Book Quarterly…”Deviant Behavior” by Mike Sager

Deviant Behavior: A Novel of Sex, Drugs, Fatherhood and Crystal Skulls

By Mike Sager

Grove Press/Black Cat, 304 pp., $14

Set in the early ’90s at the end of the elder Bush’s presidential stint, Mike Sager’s outlandish but well-researched first novel, Deviant Behavior: A Novel of Sex, Drugs, Fatherhood and Crystal Skulls, focuses on Jonathan Seede, a functional junkie and dedicated reporter investigating Washington, D.C.’s seedy underbelly for his secret book project. It’s a nonfictional walk through the drug war, social politics and sexual indiscretions of D.C.’s 14th Street strip, where Seede meets an interesting crowd of people — some friends, some foes, some just a story — who provide problematic, but entertaining, individual tales. Among them is Jim Freeman, the gay activist who opens an Elizabeth Taylor Medical Center (and later dies of AIDS); Salem, the “white-girl-talking-black” accidental prostitute who witnessed the murder of her rich Cuban lover in Miami; and Sojii, the exotic teenage runaway with mommy issues but also insight and beauty.

The selfish Seede, with his just-say-yes attitude, is eventually done in by his penchant for an irresistible high and sex. His indiscretions land him almost dead in the gutter, hallucinating about — and subsequently battling with — his wife, child in tow, who left him some months ago. It’s a nod to the philosophical queries of the book: Do we give in to our urges, despite societal restrictions and possibly losing everything, or do we follow the rules and possibly lose ourselves?

Sager answers those questions without saying a word about them, leaving it up to the reader to decipher what he means. And because of that, despite the skull and the stereotypes, Deviant Behavior is a worthwhile read.

—Annamarya Scaccia


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