BOOK REVIEW: ‘Locust House’ by Adam Gnade

Locust House by Adam Gnade Artwork
Cover art from the Author’s Website

Locust House, the new novella from Adam Gnade (of The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Fighting the Big Motherfuckin’ Sad indie fame), is a punk rock ode to a particular time, place, and scene. The time was early 2002, the place was San Diego, and the scene was that city’s disaffected hardcore youth yearning for meaning, connection, and escape. Gnade grew up in San Diego, and one assumes there is quite a bit of autobiographical content in Locust House.

The book is focused around a house party in the spring of 2002. The residents of 2411 E Street are being evicted, and they are throwing an epic eviction bash as both a last hurrah for the house that has been such a haven for their friend group and a final fuck you to the establishment who is responsible for their exit. A murderer’s row of punk, hardcore, grindcore, screamo, and insert-turn-of-the-millennium-countercultural-music-style-here bands are slated to play throughout the night. There are no plans to stop until the sun comes up or the cops arrive. Gnade shows us this final orgasmic explosion of sound and longing through the eyes of James, Frances, and Tyler, three young adults who have found some level of community and meaning in this scene and yet are still somewhat lost, knowing the scene can’t sustain them–or itself–forever.

James had a messed up childhood and found a life raft floating in the rhythmic violence of music by bands like The Locust, Angel Hair, Antioch Arrow, and others, all real-life bands Gnade seamlessly integrates into his fictional tale. Frances is an idealist who wants to see in her generation something of the destiny and purpose of the Lost Generation who drank and wrote and screwed and painted their way around Paris in the 1920s. Tyler is mostly just hanging around for the fun of it until something better comes along. These three characters give us the party and the scene from different angles in an attempt to paint a fuller picture, but this is ultimately unnecessary, as we recognize this world pretty quickly. A better organization and clarity of voice might have actually allowed us to dig in deeper, but this is a minor complaint.

The novella actually opens the morning before the party when Agnes, a young woman whose parents died when she was young, attends the funeral of the uncle who raised her. The drunk priest botches the graveside service, and she’s pissed at him and pissed at the world. She needs the party. She needs the cathartic chaos of being lost in a pit in front of a makeshift stage under a sea of atmospherically discordant noise. She heads to 2411 E Street, and we don’t catch up with her again until the very end of the book. This felt a bit jarring to me, and the book would have read more smoothly had we either stayed with Agnes or not gotten to know her at all. Gnade is trying to do a lot in this very short novella, and some of the storylines would have been better served by a longer page count. Still, the disjointed voices and connections of the story feel in keeping with the music at its core, and this may have been what Gnade was going for. The final scene of Agnes, bleeding from the lip but giving as good as she gets on the aggressive dance floor, is visual and sonic poetry.

Adam Gnade has written a wistful, lo-fi love letter to a time and scene foundational to his identity, and he brings us into the after-hours world of that scene’s final organized Bacchanalia, longing for us to see it with him. One could ask for a book more organized, more filled-out, but not for one more sincere. Locust House is an angsty, joyful, unfettered scream from “The best and the darkest, the wildest hearts.”

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