigger. The fingers relate to the square of the hand, which is its own rebellious person, at once wrinkled with signs of wisdom, heart and prophecy. Its murderous grip is a grip of paradox, an abstract grip on a clownish whisper, on a personal bolt of energy, on a clew of voices careening in a labyrinth, fleeing a tattooed monster with laughing heads.
I navigate through floes of missing moments, each one hiding a unique set of sufferings and sins. These moments are actually paddling forms in the blood, and as my tainted blood reaches out for blood, it feels as if the most interior things are drawn naturally from the center out to coat the hands, to express my duplications gloved with a lacquered crimson gloss. There isn't much time, just barely enough with diligence to write a book that proves me innocent of all the heinous crimes.
Of my regimen of slaughter.
An eagle lands on a snake, it prods its beak in the snake's mouth, and the snake contorts and screams, its silent scream filling the smallest areas of grass, the talons around the plaited ropes of its body, the tongue slashed out and quivering on the ground. This cold splashed blood of the snake on the walls of the prison was the second layer of blood. It stayed there like the cretonne pattern of childhood furniture. What I had feared, I finally did.
Again and again, I did it.
With shotgun, pistol, knife and axe, I did it.
The deaths that I caused, however, I do not precisely remember. The joke has always been on me and on those that I butchered. For many years I thought there was merely one such death, but when the final deaths occurred, I realized there were more, many many more, although even today I can only count the two, and the grand total I only suspect. Like a Hottentot returning from battle, I am asked to count my coup, and I can only say two. Shocked and degraded, I am asked to recount. I repeat my solitary number. The one number two. Father and the others. But who knows? It's all so evidentiary. Nobody has pointed a finger in the right direction.
His head simply disappeared or this is what they say. Mine did, too. A short-range shotgun blast and Daddy became instantly sober! Perhaps just the faintest trails and traces of puss and dura mater leaking from cracks and corners, intensely yellow and beautiful and erotic. Oh, I forget! There is a muse and a man and an identity. The muse is the hummer of revenge. I call her Hummeroptera, my sweet little busy busy bee with glans and sword. The man is Colonel Harmon Oberstar, the purported savior of my soul, whom we shall attempt to meet, and the identity is me, the killer-poet who maligns the human world, that dull gruntocracy that spread, stoning and hacking and humping out of Kenya. The Big Mac. The hundred-thousand-year seizure. The double-breasted cavemen in their stinking biofog, distorted with funds, seeking ample gains, the potbellied boobocrats that rule the teeming world, are just like dear old Dad, the shitfaced monster with his whips and chains. Daddy sold Maytags. A success story.
We lived in the San Fernando Valley, in a lovely upper-middle-class home, so spic and span. Mother wore an apron, well past the time when aprons were generally worn, but Mommy was always a bit retro, with a narrow shark's grin and a high-pitched Yiddish song. I had nary a brother or sister.
Everything took place in the knotty-pine rec room.
I scrawled the word "WRECKROOM" across the walls of my bedroom, a graffiti artist well before the graffiti age, as proto as retro Mom was retro, forming a family counterbalance, like the family therapists say (I have skimmed through all the therapies), and there was a piano in the living room that nobody played. At night I would go upstairs and pray and fondle Baby Jesus after I shut the door.
Locks were forbidden. Only Dad had locks. Only Dad administered pain. Nobody bothered to paint out the words on the walls of a house ruled by Satan.
Once this work is over, my deeds will regress into swimming objects, and as my firstling, the beheading of my father, was ultimately buried in gifted words, these recent deaths, of which I'm unjustly accused, will be laved and buried in blood. They'll wash away, out of existence, and only the words of this testament will remain, my bloody words among the useless wordsówords of history, words of books, words of gravestones, words that form in the wobbly head and cause desire, the words of the last trimester.
Once this work is over, the blood will billow and flow and nobody will be able to stanch it. Nobody. Ever. Nobody will be able to stop it as it drips eternally from my belly, from my fingers, from my palms.
I am Clyde Wayne Franklin.
I am a prescriber of poetic poisons and a furnisher of alphabets. I am tattooed with letters on my neck chest back butt groin arms legs feet and hands.
I am a walking language with an axe and a gun and a pen.
The world hides from me in horror.
They call me the Alphabet Man.
The Alphabet Man
The Alphabet Man