"Asher waited for the bats. 'The little rats,' he thought. 'Where the hell are they?' The bats were late and to be late on this particular night was unsettling. Asher never takes a drink until the bats come out of their cave and fill the sky with blackness. It's a way to greet the evening and control his habit. But tonight was different, because tonight he was about to make the biggest drug score of his life."
Lightning On the Sun is set in modern day Cambodia where a young journalist, deep into dope, casual sex, and local politics, decides to take a loan and buy the finest heroin and ship it back to New York City for the big score. Loosely shadowing Robert Stone's Dog Soldiers, Bingham's novel takes off from the moral guilt of the Vietnam War and spins an adventure under the new tenets of capitalism and globalism in one of the murkiest corners of the planet.
The novel is fast paced, sexy, and an incredible insider's view of the underground world of modern Cambodia. The first time I started reading it I missed my subway stop, and I can't think of higher praise for a novel, because that never happens. Bingham, who died in his apartment last Thanksgiving of a heroin overdose, was a talented writer. He was also the life of the party in the New York literary world; he was the one person who could somehow bridge the rock n'roll world with the literary and art worlds. Not an easy task in such a focused, clique-oriented town.
He was rich, and loose with his money. When you were out with Robbie, everything was paid for. One debutante described him as "the 50 million dollar man." Robbie got married last spring. I was the DJ and Pavement was the house band. Dean Wareham of Galaxie 500 sang as did a very reclusive David Berman of the Silver Jews. The groom handed me a couple hits of ecstasy and kept the other ten for whoever came around next.
And by the time he broke open a bottle of champagne with a meat cleaver (Robbie tossed the cleaver ten feet over his head and caught it. He either caught it or chopped off his hand--that's the kind of guy we're talking about here) everyone felt like they had just married Robbie. He was not afraid of risks. And he was not afraid to die.
But Robbie loved the dark side, strip clubs, and heroin. He lived extreme and died the same way. His novel is a mirror of his life. He is alive in this book. And for Robbie, life was pure sport.