The Weirdness: A Novel

( 6 )

Overview

"This book is wild. And smart. And hilarious. And weird ... in all kinds of good ways. Prepare to be weirded out. And to enjoy it."
—Charles Yu, author of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

What do you do when you wake up hung over and late for work only to find a stranger on your couch? And what if that stranger turns out to be an Adversarial Manifestation—like Satan, say—who has brewed you a fresh cup of fair-trade coffee? ...

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The Weirdness: A Novel

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Overview

"This book is wild. And smart. And hilarious. And weird ... in all kinds of good ways. Prepare to be weirded out. And to enjoy it."
—Charles Yu, author of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

What do you do when you wake up hung over and late for work only to find a stranger on your couch? And what if that stranger turns out to be an Adversarial Manifestation—like Satan, say—who has brewed you a fresh cup of fair-trade coffee? And what if he offers you your life's goal of making the bestseller list if only you find his missing Lucky Cat and, you know, sign over your soul?

If you're Billy Ridgeway, you take the coffee.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
01/20/2014
In Bushnell’s debut, sad-sack aspiring Brooklyn-based writer Billy Ridgeway seems to have hit a rut: he’s lost his girl, a local literary critic just panned his writing, and his roommate has suddenly disappeared. Bantering with Anil, his best bud and a coworker at the sandwich counter where he works, seems to be Billy’s only solace throughout the day. But everything changes when the Devil shows up at Billy’s apartment with a seemingly benign request. Fuming at his literary rival Anton Cirrus, desperate for a book deal to impress his girlfriend, Billy allows temptation to get the better of him and sets off on a supernatural romp into Manhattan to locate the Neko of Infinite Equilibrium—a mystical toy cat stolen by a powerful warlock. The lightly philosophical, somewhat cursory plot works best when modern New York sensibilities clash with dark-magic tropes—Lucifer presenting his plan via PowerPoint, the invigorating logistics of turning into a hell-wolf, soul jurisdiction treaties signed by conflicting deities. A comedic literary thriller situated between the world of Harry Potter and the Brooklyn of Jonathan Ames, Bushnell’s debut effectively mines well-trodden terrain to unearth some dark gems. (Mar.)
From the Publisher
“Wonderfully weird and entertaining.”
Esquire

“An utterly charming, silly, and heartily entertaining coming-of-age story about a man-boy who learns to believe in himself by reckoning with evil… a welcome antidote to heavy-handed millennial fiction. Instead of trying to find profundity in party conversation or making his readers shudder in melancholy recognition of their thwarted lives, The Weirdness finds virtue in absurdity. Thank goodness — or darkness — for that.”
Boston Globe

“Arriving as a practitioner of such supernatural humor, loaded with brio, wit, and sophisticated jollity, like the literary godchild of Max Barry, Christopher Moore, and Will Self,  comes Jeremy Bushnell… An engaging reading experience.”
Paul Di Filippo, Barnes & Noble Review

Liberty Hardy (RiverRun Bookstore) picks The Weirdness as one of the Must-Read Books from Indie Presses in 2014 & the Best Book Cover of 2014, on Book Riot

“In many ways, this is an illuminating parable for these times… you’ll just wish you had more of this delightful novel still left to read.”
San Francisco Bay Guardian

“A whimsical approach… an aspiring author in New York who wakes one day to find that Satan has just brewed him a cup of fair-trade coffee — and has a little deal to discuss.”
Tampa Bay Times

“[The Weirdness] is immensely entertaining, and more than being merely diverting, is truly funny.”
Harvard Crimson

“The novel is truly a ’weird’ read, though unforgettable… An open-minded, modern reader will fully appreciate this bizarre and unusual work of fiction, the author’s first novel.”
Fairfield Mirror

One of “the week’s most exciting books”
Book Riot

“Absolutely, positively one of the most original takes on the nearing middle age, suffering male writer bit… Bushnell manages to turn this story on its head in what should be the most ridiculous novel you’ve ever read.”
The Picky Girl

“A comedic literary thriller situated between the world of Harry Potter and the Brooklyn of Jonathan Ames, Bushnell’s debut effectively mines well-trodden terrain to unearth some dark gems.”
Publishers Weekly

