Four Electric Ladies ... Contents
Copyright Ben Goertzel 1996 -- All Rights Reserved
This file is about the novel; to start reading the novel itself click Chapter 0
It's another story of confused, angst-ridden twentysomethings in the 80's and 90's. But with a twist. Actually, many twists. It never stops twisting.
Unlike the commonplace caricature of my generation (I'm reaching the end of my 20's), the characters I describe here are not aimless losers. They are more like the people I actually know.
They are inspired, creative, skilled people, capable of concentrated work. Some even possess genius. But they are torn apart by a difficult economy, by troubled relationships and by wounded childhoods.
Sex brings relief, exaltation and torment. Drugs bring relief, creative insight and, sometimes, death. In strange situations, bizarre ideas become normal, and normal ideas bizarre.
In the following paragraphs I will summarize the plot, and some of its psychological underpinnings. But for the really essential thing, the narrator's states of consciousness, I'm afraid you'll have to read the novel itself!
The story is surreal in that, each time the narrator (Vic) needs to pass through a new stage in his personal journey, his current woman conveniently dies, giving way to a new one with appropriate characteristics. The deaths torment him, but put him in very receptive states of mind, thus accelerating processes of mental change. The tumultuous storyline is a result of the physical events anticipating, at every stage, Vic's emotional dynamics. In the universe of Four Electric Ladies..., the barrier between mind and reality is a tenuous one.
The story begins in New York. The narrator, Vic, is a young particle physicist obsessed with constructing a Theory of Everything. He begins by recounting the death of his wife, Diane. Their marriage, torn apart by poor finances, had not been a happy one. But he is overcome with grief when she dies in an auto accident. His mind is filled with memories of their happy years, including a shared acid trip which gave him key ideas for his Theory of Everything.
Suicidal, and unable to work, Vic runs off with Sophia, the drop- dead-gorgeous guitarist of a rock band called the Beautiful Delirious Death Puppies. Sophia is a genius "wild woman," a female Jimi Hendrix who plays the guitar with her nipples, shoots up heroin, and sleeps around like crazy. She shows Vic a good time, but has the bad habit of periodically overdosing on junk and entering a near-death state. After a few weeks on tour with the band, Vic joins the band on keyboards. Now he is a Death Puppy himself.
The Vic whose wife dies is emotionally incomplete. Madly in love with Diane, but unable to show it; obsessed with understanding the nature of the universe through his Theory of Everything, through particle physics. Sophia, a more erotic and powerful woman than Diane, brings Vic in touch with a side of himself that had previously been hidden. She shows him that woman -- human relationship -- can provide more meaning and deep understanding than particle physics.
But in Las Vegas, the bass player, Julie, takes bad Ecstasy and sinks into a drug-induced coma. The drummer abandons the band; Sophia starts sleeping around right under Vic's nose, and overindulging in drugs. Distraught, Vic takes off on a glorious acid trip, which gives him new insights into the nature of woman and the nature of the universe. The trip begins in the wilderness of Red Rock and ends up with a wide-ranging pornographic delirium the likes of which has never been recorded in literature. Listening to Sophia play guitar by his bedside, he envisions multicolored goddesses, and feels he is changed forever. But when Julie comes out of the coma, Sophia finally OD's for real. Still reeling from the death of his wife, Vic has now lost his girlfriend. Out of desperation, he takes up with Julie -- a woman who, to his surprise, has a great deal in common with his dead wife, Diane.
Returning to New York, Vic finds he has received a job offer from a university in New Zealand. But the job doesn't start for six months. He runs off to New Zealand with Julie. They head into the rainforest, hoping to get away from it all. After several sensual and confrontational weeks, they come to know each other intimately. Julie sees more deeply into Vic than Diane ever did. In a series of searing conversations, she exposes the different layers of love and hatred, inspiration and obtuseness, hidden in his soul. In a feverish trance in the rainforest, he understands that his passion for women and his passion for physics stem from the same basic source. Lacking Diane's education or Sophia's genius, Julie understands only some of the forces that she helps to unleash in Vic.
Vic finally comes to grips with his mixed feelings about Diane, and his guilt about her death. At the end of a long, intense fight, Julie proposes marriage, and Vic accepts, though with secret misgivings. But then Julie dies in a freak rock-climbing accident by a remote waterfall. Having participated in the death of three women, Vic temporarily loses his mind. The deep insights he obtained in the forest are entirely lost. He attempts suicide by quaaludes and winds up in the psychiatric ward.
Eventually he pulls himself together when, for the first time, he receives a good job offer in New York. Having lost three women, and having barely rescued himself from the void, Vic throws himself into physics. He makes a great deal of technical progress, but after two years of concentrated work, he finally realizes for certain that physics does not hold the answers he seeks.
Then, after two years, he has a sudden urge to go out to the club where he first met Sophia. And who does he find performing there but Sophia's little sister, Neefa -- self-named after an "eyeball dancer" in a Dr. Seuss movie. Neefa is less wild than Sophia, and not so gorgeous, but no less inspired and talented. He and Neefa marry and build a happy life together. Until, one day, Neefa narrowly escapes death by car crash -- an event which triggers a flood of repressed memories, leading the narrator to take off on a voyage through Australia, and write the record which is this novel. The writing of this record leads to Vic's final breakdown and ensuing inspiration, detailed in the last chapters.
The transformative power of nature, which recurs repeatedly throughout the book, here comes to a climax. Vic's final, redemptive visions occur in the Australian wilderness, at Ayer's Rock and the Great Barrier Reef. Scuba diving, the world of the undersea speaks to him vividly, in a way the normal world never has. Nature, which has failed him in the form of particle physics, saves him in the form of direct experience. In a flash of hallucinatory vision, Vic regains part of the insight that had been given to him in New Zealand, with Julie.
He returns home to Neefa wiser but still confused. She performs an erotic eyeball dance for him, which precipitates the return of the rest of his insights. His mind settles into a new state of non-equilibrium; the chaos is over.
He and Neefa have three daughters: Diane, Sophia, and Julie....
Go to First ChapterBen Goertzel (firstname.lastname@example.org)