The title novella and most of the stories in Susan Compo's debut collection, "Life After Death," take place in the Los Angeles of a recent past--the post-punk club scene of the early-to-mid-1980s--and true to period, most of the characters have names like Cruella, Orange, Vex, Pier, Skitz, PX, Brill, Sharlott, Miserable. These people are roadies, groupies, failed musicians, scenesters, deejays, extras in rock videos, limo drivers, fans, hangers-on, local celebs--the detritus of the New Wave youth culture (this is the kind of book that has pre-publication quotes from Pamela des Barres, Alex Cox and Timothy Leary).
All the prerequisites of L.A. mood-music are here: spooky Santa Anas, lots of drugs and Corona beer, image-worshiping, Frederick's of Hollywood, the freeways, emotionless sex, Olvera Street, MTV with the sound turned off, papier-mache skeletons. And like Compo's closest peer, Mark Lindquist, who flirts with the fringe of this scene in his two recent L.A.-based novels ("Sad Movies," "Carnival Desires"), she's concerned with how religion, mainly Catholicism, lapsed and otherwise, plays a part in the texture of their lives.
Since Compo's earlier fiction was published previously in alternative magazines and her heroines are mostly wigged-out cartoon poseurs, the most obvious stylistic comparisons are with Tama Janowitz--with this book, Compo is now probably the West Coast's equivalent--and the high priestess of punk fiction, Kathy Acker. The book is all present-tense surface cool; it has no dark side and no light side either, yet its generic tone seems to complement the utter vapidity of its characters' lives.