The Weirdness manages to soar beyond the potentially familiar tropes of urban fantasy with a strong sense of style and character… Bushnell’s debut novel is a clever, darkly satiric tale of the devil, literary Brooklyn and the human penchant for underachievement.”
Shelf Awareness

“This book is wild. And smart. And hilarious. And weird … in all kinds of good ways. Prepare to be weirded out. And to enjoy it.”
Charles Yu, author of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

“Jeremy Bushnell has written an irreverent, chaotic, comically inventive novel that makes New York City look like the insane asylum some suspect it is. It steadfastly refuses to bore you, and by the end has something important to say about the way we dream.” 
—William Giraldi, author of Busy Monsters

Kirkus Reviews
2014-01-23
The devil went down to Brooklyn, looking for a little help from some hipsters. In a story that can't decide at all whether it wants to be parody or horror, this debut novel by Bushnell shudders to an unpredictable end. Our hero is Billy Ridgeway, and he's a giant loser. A wannabe novelist who works at a sandwich joint in Brooklyn, he can't even carve out enough privacy to hook up with his sort-of-girlfriend, Denver. His life is thrown for a loop when he returns to his ratty apartment one morning to find Lucifer Morningstar himself sitting on his couch, ready with a PowerPoint presentation of his pitch to Billy. The devil, it turns out, needs Billy to steal a powerful talisman, the Neko of Infinite Equilibrium, from a nearby warlock named Timothy Ollard, in return for a lucrative book deal. "Just walk into the horrible tower and get the stupid cat and give it to Satan and everything could be different. You could get your book published. You could save the world," Billy muses. Added to the mix is the Northeast Regional Office for the Right-Hand Path, an international conglomerate of witches and warlocks. This is all played for arch comedy in the vein of Christopher Moore or S.G. Browne, but there's something off-putting about the execution of Billy's deity-riddled adventure. First of all, Billy and his poet/filmmaker/actor buddies are all frivolous urban clichés with no real substance. Secondly, Bushnell's plot stays focused on the back-stabbing Brooklyn literary scene, with a denouement that centers on a disastrous literary reading and a rivalry with a smartass critic. (This is long before Billy and a companion are transformed into sex demon wolf things, mind you). It's imaginative in some ways, but a plethora of deus ex machina tricks reveal that there's not much heavy lifting going on behind the curtain. Exactly the sort of novel a literary blogger would write. Proceed with caution.
The Barnes & Noble Review
Tragedy is easy, comedy is hard. But why?

The constituents of tragedy may be universally acknowledged, easily invoked and deeply felt, but the elements of comedy are, I think, more widely variable from person to person. The three touchstones that woke Buddha up -- sickness, old age, and death -- are a pretty good place to start when crafting a tragic tale. And if we need to get more specific: heartbreak, destruction, miscomprehension, natural disasters, betrayal, and the waste of human potential.

Of course, there are always amiable cynics, such as Oscar Wilde, who deny any pathos -- or at least any inaesthetic pathos. "One must have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without laughing."

But with comedy, the situations that amuse me might leave you cold. Sure, theories of humor discern a few broad invariants: incongruity, misattribution, etc. But whereas I might find a blind date gone horribly wrong to be hilarious, you might just wince and avert your eyes. I'm shedding tears of joy at the antics of the Three Stooges, while you're waiting in bored impatience for the slapfest to run its course. (And we all know people who have no discernible sense of humor at all.)

Finally, when it comes to fiction, seems to me that tragedy is a blunt and heavy weapon -- a cudgel, a board with a spike in it, an atomic bomb that is rather easy to deploy -- whereas literary comedy is a rapier, one that requires rather more finesse and subtlety to wield effectively. All of which goes to partly explain why there is relatively little comic science fiction, horror, and fantasy. Quite often intent on conveying how things can go wrong for a culture (science fiction) or an individual (horror) or all of magical creation (fantasy), works of fantastika often preclude comedy, because humor gets in the way of messages of doom or struggle.

