Nog

By RUDOLPH WURLITZER

The revival by Two Dollar Radio of Rudy Wurlitzer’s first novel, Nog (1969), with a fresh introduction by Erik Davis, introduces a lucky new generation of readers to an essential piece of ’60s literature that remains as crunchy and toothsome yet unsettling a nonpareil as it registered upon its debut. It seems likely that Wurlitzer, a screenwriter of note, derived his inspiration and narrative template not so much from other tripped-out novels of the era — think The Crying of Lot 49 and Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me — as he did from avant-garde cinema, particularly the French New Wave. The dislocated, seemingly patternless comings and goings of a nearly memoryless man, possibly named Nog, can be mapped in spirit and almost on a literal level to a film like Luc Moullet’s The Smugglers. Toss in a soupçon of realism and romance from Jules and Jim and a healthy dash of Godard, and you have the essential game plan for Nog. But Wurlitzer’s book is able to display a rich interior life in a manner cinema struggles to replicate. Nog’s deadpan first-person narration is autistic, cubistic, and shamanic, using incantatory lists and anally compulsive powers of observation as his magical barriers against the dissolution of the self. His psychic geography recalls Ballard’s wandering, self-destructive prophets of paradigm shift, and space time itself becomes a living threat that must be wrestled into submission — or at least a stalemate. Yet Wurlitzer entertains on the level of sheer plot as well. Nog’s capricious West Coast encounters with a host of American purebreds, from the hippies Lockett and Meridith to the right-wing gun nut Bench, all couched in droll vernacular, provides a constant impetus to turn page after page in this surreal California phantasmagoria.