The Wholeby John Reed
In the middle of America's heartland, a young boy digs a small hole in the ground...which grows into a big hole in the ground...which then proceeds to/i>
From John Reed, author of the controversial Orwell parody, Snowball's Chance, comes a subversive satire of modern culture, the complete lack thereof, and a lost generation that no one even tried to look for.
In the middle of America's heartland, a young boy digs a small hole in the ground...which grows into a big hole in the ground...which then proceeds to drag the boy, his parents, his dog, and most of their house into a deep void.
Then, as abruptly as the hole started growing, it stops.
So begins the first in a series of events that takes the beautiful-if-not-brainy Thing on a quest to uncover the truth behind the mysterious Hole.
Inspired by visions, signs, and an unlimited supply of pink cocktails served by an ever-lurking "Black Rabbit," Thing and her dogged production crew travel around America, encountering Satanists, an Extraterrestrial/Christian cult group, and a surprisingly helpful phone psychic. Their search for answers could very well decide the fate of the world as they know it.
But the more Thing learns about the Hole, her shocking connection to it, and the mind-boggling destiny that awaits her, the more she realizes that human civilization isn't all it's cracked up to be -- and that it's just about time to start over.
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By John Reed
MTVCopyright © 2005 John Reed
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLike many artists, great and slight, Thing's sense of direction was not navigated so much by map as by intuition. Sometimes she'd have the whimsy to get out of a taxi four blocks too early, only to discover that she was standing in front of that shop where she had seen that dress she had thought of buying at the end of last month, when unhappily, her ten thousand dollars a month had run out. (And look, coincidence of coincidences, now she had the money!) Strictly speaking, Thing was so very sensitive that it did not take a thought at all, but the mere echo of a thought to inspire her to action. Her wants were virtually preverbal - an infant's craving for that stuff out of reach. And as for her discovery by MTV, it was quite fitting - as, ever since grade school, she had wanted to be a star. And not - no, no - just any star. Not just some Hepburn or Monroe. She had to be more. She had to be the most. That was all she wanted. The only little thing. And aside from that, she had no particular loyalty to anything - not this ethic or that revolution.
To her, all these cultures and identities, which the world so treasured, they were no more than eggshells - while we ourselves were more prone to scrambling. Indeed, it was by attempting to preserve the eggshell (culture, identity) that world suffering was brought about -for the eggshell was a refuge inherently doomed. As a species, we were overly sentimental about language and religion, and all those other trappings of life that we found so extraordinary - which were really just rote and mundane. Honestly, nobody cared one whit for any of these allegiances, except in the respect that if it was all they knew, why then, it had to be good. But Thing, she sensed the truth - that assimilation was our friend, and that humankind had to embrace the leveling of tradition. And yes, it was nice that it so happened that it was precisely her own cultural milieu that was the most powerful - and the one doing the leveling. But even if that circumstance was a relief (which had, possibly, saved her, on the way to stardom, a little time and effort here and there), she was nonetheless convinced that had she been an Ethiopian, or any other ilk of underprivileged person, she would have found a way to be leading exactly the same life she was leading now. It was simply inconceivable that her good fortune could have anything to do with luck - as anyone would tell you that you made your own luck. Why, that was a medical fact! Her psychiatrist had told her. And her psychiatrist would know, as her psychiatrist was rather lucky, well, quite fortunate herself. By willpower alone - the sheer force of positive thinking - had Thing achieved the correct socialization and taste. No, no, no, not by chance, but by hard work was she in perfect sync with the global standard - which might even be an intergalactic standard, as she had often heard it called "universal." And by that, this guiding principle of the universal (and yes, she was absolutely self-assured in this conviction), anything deemed weird or abnormal, or even just weak or secondary - well, it would have to be forgotten. She knew (and she knew she was right too) that only if we were to aspire to utter homogeny might we expect peace and harmony - and that conversely, to aspire to individualism, we might expect trouble.
Suffice it to say, Thing understood television.
Not to be misconstrued - Thing didn't consciously understand it, and television was terrific, and none of that homogenization was to create any unity, or movement, or any such dark and foreboding thing, but rather, a crowd, an audience - a happy-go-lucky assortment of good scrambled eggs. A world of swaying spectators. Of course, to avoid any variety of unfortunate melee, they'd have to be just different and isolated enough to, somewhat, resent each other's company. A certain level of autonomy (if not actual individualism, which was fine, in groups) had to be encouraged. Nothing too genuine, obviously (authentic emotions tended people towards outbursts of emotion), but just bits and pieces from so many sources that it could never add up to a whole - just a confused kind of medley that might mask as a whole, and be insecure and envious enough to be threatened by other confused kind of medleys - thereby preventing any ill-advised collusion. The ideal thing was to promote autonomy without identity, to make people just separate enough to have their own separate "interests" that kept them from assembling - that kept them, for the most part, alone, suspended in a state of perpetual yearning in front of their own separate computers or televisions. And even then, when they did get together (and they would too, because, like so many of God's creatures, they had that irrepressible drive to flock, herd and swarm), it'd be over something delightfully peripheral - like music, or sports. Nothing that could really matter, to any sane person, one way or the other....
