A Real Cut-Up: Bjarne Melgaard’s Novella Is Shocking, Gory, Thought-Provoking and Hilarious

Read it at your own risk

Mr. Melgaard. (Photograph by Richard Kern/Courtesy the artist and Greene Naftali)

Often, you just can’t put a book down, because you can’t escape the cheap thrill of wanting to know what happens next. As you plunge into Alarma! BOYFRIENDS, the Norwegian artist/author/polemicist Bjarne Melgaard’s fantasy novella of gore, sex, death and dismemberment, you will likely purse your lips in disgust, but, at the same time, catch yourself laughing inside: laughing at the insanity and the perverse pleasure of it all. When finished with the book, you’ll finally be able to put it down, at which point you’ll glance around to make sure no one’s looking, then shove the dirty little volume under a pile of legitimate literature. Or perhaps you’ll dump it where it belongs, in the trash. It’s worse than porn; it’s the kind of thing no one should catch you thoroughly enjoying.

The departure point of the novella’s story is Alarma!, a Mexican tabloid-style magazine that shows exclusively gore—car crashes, beheadings, random shootings—but specializes in the Mexican drug gangs whose preferred methods of execution involve cutting off the heads of their enemies, or burying them alive in the desert sand. (The latter method, as Alarma! illustrates, results in eyeballs drying out and their being gobbled up by snakes or bugs.) Alarma! claims to have a circulation of 15 million, which sounds rather optimistic, but I suppose their numbers are as manufactured as some of the photos they publish, many of which look like they are straight out of a B-horror film: plastic limbs splattered with ketchup. Other times, though, it’s disconcertingly clear that Alarma!, like the great crime photographer Weegee, is showing the real thing.

Alarma! BOYFRIENDS shocks, entertains and disgusts, all at once. Its pages reproduce the artist’s handwriting on stationery from the St. Regis Hotel in Punta Mita, Mexico, and tell the tale of a gay couple, Bjarne and Omar, who stay at a fancy American-style hotel and go into the local town to buy a kilo of cocaine, which they plan to charge on their credit cards. Their shared fantasy is to appear on the cover of Alarma!, and so they seek out a Mexican drug dealer who will dismember them, decapitate them, disembowel them, and make sure they are gory enough to warrant inclusion in the death magazine. “[T]he whole idea,” we’re told in the book’s opening pages, “was to act so stupid that they would be killed and cut up in pieces as dumb tourist looking for drugs.” (The book’s spelling and grammar are intentionally egregious throughout, and have been faithfully reproduced here.)

If that brief introduction has not caught your fancy, then read no further because what comes next is more than you’ll find in any snuff film. “They hoped (the dealers) … would cut off there cocks and stuff it in they stupid tourist mouths …” What kind of person dreams of self-inflicted violence, or of a morbid suicide? About halfway into the book I started to laugh at the whole thing. Can you imagine anyone writing: “we wanna Buy a kilo of cokeaine and could we pay with our platinum credit cards … The Mexican drug dealer says: No, Cash Only.” Of course a couple of gringos can’t buy drugs with credit cards, but the story goes a step further when they then ask the drug dealer to murder them, and he agrees. The couple carefully prepares a list of how they want to die: “1- Cut off our dicks and put them in each others mouths, 2- Cut out the eyes and leave them on the bed, 3- Put a broken coke bottle up Omar’s ass, … 8- Put the cut off arm of Omar up Bjarne’s ass … 14- Put the bodies displayed on the king size bed and take photos while taking the credit cards and money. Phone Alarma!, laugh. Feel overwhelmed, write a poem.”

Does this sound like the kind of book that would appeal to you? If so, grab a copy at the Karma bookstore, where Mr. Melgaard currently has an exhibition of his book-related art, because there’s a lot more to it. If not, don’t read another Melgaard book—and you probably shouldn’t bother with his art, either.

Artists have long used shock tactics to create dialogue, start a polemic or encourage social or political change. I usually don’t care for such political art, because it’s usually too literal. It often ends up feeling overly deliberate, self-conscious and produced. Is Mr. Melgaard using this book to teach us a lesson about violence just across the border? Or educate us about homophobia in Latin America? I don’t think he’s doing either. He has gone further than pedagogy, assaulting us on every level, with sex, violence, drugs and murder.

A Real Cut-Up: Bjarne Melgaard’s Novella Is Shocking, Gory, Thought-Provoking and Hilarious