Mal, a thirtysomething speed freak, shoots his mother, torches his house, and heads to the local mall with a sack of weapons and a plan for more mayhem. Danny, a voyeuristic businessman with a fetish for young underwear models, is caught by mall security peeking into dressing rooms at JCPenney. Jeff, a teenager with existential troubles, drops acid and departs on a philosophical nightmare. Donna, a hungry, unsettled housewife, is on the lookout for a one-night stand. Michel, a Haitian immigrant and mall security guard, seeks salvation. All long for a kind of satisfaction, and this longing leads them to the modern plaza of possibility, the shopping mall, where their appetites converge in explosive ways.
Satirical and provocative, Mall is an eye-opening look at suburban life and the idea of "normalcy." In this, his first novel, Eric Bogosian delivers a dark, hilarious, and biting commentary on an American culture fraught with sex, drugs, violence, and congested thinking.
|Publisher:||Simon & Schuster|
|Product dimensions:||5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.60(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
"MAL!" Mary's voice cut like an airhorn through the aging ranch house. Past the framed needlepoint-by-numbers, past the mute upright piano, past the dusty royal blue-and-gold Encyclopedia Americana, past the dripping bathroom faucet, over the wall-to-wall rugs flat with beaten paths, past the circa-1962 pole lamp, down the dark hallway, under the door of the TV den and into Mal's ear.
"Malcolm! You want your dinner now?"
Mal was as still as a lizard on a warm rock, pupils dilated, absorbing the TV images across the close air of the darkened room.
Mal knew how concerned his mother was regarding his relationship with food. She had discussed his problem with the doctors and the therapists and they had informed her that one way to tell if Mal was abusing any mood elevators was if he had no appetite or if he was particularly active. Clutching this inside information close to her chest Mary felt she had the upper hand. But Mal knew something neither his mom nor the doctors knew: A) if necessary, he could force himself to eat; and B) sometimes when he was speeding on crystal meth he didn't move at all. Instead he directed all his energy into his thoughts and became pure consciousness. Which was what he had been doing for the past three months. Mary thought he had been watching TV or sleeping. But she was wrong. For ninety days, Mal had been thinking and planning, his thoughts as convoluted as a fever patient's nightmare.
Even now, Mal jammed one more conceptual log into the inferno of his brainpan, a memory. The tan brick church embraced by its tiny lawn; the bone white Mary weeping over bloody geraniums; the darkly shellacked doors agape. Inside the cool, frankincense-infused building, Father Donleavy, no, Father Donahue, no, Father Donavon, no, Father Fuckface, that's it, Father Fuckface with the scraped-red cheekskin, is blabbing: Jesus said this and Jesus said that.
And Jesus said, "Why do you kick against the pricks?" And the sullen twelve-year-old Malcolm, his butt perched on the smooth rock-hard oak pew, responds impiously: "But I don't. I don't. I want the pricks and the kicks." Another image replaces the questioning Jesus of Nazareth in the fever swirl of Mal's sweaty mind -- a tiny bird, swooping quickly. The bird hits the windshield, fragments into fluff and blood, then gets swallowed up by blackness.
"I'm making fish sticks with mashed potatoes and string beans. Okay?"
Surrounded by the dull food smell of meals past, Mary peered into the oven. The mini-lightbulb inside, covered with black oven grease-goo, hid in its corner, cold and dead. Asking Mal to repair something was futile. There were times when he would get very busy and excited, but instead of doing anything constructive, Mal would only create more confusion. Tools and bits of broken litter would end up strewn all over the living room rug. And guess who had to clean all that up? So Mary lived with the dead lightbulb and the withered mouse carcasses in the basement and the dripping bathroom faucet with its green stain printed onto the black-chipped porcelain.
Mary tugged the tray of fish sticks to see if they had the appropriate brown tinge. The hot metal tilted and dropped. It painted her thumb with a fiery smear of pain. She juggled the whole business, trying to keep the little oily loaves from skidding onto the floor, only to get seared again.
She could put butter on the wounds later. Her immediate mission was to feed and nurture Mal. Sam was dead, Traci was gone, but there was still little Malcolm. Not so little and childlike now with his beard and stringy hair and fog of B.O. She wished she could toss him into the tub like when he was six. Well, "one step at a time" as it said in the magazine.
