James Nulick - an elegiac and hallucinatory meditation on beauty, loss, and how memory is deceitful, even when photographs are involved. The things we carry come from an infinite sadness. That sadness is the death of childhood

James Nulick, Valencia, Nine-Banded Books, 2015.

A man checks into a hotel in a Mediterranean city on the banks of the Turia.
He is far from home. He holds few possessions. Enough clothing for a week, money for drink. A few essential paperbacks, a cigar box of old photographs. He intends to commit suicide. But somewhere along the way he gets lost in the churn of memory.
Valencia is an elegiac and hallucinatory meditation on beauty, loss, and how memory is deceitful, even when photographs are involved.
The things we carry come from an infinite sadness. That sadness is the death of childhood.

Did you ever stumble across a writer who seems to have lived your life and inhabited your dreams, your darkest moods? This happened to me, and I hope it will happen to you as you read through the mesmerizing pages of James Nulick's Valencia... Nulick has inherited, from Zola, from Celine, from Burroughs maybe, something of the sweetness that lingers when everything extant has died of rot. His book will live forever in the literature of truth and waste. - Kevin Killian

The prose of Valencia is delicately simple yet densely poetic. Its voice is haunting. I couldn't help being reminded by every line I read in James Nulick's novel of Garcia Lorca's famous "Lament for Ignacio Sanchez Mejias" and its chilling refrain: At five o'clock in the afternoon.- Thomas Ligotti

Chip Smith of Nine Banded Books gave me a prerelease review copy of Valencia, by James Nulick. I feel I should mention that when I get books by relatively unknown or indie authors, I intentionally lower my standards a little out of recognition that authors grow and develop through their first few releases.
With Valencia, there was absolutely no need for this.
By the time I had finished the first few pages of the book, I had already realized I was reading something incredible. Nulick's writing is extremely confident. He punches you with short, visceral sentences. He never uses one unnecessary word. His stories are gripping, hilarious, tragic, and very insightful.
I think that authors can usually be boiled down into one of two categories: those who write sentences and those who write stories. James Nulick is definitely the former and it's obvious in his writing. While the story he is weaving is a nebulous trip through his childhood, adult life, and his experiences before death, the individual anecdotes aren't what makes the book strong. It is Nulick's relentless poetry on every single page.
The gist of the story is a queer man contracts HIV and dies. He decides that, like many of his favorite authors, he would rather go to a famous hotel and die there, so someone else can clean up the mess. He goes to Hotel Valencia, because it shares the name of a boy he knew as a child. With him, his only possessions are a pile of photographs and a handful of books to read. The stories often draw upon these photographs, using them as visual launching points for many stories.
Nulick starts the book with the protagonist's contraction of the fatal disease, followed by his rapid decline and death. It is a hard hitting opening chapter with the protagonist coping with the end of a long and meaningful relationship, and rebounding with a mutual friend. The story then proceeds to trail him through his final days, his final memories, developing a character you already know is dead.
I really liked this approach because it allows every aspect of the development of the story to hit on two separate levels: you learn about the boy, young man, and adult as he goes through humiliating and scary and sometimes very loving experiences, but you also know he's dead. You know how it ends.
I feel like I connected with the passages more because of the added gravitas. It's reminiscent of Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got His Gun in that the book is often simply a stream of consciousness from his mind as he details his childhood, his relationships, how to handle writer's block while on the fourteenth floor of an apartment in New York City, and coping with adoption, new siblings, and being queer. Add to that the correlation between Trumbo's work being from an almost dead combatant and Nulick's being sort of told from the grave.
But it's more than that.
Maybe this is just me over-reading a passage, something I sometimes do, but as the character dies before the story begins, even though the following passages are told as if he's in a hotel preparing to die, I continued to feel like there was an unspoken duality to this. That the protagonist is as alive as he is also not alive. Considering that the story begins with his death and then, seemingly at random, travels through his life in many different stages, focusing on relationships, school, developing as a writer, and being with family, it seems reasonable that these are memories that are a part of the character, whether he is alive or not.
The whole book reads with that sort of ethereal energy.
For three hundred pages Nulick's book never really relaxes. The writing is strong. The characters are real. There are a lot of very realized characters, a transgender immigrant hiding in an apartment, watching two TVs at the same time; paper sisters and brothers and an emotionally distant father who runs a junkyard; a famous writer named William has a serious presence, offering occasional koans; and of course, the most developed and intriguing character of all, our trusty narrator who dies of HIV before ruminating on everything from smoking meth and setting houses on fire to accidentally setting pork chops on fire and, yeah, molotov cocktails even make an appearance.
One of Nulick's most obvious talents is his ability to quickly develop a memorable character in a few lines. Nowhere was this more obvious than in his friend of a friend who refused to wear clothes and, when others insinuated he might want to get dressed, became oddly defensive. I'm of course butchering the actual scene in describing what happened and you'll just have to buy the book and read it to truly appreciate the character PermaFry and what he eventually does.
I could say a lot more about this book and, after it's released, I probably will. Valencia isn't the kind of book you read once and set down; it's a deep book, an intensely written book, and a hyper-focused book on what it means to be alive. It is clear that Nulick really bled onto the page for this, as he has written a book that is candid in the truest sense. It is at times naive, at other times pure wisdom. - peterjohnmclean.com/valencia-by-james-nulick/

