By Michael Perkins (Rhinoceros; 1968/92)
This depraved yet undeniably artful late-sixties artifact is one of American literature’s great unheralded sickies. Its subject matter, the deadly intersection of eroticism and violence, isn’t something you see explored much in American fiction, which probably explains why EVIL COMPANIONS is so little known. It’s the sort of thing you’d expect from a European or Asian writer (this novel certainly fits the perimeters of Japan’s Ero-Guro, or “Erotic-Grotesque,” genre), yet in actuality it’s as American as apple pie…dished out by a psychotic pervert!
It begins with a young actor getting scalded with hot coffee by Anne, a colleague he’s just told off. This sets the tone for their ensuing relationship, which is deeply perverse from the start, and inevitably comes to encompass torture (among other things, the protagonist is forced to lie on heated bed springs) and murder. Anne turns tricks to make ends meet, and a couple of her johns end up victims of this depraved couple’s psychosis; one guy’s corpse becomes a human plant, violated in every imaginable manner by its captors, who even cut holes in the torso to create new sexual orifices!
Along the way our none-too-heroic heroes drop out of society, grow their hair long and shack up with a coalition of miscreants who share their taste for murderous depravity. In short, these “Evil Companions” become everything straight America feared back in 1968.
But things take an unexpected turn with the appearance of some researchers looking to use the protagonists as guinea pigs in a succession of sex-based experiments. The penultimate chapter, wherein the protagonist hits the streets of NYC after having his already overstimulated libido further engorged, is a mind-blower.
EVIL COMPANIONS was the first novel by Michael Perkins (best known for the pioneering erotic literature study THE SECRET RECORD), written when the author was 25. It contains many of the pratfalls you’d expect from such a young, inexperienced novelist–overly perfunctory descriptions, a shaky narrative–but has a genuinely arcane, incantatory quality that lifts it far above the type of trashy exploitation you might expect given the subject matter.
The book also has a dark, propulsive energy, engendered by the real-life upheavals of the time of its writing. Much of it is quite dated, obviously, but at its heart EVIL COMPANIONS is just as radical and shocking nowadays as it was back in 1968.