Dee Rimbaud's Stealing Heaven From the Lips of God
Here I am, bare-naked and vulnerable, another angst-ridden voice in this confessional universe; another graphomaniac peddling my private life in the public domain; anonymous and desperate, another cog in the zeitgeist, no different than anyone else.
What a foil from the man who wrote the preceding statement! Dee Rimbaud is a self-styled writer, artist, activist...and is equally ambitious to excel in all these areas. His novel, Stealing Heaven From the Lips of God unevenly, but skilllfully combines all three aspects.
Stealing Heaven is the story of Robbie, a former drug dealer/aspiring artist whose failed marriage and low self-esteem have driven him into semi-seclusion. His only contact with the world are occasional forays for food and drugs, and a blog he into which he pours his self-flagellation. One rare night while hanging out in a club, Robbie encounters a young woman named Catherine, with whom he immediately connects with on a cosmic and sexual level. Robbie, scared and scarred by his previous relationship, suffers through the typical roller-coaster ride of ambivalence and ecstacy that follows the discovery of falling in love.
Robbie's problems are compounded by his frequent drug use, which increases as he attempts to navigate his way through his complex, yet passionate relationship with Katheryn (there is a story behind the name change, but I don't want to provide the reader with spoilers). At the height of their relationship, Robbie suffers an aneurysm due to excessive drug use, and the rest of the novel deals with Robbie's lonely journey back to reality and redemption.
I admit I had a couple of problems with Stealing Heaven.
Packaging: The time-worn adage, "never judge a book by its cover," is almost universally ignored, especially by marketing execs in the publishing industry. A book cover with attractive artwork is the first thing a bibliophile like me will notice. The front cover of Stealing Heaven is a montage of designer street drugs, graffiti colors, and in-your-face body parts (literally the eyes and mouth). This is coupled with a tag-line of, "£1.00 ($1.75 according to recent currency conversion rates) will be donated to Crew 2000."
On the back cover, instead of a synopsis, an explanation for Crew 2000 (http://www.crew2000.co.uk/) is provided. Crew 2000 is a non-profit organization in the UK whose philosophy is that drug use is a "public health" issue and not a "moral" issue. Their aim is to provide educational literature and outreach programs for those who use, or would consider using drugs (per Rimbaud).
Is it possible to justify presenting a moral tale, even one with redemption, under charitable auspices? Anyone purchasing Stealing Heaven is being asked to put aside their own moral standard. The key to this is compassion, which I called upon again and again while reading Stealing Heaven. Robbie, while brilliant and introspective, is weak and ambivalent; even toward the end, his behavior skirts the edges of how an addict should, at least by social standards, behave. From the most extreme POV (or puritanical, depending on how you look at it), renouncing all drug use and committing oneself to find the inner strength to resist the demons that plague recovering addicts every day is the only way to conquer addiction. Compassion, in this case requires the reader to accept Robbie with all his faults and frailities, as he tries to accept them himself.
The pros far outweigh the cons.
Rimbaud has created an arresting, believable, and even at times sympathetic character in Robbie. I have no frame of reference for drug use (I have never tried "soapbar," but if anyone could actually tell me what that is, then maybe I have), but I can very much empathise with Rimbaud's Robbie in the love department. Which one of us (unless you are a poet or living under a rock somewhere), has not experienced the palpable AGONY that comes with opening your heart to another:
But I kept thinking all these abstracted thoughts. Who is this person beside me? Why does she cause this chaos of emotions inside me? Am I falling in love with her? Is it her body, her mind, or her soul that has seduced me? Do I deserve happiness? Even if I get happiness, can I sustain it?
Robbie is an addict, and at times a coward, but he can never be labeled a liar, even in his most self-effacing moments. He does not suffer from backwards hubris, a.k.a. martyrdom because of his fear, and this makes him almost noble:
I want it written, so that if I fall back into the misery of fear and isolation, I've got something to remind me that I ws once happy, once I gave in to love. Then, if nothing else, in my misery and isolation, at least I'll have something tangible to cling onto: something to give me hope. The last and perhaps the worst of the curses to come crawling out of Pandora's Box.
Stealing Heaven is also populated with pencil sketches/line illustrations by Rimbaud, whose Dali-esque images are provide a lucid counterpoint to the long, and deeply engrossing chapters that chronicle Robbie's rise and fall. And finally, the book is has some umm...original erotic scenes that I'll not soon forget!
The irritation I experienced over the outward appearance of Stealing Heaven dissipated once I read the book. It reminds me that compassion is the redemptive force that makes love possible, and even real.
Stealing Heaven From the Lips of God, Dee Rimbaud, copyright 2004, bluechrome publishing (www.bluechrome.co.uk), 252 pages, ISBN: 1-904781-40-3, £8.99