Mary slid the fish sticks onto a cheery patterned plate. She scooped mashed potatoes, dabbed butter and forked on the boiled, canned string beans. Canned were better. They tasted terrible, but Mal never noticed the difference and they were cheaper. She set the food, fork and knife, salt and pepper, a slice of bread on a smaller matching plate and a flimsy paper napkin on a tray, snapped off the oven and made her way down the hall to the TV room. She noticed the mute piano and made a mental note to wipe it down with Pledge in the morning.
Entering the darkened room, Mary searched for the TV table upon which Mal customarily took his meals. She ignored the slight scent of urine. Mal did not move, the TV set murmured.
"Did you hear me calling you?"
Mal did not speak.
"Well, if you're not going to tell me what you want or don't want, I'm going to make your decisions for you and you're going to get what you get. The older you are the more you remind me of your father."
Mal scratched under his armpit and looked up at his mother. His eyes shone crystalline blue, numinous in the reflected light of the TV. Underneath it all, he was a handsome man. With the beard and hair he looked almost like Our Savior Himself. Mary loved him. She put the tray down.
"There. You need anything else? You want me to get you a Hi-C?"
Mal eyed the tray. Eyed Mary. He lay the remote control upon the armrest, reached under his greasy, lumpy BarcaLounger seat cushion and extracted a vague shape in the semidarkness.
"What's that, Mal?"
Mal straightened his arm toward his mother's chest as if he were going to accuse her of something, as if she had done something wrong. He didn't speak. He merely moved his finger a quarter of an inch. The little .22 semiautomatic made a bang sound like a big cap pistol. Mary looked down but there wasn't anything to see. She felt a burning, then realized Mal had shot her.
"Did you just do what I think you did, Mal?"
Mary finished the sentence as her lungs collapsed and her tightly coiled energy unwound. She decided the fish sticks on the plate needed adjusting. She reached out to touch them, but her body wasn't doing anything it was supposed to. Mary watched the plate come up and hit her in the face. Mary, the plate, the tray and the TV table crashed into the BarcaLounger. Mary found herself folded in half, the green and ochre food staining her and the floor. She looked up at her son, still sitting in the naugahyde recliner.
"Mal? Now who's going to clean this up?" She coughed and a small pink bubble inflated out of her left nostril.
Mal put the gun to her forehead and squeezed off a second round. It smacked Mary backward. The bullet didn't penetrate her skull, rather skidded off toward a shelf where a crystal glass memorializing Traci's wedding stood, shattering it, filling the air with a mini-snowstorm of glass particles. Mary was scurrying toward the door like a broken crab.
Mal watched her with the same dim interest with which he watched his TV. She did not die the way the dogs had died. Dogs bite at the wound like a bad flea because they don't know what's going on. Mary knew. She had no more questions for Mal. She knew the doctor was wrong in his diagnosis. Mal was not better.
Copyright © 2000 by Ararat Productions, Inc.
A Conversation with Eric Bogosian
As an avatar of the underground, Eric Bogosian has spent more than 20 years writing now-classic plays and monologues such as subUrbia, Talk Radio, and Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll. With Mall, Bogosian's darkly comic debut novel, he offers a fresh, penetrating glimpse into the troubled soul of the American suburbanite that is as provocative as his theater pieces. Mall's action centers on Mal, a 30-something crystal-meth freak who shoots his mother, sets his house on fire, then heads for the mall with a backpack full of ammo. As Mal torches the mall, the lives of several other mall visitors -- Danny the voyeuristic businessman, Donna the exhibitionist housewife, and Jeff the acid-tripping, navel-gazing teenager -- intersect in equally explosive ways. Writer Ann Abel recently telephoned Eric Bogosian at his New York City office to talk about fiction writing, anger, passion and, of course, the mall.
Barnes & Noble.com: You've had a long, successful career as a playwright, screenwriter, actor, and monologist. Now, with Mall, you've added novelist to your résumé. What made you want to try writing fiction?
Eric Bogosian: I think the fiction climate has changed in the past few years. There's a different kind of book that's out there now, like the stuff that David Foster Wallace makes, or Dave Eggers. I just think the literary world has suddenly expanded in a lot of different directions. That's because there's a new point of view in writing that's shown up, and there are also a lot of people who seem to be eager to read the stuff. You can just feel the change out there, that books aren't some stuffy thing. Maybe it has to do with the Internet. I don't know.
