It's surprising to discover that
Mark Leyner's new novel doesn't come equipped
with an incisive review of itself, or perhaps
several a book review editor might choose from:
the unqualified rave, the cautiously descriptive
review that surmises a potential readership
without ascribing value, the viciously elitist pan
that dumps the burden of literary history onto
Leyner and decides he can't carry it, or the
academically muddled but terribly smart article
about Leyner's wicked, anti-Christian way with
language. So thoroughly does Leyner master, and
mock, public (and not so public) forms of speech,
that you can only feel trepidation before entering
into any attempt at evaluation for fear that the
book will chew up and spit out whatever
reasoning tries to contain it.
Don't look to
The Tetherballs of Bougainville,
Leyner's new novel, for characters you might
care about, a story you can pretend is happening
to you or quiet evocations of nature: Only
scorching satire will be found. The novel is about
a seventh-grader named Mark Leyner who makes
a shirtless appearance at his father's execution,
only to suffer an erection before the lethal
injection is administered. When the drugs make
his father feel "shitty" instead of killing him, Mr.
Leyner is released, but the state of New Jersey
can exercise the option to kill him at any time.
Father and son say goodbye, Mark copulates with
the Warden, they ingest a time-collapsing drug
called "gravy" and a screenplay takes over the
book, in which we learn, among other things, that
Mark masturbates to abstract art.
Leyner avoids fiction's archetypal concerns and
instead turns his wizardry to aping what the
culture does automatically: assign names and
features to its products, thoughts and landmarks.
Here are junior high electives in ayurvedic health,
tattoos of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, writers
sponsored by Marlboro and Zoloft and the
invitation to actually wear the author's body while
reading his book. By omitting any "authentic"
inner life for his characters, Leyner allows his
amoral imagination to produce hilarious, torqued
variants of the shared experience of living in the
present day, creating brilliant histories behind
seemingly empty artifacts. What Leyner does is
amplify the life of things deadened by too much
notice, as with a character called Len Gutman, a
"signage copywriter" responsible for some of the
slogans that dictate the basic movements of the
population: Use Other Door, Visitors Must Sign
In and Push to Start.
The Tetherballs of Bougainville is an immense
pleasure to read, even though writing that tweaks
pop culture usually puts me to sleep. Leyner goes
so deeply in the subversion of everything he
touches that the typical labels identifying writers
as belonging to a specific genre have no effect on
him at all. Possibly the only readers likely to be
irritated by this book are certain smart writers,
who will have a very good excuse: They will be
crippled with envy by Leyner's surpassing ability
to coax vibrant new worlds out of the scraps and
refuse that litter our own. -- Salon
Once again the superhero of his own Rabelaisian Chants of Maldoror, jaw-slackeningly inventive
Esquire columnist Leyner (My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist; Et Tu Babe)here a bare-chested 13-year-old in Versace leather jeanshas just won a $250,000-a-year-for-life prize for "best screenplay written by a student at Maplewood Junior High." That's the good news. The bad news is that he hasn't written the screenplay yet (he credits "a powerful agent") and it's due tomorrow. Luckily, Leyner's dad is about to survive execution by lethal injection (years of PCP use and low gamma ray tolerance have built up his resistance to FDA-approved toxins), qualifying him for the innovative, Damoclean "New Jersey State Discretionary Execution" program, and the warden ("an absolutely stunning woman in a dcollet evening gown") seems to be responding positively to young Leyner's sexual overtures. Clearly, there's a story in here somewhere, and Leyner milks it for all it's worth. Leyner the character's marketing skills prop up a brutal South Seas dictator ("It's Heart of Darkness, and Mark is Kurtz. But it's Kurtz as Maurice Saatchi"); Leyner pre and fils crank out a few dozen popular novels under such noms de plume as Donna Tartt, Jonathan Franzen, David Foster Wallace and A.M. Homes. By novel's end, the indefatigable idol of disaffected culture workers everywhere has given us a new TV show ("America's Funniest Violations of Psychiatrist/Patient Confidentiality"), an "achingly beautiful" three-hour cunnilingus scene and the rock 'n' roll apotheosis of crossover Bougainvillean tetherball star Offramp Tavanipupu. And these are just the highlights. Leyner is one of our most talented comic writers. In his "first 100% BONA FIDE NOVELstory, characters, everything!" he is at his horny, hip, encyclopedic best. (Oct.)
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this day in the life of his 13-year-old self, Leyner (Tooth Imprints on a Corn Dog, LJ 3/15/95) swings zanily from good news to bad, expertly satirizing pop culture and skewering some of his contemporaries along the way. Waiting to see his father executed in prison, young Mark learns he's won a prestigious screenplay contest (for which he has yet to write the screenplay). When Dad's lethal injection fails, he's sentenced to New Jersey State Discretionary Execution (NJSDE)under which he can be killed anytime, anywhere, in any wayand Mark postpones a trip to the library to dally with the attractive female warden. Even readers who might take offense at the overlay of sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll may find passages to admire (such as the glossy NJSDE brochure) in this impressively researched satire. Fans of this quirky cult author will love it. Recommended, but an optional purchase.Michele Leber, Fairfax P.L., Va.
The poet laureate of the MTV generation (
Tooth Imprints on a Corn Dog, 1995, etc.) tries to spread his wings wider with his "first 100 percent BONA FIDE NOVELstory, characters, everything!" How well he succeeds is a question that depends on where the reader falls on the postmodern scale.
Our narrator is 13-year-old Mark Leyner, who has a heavy cloud hanging over him from the start. No, not his imprisoned father's impending execution, which he's about to witness, but an overdue paper (or, rather, screenplay) that he hasn't even started writing. It seems that Mark is in the running for the Vincent and Lenore DiGiacomo/Oshimitsu Polymers America Award, which is bestowed every year at Maplewood Junior High School and provides an annual stipend of $250,000 for life. Naturally, Mark finds it hard to concentrate on his father's impending demise, which is just as well, really, since after receiving three massive lethal injections Mr. Leyner remains perfectly alive and subsequently is resentenced to New Jersey State Discretionary Execution (don't ask) and released on Mark's recognizance. At this point Mark decides to pull an all- nighter to complete the screenplay, although the nymphomaniac female warden distracts him long enough to make him rethink the whole concept, which was never terribly clear in his head to begin with. While Leyner tries to fit his usual wild ramblings ("My mom's buttocks were tattooed with an illustration of an 1,800-pound Red Brindle bull crashing through the front window of a Starbuck's coffee bar and charging a guy who's sitting there sipping a cappuccino and reading M. Scott Peck's
The Road Less Traveled") into something resembling a story, the effect is the same comic collage that made him his name in earlier workand no one who loved or hated him then will feel much different now.
Classic Leyner insanity, a delight for his fans but unlikely to win any new ones.