Jerry Stahl

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Date: Jan. 9, 2017
Document Type: Biography
Length: 2,739 words

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In his memoir Permanent Midnight, Jerry Stahl explains in explicit language and vivid imagery his long, hard road from successful writer to street-living heroin addict and back again. A Publishers Weekly critic called it an "unabashedly lurid and often highly entertaining book," while Michael O'Sullivan, writing for Washington Post Book World, called the movie based on the book, which stars Stahl's good friend Ben Stiller, a "serious film about one man's sojourn in hell." Renee Tawa commented in Chicago Tribune Books: "Stahl's memoir unfolds ... with moments of self-loathing interspersed with irony and black humor. He writes, for instance, of injecting heroin at the hospital while his daughter was being born."

Raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, by a father who eventually committed suicide and a mother who was severely neurotic, Stahl basically lived alone from the age of sixteen or seventeen, at which time he began using drugs. After graduating from Columbia University, he remained in New York City, where his drug use escalated. After winning the Pushcart Prize for a short story when he was twenty-two, Stahl received calls from publishers wanting to know if he had written a novel that they might publish. He told Erik Himmelsbach of Salon.com: "I always knew how to write. I never knew how to live. ... I didn't know how to return a phone call. I didn't know how to take a meeting. ... I was high all the time."

An editorial posting for Hustler drew Stahl to Los Angeles where, after beginning as a porn writer, he became a successful television writer for series such as Alf, Moonlighting, Twin Peaks, and Thirtysomething earning 5,000 dollars a week. However, a 6,000-dollars-a-week drug habit cost him writing jobs. Not only could he no longer hold such jobs, at the age of thirty-eight he could not even hold a job as a McDonald's cook. He told Stevens: "I remember hearing my sixteen-year-old co-workers whispering, 'I think he's retarded.' It's hard to live that kind of stuff down." Even after rehabilitation and the success of his memoir, he relapsed.

By the time he wrote Perv: A Love Story, Stahl had been clean for about five years, and he felt he could safely examine issues such as sexual and substance abuse. "Somehow, because I have more distance from it, I can go deeper into it," he told Himmelsbach. "What's really the disturbing element is the ease with which you can enter a state of mind like that. I wish I could write about a happy accountant in Reseda."

Perv is a fictional account that draws on Stahl's experience during his teens. The central character, Bobby, is expelled from a prep school in Pennsylvania for having gang sex with a consenting girl. Bobby's father committed suicide, and his emotionally unstable mother seeks solace in pills and alcohol. Bobby and Michelle, a girl he had a crush on in kindergarten, decide to hitchhike to San Francisco. They meet Varnish and Meat--older, predatory, hippie junkies who lock them in...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1000153997