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Junx is a novel that should come with a safety belt

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??Tshidiso Moletsane’s debut novel, Junx, is a work of transgressive fiction that unpacks the opening statement in Koketso Poho’s foreword that “Black life is a juxtaposition”.  (Umuzi)
??Tshidiso Moletsane’s debut novel, Junx, is a work of transgressive fiction that unpacks the opening statement in Koketso Poho’s foreword that “Black life is a juxtaposition”. (Umuzi)

There's a horror subgenre called the "Conjuverse" that includes Ouija and The Nun. Its antagonists are the souls of the damned who infect the living with evil by whispering in their ears or vomiting into their mouths. The viewer isn’t let in on their secrets, but once infected, the glaze-eyed victims report that the ghosts told them "the most wonderful, awful things". Junx is a visit to the land of the damned, a limbo where inhabitants are also the exiles of apartheid spatial planning. And their whispers have never been this loud. 

In the space of one day set somewhere between late 2015 and early 2016 en route from Soweto to an annual Braamfontein party called SEXY-HONEY-SUPER-CHUBBY, you meet friends with colourful domestic lives ("You can always determine the measure of a man by how much he has spent on abortions") and seemingly endless varieties of drugs as well as ways to get them. This prepares you for the story's turning point: A group of Dutch tourists trust the protagonist with a rented BMW and R1 000 to go searching for drugs.
"The dumb fucks. They won't know what hit them," he thinks as he drives away from their waving, trusting selves, "bless their souls," switching on the radio to hear Julius Malema on air. You get the feeling the commander-in-chief would be proud of this instance of expropriation without compensation. R150 of the drug money is spent on a prostitute who's not afraid to tell you: "You're taking too long. Finish up, I am a working woman."

Present throughout is Ari, an invisible familiar who embodies the paradox of being alive and damned, angel and demon, exiled and present, imaginary but hair-raisingly real, a juxtaposition of opposites that informs the conclusion of the plot – a conclusion that's the loudest comment on where black lives end up in the socioeconomic and political system we've inherited. 

It's worth devouring the book in one go. The author has made a number of trade-offs and the impact really hits if you don't stop to breathe. It's not a reasonable book. You want to disrupt your routine to immerse yourself in its surreality, to sense what it's like to live in your head away from the anchors of pragmatism. The narrative is driven more by a stream of consciousness flowing (no, leaping) from topic to topic by loose association, than it is by the plot, or characters, or a sense of direction, or the protagonist's purpose in life. Those elements are there, and satisfactorily so, but the real star of the story is the phrase: "I imagine.

"I haven't cut my nails in weeks and dirt is building up under them. I imagine myself fingering some poor girl and giving her syphilis from my dirty hands. I imagine myself putting my fingers in some random girl's mouth. She licks them real good and then she develops mouth ulcers. Perhaps my fingernails are carrying the next bubonic plague or some strand of hyper HIV. I imagine everyone on the planet dying because I didn't wash my hands."

One of the things that pull you back from these heady trips is the occasional barb about what Jacob Zuma is probably doing at that moment. These work a bit like the "I am Jack's..." statements in the movie Fight Club. There, the unnamed character reveals his emotions by attributing them to Jack from Jack and Jill. I Am Jack's Raging Bile Duct. I Am Jack’s Cold Sweat. So, in Junx, diatribes on latent bisexuality, euthanasia, the age of consent, xenophobia and cosmology are punctuated by something like, Jacob Zuma is probably taking a mud bath in some high-end spa in Dubai right now, instead of sociopolitical analyses of how the former president's failings racked up opportunity costs against the aspirations of South Africans. 

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