October 2, 2015
Author Kevin Maloney captures the spirit — albeit, dark, dreary and desperate — of Portland, Oregon, in the 1990s in his first novel, Cult of Loretta, published in May by independent publisher Lazy Fascist Press. It’s the Portland of his youth, a Portland that is being erased, he says, by development and gentrification.
If Maloney’s characterization of the new Oregon sounds familiar, then consider this: He also has Vermont ties. He graduated from Johnson State College in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in English.
Maloney will return to Johnson State on Tuesday, Oct. 13, to read from his works and discuss his writing process. His stories have appeared in Hobart, PANK, Monkeybicycle and a number of other literary journals. His talk, scheduled for 5 to 7 p.m. in the college’s Stearns Student Center Performance Space, is free and open to the public.
“Portland is changing so much right now,” Maloney said in an interview with Hobart, an online literary journal. “Developers are ripping down 100-year-old churches and building condos everywhere. There’s this massive influx of people from out of state, and their only experience of the city is the twee wonderland depicted in [the TV series] Portlandia. I wanted to capture the darkness of the old city. The endless rain and desperation.”
Maloney now writes and works as a web developer in North Portland, Oregon. Cult of Loretta is the story of a young man named Nelson, who becomes involved in a self-destructive relationship with Loretta. Along the way, Nelson encounters everything from Y2K-inspired survivalists to Capoeira enthusiasts to the ’90s indie band Heatmiser.
Like Seattle in the ’90s, Portland was home to a burgeoning indie music scene. One of those singer-songwriters, Elliott Smith, is referenced in the novel’s chapter named for Smith’s Oscar-nominated hit “Miss Misery.” (Before beginning a solo career, Smith was member of Heatmiser. He died in 2003.)
“When I introduced Elliott Smith into the narrative, the book just took off. Smith’s career was so bound up with Portland,” Maloney told Hobart. “When he played ‘Miss Misery’ at Oscars [in 1998], it felt like Portland standing there in a white suit. I don’t think that’s why so many people started moving here, but that’s when the city’s identity began to change. That performance is the fulcrum of Cult of Loretta — it begins the book and divides it in half.”
When praising Cult of Loretta, critics invoke the names of underground authors Charles Bukowski and Richard Brautigan (coincidentally — or not — the Brautigan Library was housed in Burlington, Vt., until 2005), both of whom suffered from addiction. Drugs and addiction play a significant role in Maloney’s novel.
“I wanted to capture the power and darkness of those experiences in Cult of Loretta, but I didn’t want to write a straightforward drug novel,” Maloney said. “So I made up a drug [named screw] that gives you the ultimate high, followed by the ultimate darkness. A drug so powerful you literally tear yourself apart.”
For more information about Maloney’s work, visit http://kevinmaloney.net/.