I Am Still an Infinitely Hot and Dense Dot
Mark Leyner, the Max Headroom of American fiction, returns.
Such marvelous aggression! Reading Leyner’s odes to appetites—and his sizzling psychedelic images, and his info-fixes fugue states—you get to thinking about thinking and the chemical mind, and I think it’s important to mention that Grimes described Leyner as a serious runner and unreconstructed gym rat. (The author declared, immortally, "I think it's important for you to mention that I not only want to be the best comic novelist in America, but the best-built comic novelist in America.") This is the passion juicing the prose. Leyner runs the reader down a ruthless treadmill. He is administering an endurance test of an endorphin overdose.
David Plakke Media NYC.
The style is “the ultimate union of U.S. television in fiction” and “marks the far dark frontier of the fiction of image.” Or so David Foster Wallace wrote in the 1993 essay “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction.” Wallace wondered at length about TV’s institutionalization of “hip irony” and “postmodern rebellion.” It is as if he had anticipated the medium’s way of stoking the sense that we are all living inside the universe of NBC’s Community, which we kind of are. Wallace wound up the piece by IDing Gastroenterologist as a virtuoso response to the blue flow and schizoid flip of the Tube in its own terms. But also he described MCMG as “less a novel than a piece of witty, erudite, extremely high-quality prose television. Velocity and vividness—the wow—replace the literary hmm of actual development.” And at the earlier moment of the 1992 magazine story, on account of Leyner’s commitment to giving the people the kinesis they want, Wallace referred to Leyner, no less memorably, as “kind of an antichrist.” The Sugar Frosted Nutsack is ripe with Leyner’s old false-salvation flavor and chewier than ever.
If, just for sport, we were to suppose that T.S.F.N. has a proper plot—that the content of its story is divisible from the self-analytic and endlessly involuted architecture of its structure, its “infinite recursion of bracketed redundancies,” its fractal patterns and narrative nesting dolls—we would start to summarize that plot by talking about “the Gods.” These are deities who are horny and vengeful in the Hellenic tradition and who further comport themselves like seven strangers who, having been picked to live in a loft, have stopped being polite and started trifling with mortals for sport. They belt back Gravy (“a smokable form of hallucinogenic borscht”) and the tales of their exploits are constructed and deconstructed without surcease by generations of blind bards high on ecstasy or sometimes ketamine but almost always also Sunkist.
Many a God lives speaks with a “self-indulgent, hyperintellectual diarrhea of the mouth.” The everyman in attendance—an unemployed butcher from Jersey City, whose fate is to be “riddled, infested, consumed, devoured by Gods”—engages a diner waitress in “hypersexualized flirtations” about the second-person present-tense narration. (Him: “You’re serving me a hot tongue sandwich. … You’re setting an ice-cold Sunkist orange soda down right next to my big, crunchy onion rings.” Her: “Second-person present-tense narration makes everything super-fucking-hot.”) The book describes itself as "one long ultraviolent hyperkinetic nightmare" rocketing to a “hyperviolent denouement.” One character (“Real Husband”) praises another (“Real Wife”) for her acute auto-critique of T.S.F.N.—conducted on a series titled Inside the Sugar Frosted Nutsack—by lauding her “straight-up hyperarticulate high-pitched shit.” Hypertextual, the book allows choose your own adventure and illusion, and the whole effect is of a tail-finned cruise through the land of John Barth and Robert Coover back to the caves of primal myth.
Gird yourself for a slide down the spiraling neural pathways of an imploded neurotic culture, where we click links unto seasickness. Leyner, same as he ever was, offers a vision of the future that you’ll be living in when you swim up google-eyed from the present’s phosphorescent depths. If T.S.F.N. is less insidious a trip than his earlier fiction, it is because his pragmatic nihilism has mellowed into a kind of Zen acceptance. In creating a prose analog to the processed hollow perfection of Jeff Koons’s “Rabbit,” Leyner has sculpted his own streamlined Buddha shimmering with visions of infinite regress.
Or so it seems at the punch line. In the last paragraph, the everyman dies, and it’s as if his spirit is “disappearing into the scintillating somethingness of the nothingness that never was” as he breathes his last words, like a pop mantra: “One size … fits all.”
See all the pieces in the new Slate Book Review.
Troy Patterson is Slate's television critic.