Death is a library with all the lights turned off.
–Valencia, James Nulick   
An unnamed male protagonist is going to die. But before he dies, we follow him to Valencia, Spain, where he checks into the Hotel Valencia for one week. He brings just a few articles of clothing and some beloved paperback books: The Book of Disquiet edited by Richard Zenith; The Kerrigan/Bonner edition of Ficciones; Bartelby & Co. translated by Jonathan Dunne; and Kafka’s The Complete Stories edited by Nathan Glatzer.
In Valencia (Nine-Banded Books, Oct 2015), the protagonist brings sedatives and a small box of photographs (mostly childhood) that are “rubber-banded together and stored in a cigar box” that he keeps in the hotel nightstand. He has a plan. Commit suicide. But first, through a melancholic joy-tinted lens aided with photographs, he’ll remember his life.
Things come and go, people forget. Time passes over us like a cleansing wave. The beauty of time, if there is such a thing, is that it erases everything. Only when we are erased do we become fully complete. Annihilation is completion. Nothing that was alive truly ever dies. It changes shape, becomes something else. Traces of us remain in the fragments. This is called memory.
A few details are offered at the beginning of Valencia. After a violent, police involved break-up with his boyfriend R., Nulick’s narrator engages in a crack-fueled unprotected sex romp with a man named Jerome, who lives in an apartment complex called Valencia Gardens. Eight days later he receives the news he is HIV-positive. “I’m dying. Such a simple sentence, but it contains worlds.”
There’s a sensuality that embodies Nulick’s writing. Many of his sentences are simple, but not skimpy or hollow; Nulick’s modest sentences contain worlds that will leave you stunned by their beauty. You will go back two and three times and wonder how he arranges, with just a few words, entry into the protagonist’s world, internal and external.  Nulick’s writing resists traditional linear narrative; in its place, memories, dreams, and random associations emerge unbound by chronology. Sentences appear like lines from a poem floating on the page, scatterings from the unconscious that linger.
The book is comprised of numerous small chapters accompanied by memorable titles, such as Gherkin, Boy with Gun, Art with a capital A, Milk of Amnesia, and Kafka and I. Each chapter introduces experiences and people, a revisiting of past events by a 42-year-old man about to kill himself. Language is uninhibited and sounds like a patient free associating during an analytic session; Nulick becomes both analyst and analysand, and the reader becomes implicated in his narrative.
Memories are evoked by photos randomly selected from the cigar box. Chapters weave back and forth in time depending on the thoughts stirred by the photo. An early chapter, “Larry Flynt Saved My Life,” charts a first encounter with his father’s 1970s pornography collection and the arousal of a ten-year-old as he looks at beautiful young male bodies. “The things the young men were doing spoke to me, broke open things inside me I didn’t understand.”
A chapter toward the end of the book, “Stanley Kubrick’s Typewriter reveals background about the protagonist’s fragmented familial constellation, an example of Nulick’s resistance to chronological storytelling. After viewing pictures and remembering his life, the usefulness of photographs is challenged. If I had to select one chapter that was my favorite it’s “Elizabeth and Grand.” Here we glimpse the protagonist’s brief time in Manhattan, 1991, during his junior year of college. Outrageousness marks the alcohol and drug-fueled antics that unfolded during that spring semester. Even though the college has warned students to be on their best behavior, the protagonist fails miserably with this directive. “We were in the greatest city in the world. She opened her legs to us. We went inside and drank and drank some more.”
There are mismatched roommates, encounters with strangers, fellatio, women, and men, grappling with queerness, a Selectric flung out the fourteenth-floor window of an Upper West Side building, and a meeting with a favorite author William the Blind, (William T. Vollmann)—all the hijinks of a young man set loose in New York City. My hunch is this is the chapter where we see Nulick the writer living his protagonist’s questions. “Is it possible to learn how to write? I don’t think so. But I thought it was possible to relearn how to see.”
I try to imagine how Nulick pitched this book to his publisher. Part Dodie Bellamy, part Tom Spanbauer, part Mark Doty, and part Carole Maso. Then I imagined future writers pitching a book and saying, “It’s like James Nulick’s Valencia. Lyrical and genre-resistant, character and plot driven, unconscious storytelling that leads with internal dialogue and feels like narrative poetry. Valencia reads like a post-modern My Dinner with Andre, except this is not a movie and the narrator is talking to himself.
*Recommendation: Read Valencia with a pencil or pen. A third of the way into the book my marginalia included writing on both inside covers along with many index cards bookmarking pages that called for my return. You may also want to jot down the titles of books and authors the protagonist (and most likely Nulick) has read. - Rachel Newcombe

Nowicki & Nulick: Sex, Death, & the Other Death

James Nulick, Distemper, Acacia Publishing, 2006.                         

Drew Estrada is a young teacher employed by a private academy for boys in Central Phoenix. When he suddenly finds himself the legal guardian of a popular student, his life spirals into a vortex of lust, desire and depravity. Tre and Drew spend their nights discussing Hitler and Eva Braun, Marilyn Manson, Andy Warhol, Kafka, the mysterious art of beekeeping, drum machines, the possibility of dosing the municipal water supply with LSD, and the lull of the bottle for lost and loveless truck drivers. Does Tre Warner really exist, or is Drew suffering from schizophrenia? A testosterone-fueled response to Nabokov's Lolita, Distemper is haunting and hallucinatory, a disturbing rush toward the acceptance of death. It is ultimately a contemplation of the illusory nature of love, and what it means to give yourself over to something completely. Distemper is an unsettling ghost story that will leave you chilled long after you have turned the final page.

In the old days Nulick's book would have been packaged in a brown paper wrapper. A mash-up of Nabokov and Larry Clark, Nulick's prose redeems what would have been, in less capable hands, nothing more than a filthy book. - Out Magazine

A beautifully written catalogue of various kinds of unhappiness... - William T. Vollmann

Nulick's debut novel almost reads like poetry. He understands that the Devil is the details...but so is Deity. - Josh Aterovis