But this is not to say that comedy in fantastical literature does not have a long and honorable pedigree of laughs that starts with Victorian writers such as E. Nesbit and F. Anstey; moves on in the 1930s and 1940s to Thorne Smith and de Camp & Pratt; then in the 1950s to William Tenn and Robert Sheckley; Ron Goulart in the 1960s; and afterward, Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, and Tom Holt, just to name a few. As the Science Fiction Encyclopedia says, it is " a false belief that SF and humor do not mix."

Arriving as a practitioner of such supernatural humor, loaded with brio, wit and sophisticated jollity, like the literary godchild of Max Barry, Christopher Moore, and Will Self, comes Jeremy Bushnell with The Weirdness. This debut novel is nominally a "deal with the devil" story, a hoary trope whose every ramification was deemed to have been previously explored, so much so that many genre magazine editors exhibit an automatic prohibition against such tales. But Bushnell triumphs over any such overbroad editorial ukase and fannish doubts with enough surprising twists and satire of contemporary persons, mores and foibles to reboot the whole iconography.

Our hero is one Billy Ridgway, consummate screw-up. Thirty years old, an aspiring fiction writer working in a sandwich shop, Billy has managed to sabotage his own future with a series of bad choices, snarky behavior, laziness, apathy, and general ineptitude. Just when he thinks not much worse can happen to him in his miserable life, he experiences an "Adversarial Manifestation." The Devil -- a dapper, self-possessed, cosmopolitan fellow with gourmet tastes in coffee; not scary at all, really -- appears unbidden in Billy's apartment and offers him a deal. No souls are involved in the transaction. The Devil just needs a small favor, and in return will ensure that Billy becomes a well-received, published novelist. What the Devil asks is that Billy enter the Manhattan stronghold of a powerful warlock, retrieve something the mage stole, and return the prize to the Devil. Oh, yes, if Billy doesn't act soon, the warlock's tampering with the MacGuffin -- one of those Chinese Good Luck Cat Statues -- will destroy the entire world.

Billy cycles through what might be termed the Five Stages of Supernatural Disbelief over the course of the next day or two. Days that are packed -- amusingly for the reader and embarrassingly for Billy -- with mundane events such as literary feuds, girlfriend troubles, and paternal annoyances. But eventually, with no real recourse, Billy accepts the commission, which is sealed by the smoking of a large, magical cigar in the back room of a Williamsburg crêperie.

At this point, roughly halfway through the book, veteran readers might very well imagine they can see what's coming. But Bushnell has so many clever twists in hand, including an earlier-than-anticipated meeting with Timothy Ollard (the bad warlock), that one compulsively devours the pages for the next startling revelation and/or transfiguration.

Bushnell's book is superbly constructed on two levels: the micro and macro. First comes his prose, a crisp, unlabored, and invigorating mix of colorful quotidian details with hyperbole and vivid magical SFX. Like Lev Grossman with his modern wizards, Bushnell wisely and firmly grounds us in the grungy, shabby, pathetic reality of Billy's life before bringing in the supernatural. Bushnell has the slacker/millennial/hipster lifestyle pegged down tight. He depicts Billy's character in a way that elicits both sympathy and disdain, rendering Billy as neither fully heroic nor fully venal, but rather the essential human composite of good and bad. Billy's eccentric compadres get a similar fleshing out: I'm reminded of the gang of amiable losers in Bob Fingerman's great graphic novel, Minimum Wage. Late to the page, but critical in her role, is Elisa Mastic, punk poet, who proves to have a curious affinity with Billy. And of course the Devil himself exhibits a beguiling mix of infernal unknowability with mortal quirks: "Should someone choose to write my story, I hope the author will take time to mention that my entire existence really was characterized by my being profoundly, uniquely misunderstood."

And along with the sharp, funny, slightly off-kilter dialogue and wry observations that Billy makes come some great gonzo metaphors, sprinkled just perfectly in the text so as not to become obnoxious. Billy's gone-to-sleep leg has been "transformed from trusty appendage to strange tube packed full of cast-off meats, like a long sack of dog food stuck to his body."