But I happened to be talking a few years ago to this old editor of mine, David Rosenthal, who now runs Simon & Schuster, and said, "Gee, everybody seems to think they can write a book." And I love books. Books have always been a big, big part of my life. When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time by myself. I was a real loner, and books were my companions. So there's always a book in my hand. I go everywhere with a book. I love, love, love books. If I ever get down, if I ever get to a point in my life where I'm really unhappy about things, I have this library, and I just stand in the room where all the books are and I look at the books and I feel better. It just seems like books can be -- I don't know, they fix me, anyway.
So I wanted to write a book, and David said, "So write it." And I said, "When do you need it by?" He said, "There are no deadlines with novels. You just write it until you think it's done." So I did that. I just starting puttering away and trying to write, writing 40 or 50 pages and then looking at it. I knew the story I wanted to tell. I knew the kinds of things I wanted to talk about. The great thing about books is -- unlike when I write for the theater or the movies and I have to write everything in dialogue and everything has to be exposed via a conversation between people, for the most part -- in this case, I can write the way people are thinking. Which is wonderful to me. I'm fairly introspective, and it's great to write about characters and what's going on inside their heads.
Also, I have no constraints about where I have to go, when I can go. I can go into the past. I can go anywhere. I can blow things up. I can shoot people. I can burn an entire mall down. That was very freeing. When I write a screenplay, there's usually an executive who's watching and saying, "We can only afford five helicopters, so don't write more than five helicopters." Or in some cases, they say, "Write more helicopters. We want to have more action."
Another thing is that movies, because they're such a big deal -- and plays, but particularly movies -- you get told what's going to work and what isn't going to work. There's a lot of committee input from everyone. Writing a book, no one is saying boo to me about what it's about. They just want to be sure it's well written. So the word I write is the word you read on the page. And I can find an audience, which I can't do with theater. With theater, I'm stuck wherever I am putting on the theater piece. If I'm in New York, that's it. If you don't live in the New York area, you can't see my show. Because of the Internet, right now people everywhere can just order the book, and I can find somebody who's living in a log cabin somewhere in Montana and they can get the book by tomorrow or the next day. That's pretty great. I think my impulse to be creative is very, very strongly about me reaching out to people who want to hear what I'm saying, or what I'm trying to say. That's the strongest part of the whole experience for me. Also, because of the Internet, people write to me and send me emails about things I've written. It's very exciting to hear about. I've had people as far away as Poland doing my work, and hearing how they feel about it is a thrill for me.
B&N.com: You mentioned writing narrative versus writing dialogue, which is interesting, because you have such a famously great ear for dialogue. Was it difficult to translate that into writing narrative?
EB: It wasn't that difficult. The key thing with writing narrative is that narrative is essentially the voice inside my head. I mean, as far as I can tell. I can hear it all the time, but once I sit down to start writing it, it's hard to avoid cliché, or to avoid sounding too precious or too pretentious. So finding that voice was the biggest challenge for me with narrative. What I would do is, I would write and put it away for a while and then pick it up and read it to myself and say, "Do I buy this? Do I believe it? Do I hear what's being described? Do I think it's being described properly?"
It's challenging to write anything that involves action because how do you do that? The whole process is kind of amazing. In theater or in film, you kind of construct it in front of your eyes, and if you want somebody to walk across the room, they walk across the room. Or if you want something to happen in a movie, you make it happen, and there it is. You see it happening. In a book, of course, it's all being done with letters and words. It's kind of magical, actually, when you think about it. What you leave out is as important as what you put in, and how to describe an action sequence was a real challenge for me. I'd never written anything like that before.
So I just did it by trial and error. I read a section of Mall at a performance I did and learned a lot from that about what worked and what didn't. I ended up reading the entire book out loud to myself so I could hear it and hear if it made sense. If things didn't make sense, I would go back and rewrite them until I thought I got those parts right. I really like books where there's observation, either observation of behavior or of place, and I guess I'm trying to write that way.
B&N.com: You're observing and satirizing some pretty antisocial behavior here. Mall probably isn't going to change your reputation as angry. What do you make of that reputation? How does Mall fit into your "angry" oeuvre?
