The Complete Lockpick Pornography is a provocative title, and the rest of the book doesn’t let that go. While the book is neither pornography nor an instruction manual on lock picking, in some ways it has elements of both. It is two novellas packaged as one—Lockpick Pornography and We All Got It Coming—by Joey Comeau. They do contain swearing and sex and violence, as befits a book of this title, but they also have a considerable dose of human emotion and societal reflection.
On the outside, the two novellas appear to be very different. The first, Lockpick Pornography, follows a nameless protagonist whose main agenda seems to be as queer as possible—and not let little things like laws or other people stand in his way. A little bit more elaboration on this—during the course of the novella, he calls a random woman out of the phone book to challenge her conceptions of gender; he crashes a lesbian prom in disguise to trick them into kissing a man; he and his friends break into buildings wearing masks of queer cartoon characters (Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street, for instance). Lockpick is very much an angry story, ferocious even, with a protagonist who seems determined to take revenge on a world he considers to be too restrictive.
We All Got It Coming, the second novella, is much gentler. Arthur, the narrator, is much more like the people most of us know in real life—he’s working a job he doesn’t like that much, he has a boyfriend, he talks to his mother on the phone. He makes a much more sympathetic character, because he has more sympathy for the other people he encounters throughout the story. The main plot follows him as he suffers harassment at his job, quits, and struggles to figure out what to do next. It’s not a very complicated storyline, but Comeau examines every train of thought that Arthur goes through as a result, detailing each so that you can’t help but sympathize.
Comeau’s prose throughout has a unplanned feel—in a good way. The story unfolds naturally, going from one sentence to the next as if the author were talking to you, simply expressing what he was thinking at the time. This adds a feeling of authenticity to a story which very much relies on the believableness of its characters. There’s no frills and fancy language. The story feels told just as much as written, which makes sense with the first-person point of view and highly personal content.
Comeau describes the book as “about dealing with homophobia and violence in two very different ways. In We All Got it Coming, the main character approaches it trying not to give in to anger, trying to understand his attacker. In Lockpick Pornography, the main characters approach homophobia the other way. The other way essentially being genderqueer terrorism.”
Lockpick comes first, and that “other way” feels like a challenge. The protagonist of Lockpick wonders: Is it moral to commit a crime in order to further a socially just cause? If you say you believe that gender is a construction, then how can you be gay or lesbian or straight? Through the high tension of the plot, and the sometimes over-the-top actions of the characters, I found myself questioning how I would behave in the situations portrayed. Furthermore, I started to question how much I was going along with the status quo, and whether I was wrong for doing so.
By the end of that novella, though, Comeau reveals himself as much more than an angry protester. While the protagonist of Lockpick fights the system aggressively and passionately, Comeau doesn’t make the mistake of presenting that view as the right one. The random woman that the protagonist calls turns out to be one of the sweetest characters in the story. The son of an anti-gay preacher is an intelligent, curious, likable little boy. There is an authorial presence telling you not to accept that the system is right—but also not to accept that it is all wrong.
This leads straight into We All Got It Coming. It’s like a rebuttal to the argument of the first novella—Arthur tries to empathize with other people, to understand where they’re coming from and why they think that way. He stays in society, and uses the people in his life as a support system. While in-story there’s no judgement of which way is better, putting We All Got It Coming second means that it’s the way you end on, and maybe the one you take away.
This is the surprise at the heart of the novellas, and what makes them worth reading. Through the violence and hatred that is present in both, it’s compassion that nonetheless comes out on top. Lockpick Pornography isn’t the first book that features queer characters, nor the first book to be angry or challenging. Yet Lockpick does feel new. There’s a balance between love and violence, accusation and compassion, that tugs at the heartstrings and keeps the book in your thoughts. It’s easy to see the characters’ flaws—it’s their virtues which come out more slowly. That makes it all the more rewarding when you finish the book, and realize that everyone was worthy of your empathy and interest.
If you are interested in similar work, the webcomic A Softer World, is a perfect introduction to Joey Comeau’s writing, equal parts affirming and disturbing. Comeau has also published several other books, including Bible Camp Bloodbath, The Girl Who Couldn’t Come, and more.
Joey Comeau is a queer Canadian-born writer whose work frequently crosses genre boundaries. He is currently based in Toronto. You can find his books and other projects here. Under the heading for Lockpick Pornography, you can find links to read the story for free.
Michelle Grifka is a writer, artist, comics-creator and all around art enthusiast. At this moment, she’s probably either writing, drawing, or baking a pie. Alternatively, she could be singing at the top of her lungs. Future plans include graduating from the University of Chicago and going on to become the most famous webcomic artist ever. Yes, even more famous than the xkcd guy. Check out her progress. Or, if you’re more into beautiful pictures and fashion, she also Tumbles.