He’s funny. He’s poignant. His social criticism is cutting, accurate and iconoclastic. But by his own admission, he is a severely fucked-up individual. Shit Magnet is his paean to the pitch black comedy psychodrama of his life. In a world where every loser rich boy wishes they were a street-wise badass, Goad is a street-wise badass… and carries all the scars that that life entails.
For this reason, Shit Magnet is one of my favorite books of all time.
Shit Magnet succeeds because it gets the tone exactly right. Goad overturns every single rock in his past, but does so without trying to wring sympathy out of the reader. He talks about how his parents beat him, his homosexual dalliances when he was a teenager, and his marital infidelities, leading up to his ill-fated affair with Anne Ryan, the psychotic groupie who got him jailed. But the remarkable thing is that he doesn’t try to deflect blame or run from his past. Goad fesses up to his responsibility in these events with wit and vitriol:
So when I’m beating your face in, I’m releasing bad memories though my fists, which are curled tight like scared fetuses. I’m just discharging a bit of this pent-up energy. Just letting off some steam. I’m transferring my frustrations into your body. My cup runneth over, so I’ll pour a little into yours.
Like his other writing, Shit Magnet is a breeze to read, as Goad rattles off sentences like a Satanic street preacher on meth. When I first read this book years ago, I blew through it in one weekend, the book’s writing was so fluid and hilarious. My biggest complaint is the tonal shift in Chapter Three, “A Bad Seed Takes Root,” which is written from the perspective of a little kid.
It’s appropriate, given that it’s about Goad’s twisted youth, but it’s a little creepy when contrasted with the rest of the book.
As Goad insists on the back cover, Shit Magnet isn’t a pure memoir insomuch as it’s about guilt; specifically, the guilt that’s resulted in Goad’s writing being blamed for triple suicides and White House shootings. He details how just about everyone in his life is as fucked up as him, from the infamous groupie Anne to his wife Debbie, a misanthropic New York Jew who still lived at home into her thirties and spent most of her time whining, yet only he is ever punished for his misdeeds:
You said that in death, you’d be remembered like Princess Diana. Nice analogy, but Lady Di never wrote articles such as “I’m a Piece of Shit,” with photos of turds hanging out of her hairy ass.
Yes, the world is fucked-up. But even worse are two lonely people who don’t realize they’re fucked-up, too.
We agreed that humans are pieces of shit, and that’s what brought us together.
The problem: we’re both human.
Roughly half the book is devoted to Goad’s relationship with Anne and the aftermath; indeed, Goad wrote Shit Magnet while he was in prison for beating her within an inch of her life. Goad proudly owns up to flogging the shit out of her, but frames in context of how she abused, threatened and tortured him for the better part of a year, from giving him numerous death threats to spitting dog shit in his face to physically attacking him (including biting him so severely he required stitches) to hunting down one of his other girlfriends and beating her with an axe handle… then bragging about it to everyone. And the fact that Goad kicked the shit out of her wasn’t enough; she had to invent a whole series of lies about him, which could have very well have resulted in Goad being found not guilty had the feminist DA prosecuting him not cut him a deal.
Even Anne’s own mother sided with Goad during the debacle, yet it was only him who got punished for their destructive and sick relationship.
Goad notes near the end of the book that while he was incarcerated, Anne’s luck finally ran out; she was arrested after she ran over a bicyclist in her car (while screaming “I hate bicyclists!”) and fled the scene. Even still, she got off with only five months in prison for second-degree assault, while Goad himself was given two years for attempted second-degree assault. He lays the blame for this squarely where it belongs, on feminism and society’s myth that women are somehow more innocent and/or “moral” than men:
Male physical strength actually becomes a weakness, because men are forbidden to hit back. Men become slaves to their strength. While men stand there with their hands tied behind their backs, women are free to dance around wagging their fingers and sticking out their tongues. They’re also free to hit men—even to draw blood and leave scars—because hardly anyone considers it wrong. And if they go too far and kill the guy, they can beat the rap by claiming to have been battered or raped.
The idea that many women who suffer domestic violence bring it upon themselves is still unthinkable today; imagine how radioactive it was when this book was published over a decade ago.
I also enjoyed Goad’s descriptions of prison life, which read like an American Kolyma Tales. He bravely points out that the justice system in America has become a racket; despite the falling crime rate, prisons keep filling up because the federal government and the states keep passing laws to make completely harmless “offenses” into felonies. The very structure of American prisons is designed to maximize recidivism; wardens and district attorneys aren’t interested in reforming criminals, because they’d be out of a job if they did:
The artificial lights don’t go out there. The psychopaths never stop shouting. Instead of cell bars in your solitary chamber, your “door” is a plate of steel that has been punched through with a continuous pattern of dime-sized holes. The holes are often plugged up with dried, encrusted human feces. I.M.U. inmates like to “shit-bomb” one another by stirring up their own shit and piss in a shampoo bottle, shaking it until it’s a frothy yellow-brown elixir, and squirting the foul excremental nectar from cell to cell.
When I first read the book, I was also highly amused by Goad’s descriptions of life in Portland, which is where his relationship with the crazy cunt Anne went down.
Bottom line, Shit Magnet is one of the finest memoirs in recent years, a savage and brutally honest portrait of not only Jim Goad, but America in general. It’s a roundhouse kick in the face of this country’s hypocrisy and self-righteousness. It’s not a book for those with weak stomachs or without spines. It’s a book for the rest of us.
Click here to buy Shit Magnet.
Read Next: The Redneck Manifesto by Jim Goad