Eric Erlandson’s literary debut, Letters To Kurt, begins with promise, like his music career did. In a four-page introduction, he concisely yet eloquently sums up his prickly, substance-fueled relationship with his former lover and Hole bandmate Courtney Love—and, of course, touches lightly upon his friendship with Kurt Cobain, the book’s titular focal point. But that introduction is grossly misleading. From there, Erlandson drops whatever potential his premise has off a cliff and straight into a junk heap of juvenile, Beat-aping, stream-of-consciousness twaddle, mixed with tedious egocentrism ironically dressed up as egolessness.
Even when trying to tackle the nature of, like, nature and stuff, Letters To Kurt relentlessly, maddeningly circles back to Erlandson himself. It purports to celebrate Cobain’s short life and long shadow—in other words, the pandering hook the book banks on—but it’s really all about its author. Maudlin, indulgent, and solipsistic to the point of self-parody, it pretends Cobain might have given half a shit about Erlandson’s chin-stroking contemplation of penises and the universe. Granted, Erlandson is a legitimately worthy subject. In its prime, Hole was a great band, and he had a sizeable hand in that. But his skill with the guitar is inversely proportionate to his skill with the written word.
In every possible sense, Letters is a wreck. As an exercise in free-writing, it’s shamelessly masturbatory, or would be if masturbation entailed poop puns. Chopping almost everything into disjointed sentence fragments, Erlandson seemingly means to mimic terse wisdom, advanced infantilism, or both. It bears repeating: A gigantic portion of the book is rendered in annoying sentence fragments—the worst tendency of Beat impressionism jammed into fortune-cookie form. A smattering of Erlandson’s profundity: Movie titles are kind of like prophecies, alluding to one’s own “windblown prose” in the form of windblown prose is clever, and randomly name-dropping Craigslist makes a writer look more relevant. Letters To Kurt is a misnomer; Drunk Texts To Kurt might have been a more accurate title. Except Erlandson is sober now, so he doesn’t even have that excuse.
As Erlandson slogs on and on about fucked subcultures, dead flowers in whiskey bottles, and, inexorably, himself, it becomes clear that Cobain isn’t going to make any major appearances in the book—except as the imaginary beneficiary of Erlandson’s incoherent yet fecklessly dull philosophizing. “Clean the lint out of your belly button, the jam between your toes,” he says during a particularly eye-watering chapter, oblivious to the fact that he’s just spent 100 pages doing exactly that. And he’s barely halfway finished. The book’s sole upside, sadly, has nothing to do with its content—it’s that Erlandson uses it (or at least a couple pages of it) as a platform for an anti-suicide message. There is one other small mercy: It only takes as long to endure the entirety of Letters To Kurt as it ostensibly took Erlandson to write it.