Published in 1982 by New Horizons, The Pepsi-Cola Addict is some Harry Crews weirdness but written by a 14-year-old girl. I’ve long dreamed of owning the ultimate outsider novel, but it seemed unlikely. Only five libraries are said to have a copy. Still, I imagined that maybe I’d find it in some dusty bookshop in Edinburgh or in the musty bowels of a London thrift store. (Hey, ya never know; I once found a tiny Cookie Mueller book in a Savers grab bag with other small yellow objects).
June and JenNIFER Gibbons claimed they were two people who became one, but monozygotic twins are actually one person who split into two.
The GIBSON Twins began as a single egg.
Biology designated them as one person.
Jennifer willed herself to death so that June could live, as if June was still at risk for vanishing twin syndrome at twenty-nine years old and Jennifer was just a succubus who drained her sister dry. This is the story the twins told themselves until, one way or another, it killed one of them.
She was young and in good health. She wasn’t known to suffer from heart conditions or seizure disorders. June is still alive, so Jennifer was genetically disposed to the same longevity. The timing is the spookiest part of the story: it happened immediately upon their release from Broadmoor, a hospital for the criminally insane.
On the drive home. On the drive home!
In her dubious book, The Silent Twins, Marjorie Wallace paints a portrait of latent Lacanian tendencies and haywire hormones. The sisters had their own language; they battled at the breast, demanding to be fed simultaneously. If one fell off a horse, the other would follow. If one refused to speak, the other went silent. They were enmeshed mutants—a split egg—who exhibited selective mutism. They communicated through art, making dolls and dioramas, writing plays and novels. The Gibbons sisters were the anti-Brontës. They briefly fooled around with drugs and boys and even went on a spree of juvenile delinquency, including mild arson and petty theft. (A stapler was stolen from town hall!) For this adolescent mischief, they were imprisoned at Broadmoor for the criminally insane, where they encountered the Kray twins, notorious London gangsters. Unlike the Krays, the Gibbons twins were neither criminals nor insane. They were creative geniuses stuck in a shithole.
The sisters exhibited the precocious ambition of prodigies, submitting their adolescent writing for publication. After repeated rejections, they pooled their money to self-publish The Pepsi-Cola Addict. A predatory vanity press collected a whopping sum from the twins—nearly a thousand dollars—only to produce a subpar product riddled with typos.
But, oh God, I’ve dreamed of it. And I’m hardly alone in my hope.
Shortly after I first began working at the British Library, I knew that I’d use my newfound access to 150 million media objects—magazine articles, oral history recordings, and books, many of them rare—to get my hands on The Pepsi-Cola Addict, the sole novel by June Allison Gibbons, one half of the infamous “silent twins.” Connoisseurs of weird crime stories—or weird twin stories, for that matter, or the surprisingly rich subgenre of weird twin crime stories—can do no better than the bizarre, tragic yarn of the Gibbons twins.
The story is set in Malibu, California. The Gibbons girls were taken with America, but they’d never cross the Atlantic. June described an imaginary Malibu, crawling with rats and paved in gray. It’s as if she intuited the spiritual poverty of that wealthy enclave in its famously idyllic environment. The book’s “hero” is Preston Wildey-King. Like most of the boys the sisters knew, Preston is a little shit. He’s homophobic and homoerotic, antisocial, and easily coerced into crime. (Unsurprisingly, he has something of the author in him).
The brat suffers from an American condition: rampant consumption.
Preston is fifteen and drinks Pepsi-Cola incessantly, obsessively. It causes him some problems. Firstly, he does not have much money to get it. Secondly, he seems, not surprisingly, to need to urinate frequently. Thirdly, it seems to have affected his love life with Peggy. Finally, throughout the book, he is often listless and irritable, which may be put down to normal teenage issues but the excessive consumption of Pepsi-Cola cannot have helped.
I wept when I discovered this; I wept for the feverish child who wrote it and the dreamers who paid $700 to have it published, and when they proved disappointing, when boys and sex and society proved disappointing, they set their backwards town on fire. They rebelled in every way they could, through silence and through violence, only to be imprisoned in an insane asylum.
Broadmoor! Like they were running a mafia circuit in London!
The Gibbons Twins break my heart because I know in the depths of my soul that they could’ve been saved by punk or kink or any aspect of weirdo culture. They just needed someone to take them in and say, WE HEAR YOU.
Congratulations, June. I have already ordered my copy.
June Gibbons was involved in a small special edition print run of 393 copies. I missed out!
Both the SPECIAL and STANDARD editions are hardbacks, with foil blocking on the front and back boards and the spine. A full-colour dust jacket, designed by June Gibbons and Ania Goszczyńska, finally realises the cover design June had originally wanted for the book. The top, side, and bottom edges of the pages have been colour-dyed. The book also has coloured headbands and tailbands, as well as a coloured book ribbon. Coloured endpapers—with different designs for the front endpapers and the back endpapers—reproduce drawings of the book’s two main characters, Preston and Peggy, drawn by the author.
The SPECIAL EDITION comprises:
A bookplate, signed and numbered by June
A two-sided postcard reproducing the first edition’s front-cover artwork and a facsimile holograph note—about the book’s original cover—by June on the reverse of the postcard.
A folded full-color Risograph poster of the author.
A folded, one-sided sheet reproducing a typed love poem by June intended to be added to, but then deleted from, the first edition of her novel.
A screenprinted two-sided tote bag, made from Fair Trade organic cotton, featuring on one side the author’s photo from the book’s first edition and, on the other side, the title and author’s name as used on the first edition.
A card label tied with waxed string to the tote bag with a drawing by June of a packet of cigarettes on one side, with each label individually signed by her on the back.
A one-sided cassetteº, in a double-sided fold-out sleeve reproducing a mix-tape design drawn by June, featuring a 14-minute long track with June reading excerpts from The Pepsi-Cola Addict over music created by Current 93 with her especially for this track.
A red-and-white striped candy bag with a reproduction of a drawing by June of the book’s hero, Preston. This drawing differs from the one on the STANDARD Edition’s candy bag.
About the Author
Dia VanGunten explores overlaps between genres, between poetry and prose, between the real and the magical. Her current fiction project is Pink Zombie Rose. Follow @pinkzombierose for more updates.