Stuart David is missing. From the way Turtle Point Press plays up the author's reclusiveness, you'd think the scribe of the novel Nalda Said (who also fronts Scottish pop groups Looper and Belle and Sebastian) has disappeared into mythic obscurity, trading secret handshakes with J.D. Salinger, Thomas Pynchon, and the Loch Ness Monster. I don't buy it. Somehow, I can't imagine the man known for throwing flamboyant tantrums during concerts, grumping and jumping around like a bathroom-bound kid with a pea-sized bladder, would ever seek less attention from the hipster public-at-large.
Strange, then, that David is the only new writer I've read in recent times whose idea of the archetypal Outsider doesn't seem to come from an insider's perspective. Nalda Said reveals social misfitism for what it really is--not romantic, not particularly artistic, just filled with a certain undeniable loneliness. Nalda's narrator is a slow-witted gardener, suspicious of the daily rituals accepted by people around him (imagine Of Mice and Men's Lennie as the protagonist of A Catcher in the Rye and you're beginning to understand the poor dude). So terrified is he of others' intentions that he even refuses to divulge his own name to the reader. (David himself has no such qualms: His own moniker is right there on the cover in bold yellow print, overlapping the title.)
Part of our naïve hero's problem is that he takes metaphors too literally: The only person he trusts is his aunt Nalda, whose magical tall tales convince him that his jewel-thief father has hidden a diamond in his belly, and that people around him will do anything to cut it out of him before it passes through his digestive system. What follows in this deceptively simplistic and gorgeously melancholy novel is an allegory of the all-too-human will to self-defense, a Zen koan for insecure indie rockers everywhere: If others can't find that one special thing within you, does that mean it's not there? (And, more importantly, can dissecting your feces with a fork help you find out for sure?)
It's hard not to hope that Nalda Saidwill conclude triumphantly, like a good pop single. But remember that the novel was written by a songsmith whose idea of a love song is to let the characters in his lyrics end up totally fucked--in both senses of the word. Perhaps David's own personal hell is that he, unlike his protagonist, understands literal things too metaphorically, an idea that underscores the real sorrow (and beauty) of the book's ending, which suggests that there might be a message in the narrator's toilet-bowl scraping. David knows there's something valuable out there for outcasts and pariahs. He just has to keep digging through shit until he finds it.