Page 45 Review by Stephen
"Back home I found my front door plastered with nine more eviction notices. Did my landlord think I couldn't read?"
Illustrated prose from the creator of swoonaway, San Francisco art albums ALL OVER COFFEE and EVERYTHING IS ITS OWN REWARD, each containing predominantly sepia-tinted landscapes, some illustrated by short stories to form snap-shots, vignettes, which you could almost consider comics (I do).
And that's a turn-up for the books: art illustrated by prose.
Here's another: the gentrification of San Francisco with its attendant, sky-rocketing price-hikes in rent demands and property values - already so extortionate as to be exclusive when I visited a decade or so ago - has turned into such a runaway engine that it has steam-rolled over long-standing residents and resulted in thousands of no-fault evictions in order to gouge new, prospective occupants even more. Amongst them was San Francisco Chronicle's highly successful and highly regarded Paul Madonna, ejected from his rented accommodation in the Mission District.
There's a flat, open park in the Mission District I visited before breakfast on a Saturday or Sunday morning while staying in the Castro. This was ten years ago, remember, but even then I found the park populated by dozens of affluent ladies walking their dogs while picking their way between what I estimate to have been some two hundred homeless individuals waking up under blankets.
So that was a thing.
Paul Madonna's reaction to this experience has been, well, to move, for one; but also to create this short, surreal and scathingly satirical farce that isn't a million miles from early Evelyn Waugh, Madonna casting himself as the central naïf in its first-person narrative, buffeted by the cut-throat market forces in this already overheated closed system.
"It's a bubble," the woman said. "One small and ridiculous microcosm inside the already small and ridiculous bubble that is San Francisco."
And he really is buffeted: bashed off the pavement into the path of cars flashing past at high speed, or bundled into others, and caught constantly off balance, disorientated by the ever-shifting dream-like sequences, in one of which there really is a bubble surrounding a much sought-after shoe-box of a flat.
Another residence on offer is an actual cardboard box in a corner.
"Asking price is one million," I heard the real estate agent call out. She was standing on the kitchen table, strapped into a square-shouldered business suit, scanning the crowd with eyes like an airport x-ray machine.
"But of course it will go for hundreds of thousands more," a man said, pushing me aside with a baby stroller."
"Obviously," said the agent. "A million is just how much it takes for me to treat you like you actually exist."
A recurring couple rudely intrude into his nightmare, at first attempting to grab each new apartment themselves by anticipating which attributes its landlady or landlord might favour most in its tenants and so attending their impromptu, on-site auctions suitably disguised. And bungling it. Actually, this is ever so very Evelyn Waugh!
Our protagonist, this mock-Madonna, attempts to articulate how wronged he feels by these forces which, being forces, take no heed of success or repute, and reward only those making money by already having money - the parasitic landlords:
The guy smiled tightly. He put a hand to his heart."I hear you," he said. "You're an artist -"
"And a writer," I said. But for some reason he was still unable to hear that part.
" - And you're able to make a living in San Francisco? That's amazing."
"Right - "
"But - " he pointed out with his thumb to his friend " - her family has owned real estate here for generations."
To which the woman responded by waving her hand through me as if I wasn't there.
Each of the fifteen chapters plus prologue opens with a brand-new Madonna cityscape.
They are, of course, gorgeous.
I'll leave you to discover where the cover comes in, with its bright white blemish, as if were a hole burned in celluloid.
The book opens with an invitation to imagine yourself on a passenger plane, on a long haul flight to somewhere you love dearly, only to be thrown out of your seat by the stewardess to make room for someone else. The nightmare scenario grows a great deal worse and proves the perfect metaphor for what follows.
But yes, Paul Madonna, long revered mostly for his drawing, most definitely earns his wings as a writer here. Exhibit E:
"Inside, the flat felt different. I was suddenly hyper-aware of all my things. Of how I would have to touch every object, then decide what to keep and what to toss. The thought was overwhelming. Because the truth was, I owned way too much. Ten years had turned my place into a stuff hotel; items checked in, but they didn't check out."