EB: I'm not sure I'd say I'm angry. I have strong opinions about things, and I think it's important to voice them. And I'm passionate about my work. I don't do it because I'm trying to get rich or famous or anything. I do it because I love it. I guess "passionate" can become "angry" when "passionate" is stymied in some way, and suddenly you're trying to get somewhere and you can't get there.
What I did with this book was I put all the anger into one guy, actually two people -- there's the girl [Adelle] who is sort of the dream girl, the object of Jeff's desire, who becomes kind of sadistic by the end of the book, and of course, the guy Mal, who is there to wreak all the havoc. And you know, I get Mal. I get Mal really, really well. I come from a place where there are people like Mal, and I've grown up around them and I'm fascinated by truly violent people, because I had to spend time with them when I was in my teens.
But I don't think I'm really angry. I don't think anybody who knows me would say that. So it's not something I factor in. The thing I have to be very careful about when I'm making my work -- because I've already made a lot of work that people are aware of -- is that people will say things about it. They'll say I'm trying to shock people, or I'm angry, and that may be true. Those things may be true, but they aren't what I'm setting out to do when I write. So I have to be very careful that then I don't go, "That's right, I need to shock people," or "That's right, I am angry! How can I get angrier in the next thing I write?" That's not what I'm trying to do. I'm just trying to make myself real happy. I'm trying to write that thing that turns me on the most. I sort of imagine a group of people out there who are like myself, who would also be turned on by this work. And I'm well aware there are people who would not be, who don't like this kind of stuff at all. But what can I do about that? Nothing. I can only make what I dig. That's what I do. I have to defend it, I suppose, to some degree, but so does anyone who makes anything. Kenny G probably has to defend his stuff. Now there's somebody I am angry at, but it's not that big a deal.
B&N.com: Suburbia and its evils is a big theme in this novel and obviously in plays like subUrbia and in much of the rest of your work. Why do you write so much about that subject?
EB: Well, I grew up in the suburbs. There was a huge mall built near where I grew up. It was one of the first really big malls in the whole country. People used to come and check it out and study it and so forth. And as a teenager, I was probably one of the first mall rats in the whole world. I did everything at the mall. I ended up running a store at the mall, so it's a big part of my life. And I think probably half the people that live in the United States live in some sort of suburb. I don't think it's a particularly pleasant environment, and yet, everybody has to live in it, driving their cars and eating at fast-food places and standing in line -- a major part of modern life is waiting in line -- and going to malls. And it needs to be described; it needs to be explored, because it's the way we live. I mean, it's fine to write books about things that are exotic, and it's fun to read stuff like that. I love books about people going into the middle of Africa or Asia or something. But it's also, I think, important to write about the mundane, to write about the thing that is right in front of you, so much so that you never notice it. I still spend a lot of time in the suburbs. I live about a quarter of the year out in the middle of New Jersey. I have two kids, and I have to get them shoes and have to get them a winter jacket and all that kind of stuff, so I've got to go to the mall, like everybody else. I find myself marching around the mall, eating ice cream cones, and I find it to be an oppressive environment. I wonder, "Do other people feel that way too?" So I write about it.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Quick read, but fairly one-dimensional characters result. Tells the story of Mal, the Methed-out Mall Shooter from the viewpoints of several Mallrats With Issues. Bogosian captures the voices of the teens in the novel fairly well, but the adults seem to be written from a teenager's view of how adults would think (particularly Danny, a yuppie who gets busted watching a housewife striptease in a dressing room and subsequently obsesses over how This Ticket Will End His Life.) Although there are several transitory moments of truth and humor, I was strangely unmoved at the eventual demise of certain characters, and felt nothing much stronger than indifference.