On the plotting level, Bushnell's pacing is deft, and his ability to stagger multiple small climaxes throughout the story before hitting us with the large, emotionally resonant one makes for an engaging reading experience. And that big, ultimate manifestation of the occult is delivered with utter panache and convincing widescreen, um, weirdness. This sincerity of this ending, along with the smart coda, proves Bushnell is no half-hearted magical realist or dabbler in trendy interstitial allegory but rather a full-fledged, proudly non-mimetic genre fabulist, a living disproof to the absurd contention that comedy in fiction cannot produce a work of gravitas with a red clown nose firmly in place.

One almost suspects, from Bushnell's triumph, that he's made his own Robert Johnson at the crossroads deal with Old Scratch himself.

Author of several acclaimed novels and story collections, including Fractal Paisleys, Little Doors, and Neutrino Drag, Paul Di Filippo was nominated for a Sturgeon Award, a Hugo Award, and a World Fantasy Award -- all in a single year. William Gibson has called his work "spooky, haunting, and hilarious." His reviews have appeared in The Washington Post, Science Fiction Weekly, Asimov's Magazine, and The San Francisco Chronicle.

Reviewer: Di Filippo, Paul

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781612193151
  • Publisher: Melville House Publishing
  • Publication date: 3/4/2014
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 458,643
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 7.40 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

JEREMY BUSHNELL is the fiction editor for Longform.org, and is also the lead developer of Inevitable, a tabletop game released by Dystopian Holdings. He teaches writing at Northeastern University in Boston, and he lives in Dedham, Massachusetts. This is his first novel.

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Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide for The Weirdness

1. Where do the bananas in bodegas come from? Have you ever thought about something so long that it becomes strange, the way Billy thinks “people have pets”? What started to seem strange to you?

2. What did you think about the role of religion in The Weirdness? When you heard the line “What about God?” repeated, were you expecting God to make an appearance? Because Lucifer was the Judean-Christian version of the Devil, were you expecting a Judean-Christian God to appear?

3. Why do you think Elissa asks Billy, “What is the worst thing you ever did?” Do you think she wants to share her history with him because she realizes they share a connection? Or do you think she had other motives?

4. How did your perception of Lucifer change over the course of the story? If he had given you a convincing Powerpoint Presentation, do you think you would have signed on to help him?

5. What do you think Bingxin Ying meant when she told Denver that she admired her “commitment to immanentization of the ephemeral”? How do you think this phrase affects Billy in the moment she says it, and later in the book, when he tries to get closer to Denver?

6. On p. 128, were you surprised to find out that Laurent hadn’t read Billy’s work? How did it change your perception of Laurent and his crew?

7. On p. 135, do you believe Lucifer when he says Billy doesn’t want to go back to his old life? Did you expect Billy to choose the Devil’s side?

8. What do you imagine the warlock might do with the Neko of Infinite Equilibrium? Do you trust that Lucifer will do the right thing?

9. Billy is constantly slowed down by coffee, traffic, and other simple forms of conflict rarely represented in books. Did the story feel more realistic to you, based on these moments?

10. How did Billy change over the course of this story? Do you think Billy agreed to the right compromise—protecting Elissa and Jorgen by asking Lucifer to train new hell-wolves from the next generation?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 15, 2014

    Very entertaining!  Never takes itself too seriously¿ Laugh out

    Very entertaining!  Never takes itself too seriously… Laugh out loud funny… And their are some beautiful little nuggets of truth tucked away
    in the colorful prose.  I really enjoyed this…
    It is a good read….

    9 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 26, 2014

    FABULOUS! DELICIOUS! WONDERFULLY SPIRITUAL!

    I loved this book. Could not put it down. Never wanted it to end. Such a piquant combination of humor, pathos, love and longing. Who doesn't love the struggle of good and evil and everything in betwen? Read this book! You will be a better person for it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 22, 2014

    Funny but only for those can sit through the red /green show re runs

    This is no faust one persons kisses are anothers peanut cups as usual procedee with caution and try sample borrow you shows the independence of cats

    1 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 5, 2014

    Aptly titled!

    Aptly titled!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 22, 2014

    nope!

    Read earlier this year. So much hype, so much a waste of time. A really stupid book. I hope the author didn't give up his teaching job to write full time.

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 22, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews

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