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Happy Mutant Baby Pills

Just when you thought it was safe to move about the cabin, Jerry Stahl has unleashed a new novel. To the uninitiated, Happy Mutant Baby Pills has no exact genre except for Stahl himself.

Just when you thought it was safe to move about the cabin, Jerry Stahl has unleashed a new novel. To the uninitiated, Happy Mutant Baby Pills has no exact genre except for Stahl himself.

It is quintessential Stahl but does contain elements of a romantic thriller, with a political intrigue aspect. But don’t confuse it with any writer like Tom Clancy. Let’s just say that if Hieronymus Bosch wrote books instead of painting his nightmares, he would have produced a novel such as this.

Open the pages and you will follow the varied travails of Lloyd, who will be your hero throughout this book. Lloyd has an interesting résumé, including copywriter for pharmaceutical warning labels, a convict, an habitué of heroin, again a copywriter for a Christian singles dating service, and a script writer for a currently popular TV show. We find Lloyd in the big house doing his time when he is mysteriously released early, most likely from the string-pulling of the prison’s own minister, Pastor Bob. The Pastor has earmarked Lloyd as a useful team member for his Christian singles (Swingles!) dating service, owing, of course, to Lloyd’s fluency with side-effect prosody. Lloyd is a natural for this gig, working with two others (also with esoteric résumés) to lure the faithful but lonely singles of Christendom into a satisfying life of fulfillment. Alas, in a tragedy that could have been crafted by Shakespeare himself, the boys plot a pharmacy robbery which fails terribly, forcing Lloyd to flee the scene in a Greyhound bus. Destiny steps in and introduces Lloyd to Nora (young, lovely, and troubled), who is also riding the bus and, like Lloyd, is more fleeing a scene than arriving at another. You can hear the soundtrack from Casablanca as Lloyd begins to fall for Nora while passing through a landscape of noir, ultimately arriving in LA (noir capital of the world).

Nora lets it be known that a man sitting in the back of the bus is following her and is most likely trying to kill her. What won’t a man do for love? Upon arriving in LA, Lloyd follows the man in question to a bathroom stall in the Greyhound station and kills him with a paper clip to the forehead (no easy thing). Having proved himself, the romantic adventures of Lloyd and Nora officially begin.

We soon learn Nora is a woman on a mission when she reveals her past romantic association with a high-ranking CEO for a major chemical company. Like Lloyd, she has a penchant for poetic copy and contributed a wildly successful tag line to the company, for which she received neither credit nor money. Nora claims to be pregnant at the hands of the CEO and is outraged by her treatment and how the large companies such as Dow and Monsanto inflict a host of five-star carcinogens upon the trusting public every day. Her plan? To give birth to her child as a media event to publicize the dangers from these common toxins (expecting her child to be born deformed) and to humiliate her ex.

Nora exposes herself to a bevy of noxious chemicals to ensure deformity, and her practices are not for the faint of heart. The two of them experience various exotic mishaps as they travel together and find new ways to poison themselves with mood- (and body-) altering ingredients. They settle in for the end results after Lloyd lands a writing job with the TV show CSI. What is finally born to Nora is something you must find out for yourself.

These pages can be dark, let me warn you, but no one weaves the comical with extreme darkness as does Jerry Stahl. An underlying current of pain runs throughout all of his books, which are paved over with his trademark “silver lining” outlook. It makes for an odd combo, and I find myself embarrassed for laughing at his tragedies while wondering if something is wrong with me. I hope not. It is simply the power of Jerry Stahl luring you into his world, like it or not.

Whether you laugh or cry or throw the book out the window, Stahl is serious when he describes what he sees as the daily contamination which industrial corporations knowingly inflict on consumers each day, everything from PCBs in our flame-retardant furniture to microwaves frying our inner organs to food additives that act as cancer fertilizer. I contacted Stahl and asked how this concern of camouflaged poison came to be of interest to him. “Having a pregnant wife and being told the trial drug for Hep C [Stahl underwent a non-interferon-type treatment for his hepatitis] I was taking was so toxic it would cause the kid to be born purple with wheels if I so much as touched her when I was on the stuff. That was the impetus for the pharmaceutical obsession.”

As if anticipating the reader’s sense of irony regarding his character’s campaign for a toxin-light environment while at the same time indulging in every known narcotic ever milked from a poppy, he begins a final section of his book with a quote from Romanian writer E. M. Cioran: “In my fits of optimism, I remind myself that my life has been a hell, my hell, a hell to my taste.” Indeed, Lloyd and Nora have done well, crafting a hell of their own. Followers of Stahl’s works will be pleased with his latest and new readers will be introduced to a world never encountered (I hope).

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