There was a time, not really so long ago, that public massacres and Eric Bogosian were both a bit ¿épater le bourgeois.¿ Today, not so much.As a result, ¿Mall¿ unavoidably comes across as dated. By now, we all know that terrible things happen in the suburbs and that a significant chunk of those once considered bourgeois are capable of attempting some épater-ing on their own.The antagonist here is Malcolm (¿Mal¿ for short, see both ¿mall¿ and ¿mal-¿), who is mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. What¿s he mad about? His soul-killing life out in the suburbs, complete with bullies, etc., who don¿t know the real him. And by ¿not going to take it,¿ I mean he¿s created a needlessly detailed plan to kill a bunch of people down at the local mall ¿ and if he can¿t kill exactly those people he wants to, he¿ll take his anger out on innocent bystanders, who, in his eyes, are equally deserving of his bullets because they¿re part of the system. That¿s Mal¿s reasoning anyway.Using shifting viewpoints, Bogosian puts us into the heads of some of those bystanders, not all of whom are exactly innocent, of course. Unfortunately, there¿s not enough room in this relatively short novel to give much backstory on the characters. With too-similar ¿voices,¿ most devolve into stereotypes. Or what are now considered stereotypes. I give Bogosian some benefit of the doubt that when he was writing, the clichés weren¿t as set into stone as they are now.(This is what I call the ¿2001¿ syndrome: watching Stanley Kubrick¿s film now, you think, ¿yeah, yeah, yeah I¿ve seen all this spaceship stuff before¿ w/o realizing this was the film that started it. That is, when you watch the innovator last, the copycats seem to be the innovators and vice versa.)There are a few moments of interest, like when Mal gets killed at the end, and the pieces around Danny, who gets arrested for spying on a woman in a mall changing room ¿a woman who was trying to pick him up at the time. And who knows, maybe 50 or 100 years from now, when they¿re teaching early 21st century fiction in college somewhere, and doing a segment on ¿suburban massacre¿ fiction, this might be thought of as a classic. But today, unless this is among the very first books of its type you read, I¿d say there just isn¿t enough going on here to lift it above other examples of the genre (e.g., Vernon God Little, Project X).
This book gripped me from the first chapter. I found it hard to put down to do anything else.
Mr. Bogosian tells a raw story of flawed characters whose paths intertwine during the course of this novel. The end result is a fast-paced, entertaining, eye-opening piece of work that you will not be able to put down. Tired of reading the same old junk? Read this, you won't be disappointed.
I wasn't expecting much from Mall. I like Bogosian. His work is very annoying but it's always entertaining. Someone said it was like 'fight club', i hate fight club and the morons who think its a great book, get a life, it smells. So i wasn't too exited about giving it a try. But i'm glad i did. I was in heaven with this book. I didn't know where the book was going, everything is unexpected. I love the way other characters cross each others path, it was fun. your reading the book and you learn that the character you have been following is about to collide with the psycho or the horney soccer mom. It's magical. I don't read that often, and when i do i pray i pick a book that doesn't have too many big words. The book doesn't feel like it's trying to impress people with smart, hard to understand tom foolery to impress the coffee drinking, goatee stroking intellectual, it's just telling a very entertaining story with memerable characters. Thank you mr. Bogosian, you and your book were worth the $23.00 . I look forward to your next book.
Bogosian effectively reveals the American human psyche in an arena with which we can all relate...the mall.
From the very beginning of Mall, Bogosian thrusts the reader into a dark, seemy world of dysfunctional characters, each distinct, and more bizzare than the next. The setting for this parade of misfits: the local mall, where else? Mall is a dark novel that deals with the exremes of violence, sexuality and consumption in modern society. The story is fast paced and a very quick read. Bogosian's writing style is anything but boring. I recommend this book to anyone who has ever been in the mall and wondered what stories hide behind the turtleneck sweaters and lyca pants. You'll never look at other shoppers the same way again.
I've read most of Bogosian's published work and have just finished performing in one of his plays. I knew the guy could write for the theatre, but I had no idea what to expect from a Bogosian novel. Bottom line: I WANT MORE. 'Mall' is cutting edge and honest. It shoots straight to the heart of a lot of American issues: teen violence, sex, drugs, the generation gap, selfishness, selflessness .... it's hard-core. Not for the weak-hearted. A great read ...
I do not read a lot of novels. I tend to get bored very quickly, even if the book is an action packed thriler. Eric Bogosian wrote so vividly and also kept me interested throughout the entire book. The book centers around 5 different characters that have nothing to do with each other except they all visit this mall at one point. One of the characters is a Crystal Meth druggie and goes crazy with his small arsonal. The other characters are tied in extremely well. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for younger readers (teens and 20's)!!!!!