There were high points.
Among the 162 minutes of Thing's sixty-two spots (thirty-seven aired), there were moments when she attained, if not true perfection in the sublime, true perfection in the burlesque -
These were the good things, and dubbed so, "the good things," by her editors and producers. Here were the five shiningest examples of Thing's accomplishments. These five things. Largely, with an accompaniment of maudlin Muzak, the quintet made up the best-of selects in Thing's year-end, farewell tribute.
1. Swiss Alps, X-Games - April
Freezing with snowboarders, Thing and her crew attempted to improve their ratings.
As it broke down, over Thing's year on the air, she'd wear three thongs, one pair of pants (a mistake), and thirty-seven bikini tops....
And it was on this occasion in the Swiss Alps that Thing's fiddling with her top reached a peak. It was as if, to her, the slippage of a strap or cup represented her flagging on-air popularity. Of all the types of bikini tops there were ... well, she tried everything. And throughout, she commented, asked the camera -
"Or ... lift and separate?"
The permutations were endless, and the team had not yet discovered the delicate balance - though this was to be that world-rocking instant when that balance was first struck, and Thing and her producers discovered what it was all about. For though she was right - the Thing was the cleavage - it was not merely the cleavage, nor even primarily the cleavage. It was, rather ...
Thing in her thong bikini in the cold, well ... her anatomy had the expected reaction. That is - her nipples hardened. And, in her silky white top (after this, all her tops were silky, and nearly all, white), the situation was apparent. It mattered little what up, over, in or out Thing applied to herself, or indeed what wretched rhyme the poor snowboarders were attempting to execute - Thing's stiffness was mesmerizing. At last, the ratings would soar.
Upon their first viewing of this triumph, Thing's producers would forge a couplet of their own -
Herein, herein, herein's the tip - Stiffen those, stiffen those, stiffen those nips!
As far as what lengths those producers would go to do just that - well, they'd go to great lengths. Extreme lengths ... Any lengths.
2. Cancún, Cinco de Mayo - May
Sand, litter, blue ocean, and the roasted hides of mealy fraternity brothers. And Thing, on the beach - doused in beer.
The emptied buckets clunked, tipped in the sand - and suds ran down her body as she squeezed her breasts together with her forearms. And the wet, white bikini top, it stuck - clung to her.
"Ewww - it's chilly!" she shrieked.
Laughing their belly laughs, the beer boys nodded, delivered each other claps of congratulations, and thumped their meaty shoulders into other meaty shoulders.
And Thing was thrilled. Her wild, cold eyes apertures - rapturous of those enraptured. The zoom lens delivered her goose bumps to all of America. Shivering, giggling, this young Thing found herself surprised - elated by the dependability of her own physiology. She was just so fortunate, she thought (her eyes glowed with the blessing), so very fortunate that her plastic surgeon hadn't severed any of those nerves that had turned out to be so crucial!
So, smiley, Thing's glance fell to her own chest - while, likewise, beside her, equally smiley, and awed, the beer boys who had immersed her, they too watched, and waited....
3. The Grammys - May
Thing was setting the scene -
"Fame, wealth, beauty, extraordinary talent - the atmosphere here is positively intoxic!"
This said, Thing's breathy phrases abruptly expired - and the VJ took a moment to meditate not only on her own perplexity (for something, somewhere in what she'd said, she suspected, was amiss), but on her fascination with her own perplexity. Her own stupidity, well, at times, it was riveting - shaded by deeper meanings, perhaps, or even genius. And though the specifics of that genius, in this incidence, as in most others, were just slippery enough to elude her, nevertheless, she decided - it was impressive. Thus, she looked down to check that her nipples were still there. They were. Impressed with herself in that too, she resumed -
"Here we be! The red carpet. Oh look, it's Hugh!"
The aging publisher wore satin pajamas and dark glasses. A short hop behind him were six of his bunnies, and Thing primped and pursed her lips with rivalry. (The camera loved her collagen pout.) And behind the sextette of fleshy midwesterners (just moved to California!), there stumbled the target of Thing's interview. Lecherous and impaired, Tommy Lee bobbled a cocktail in the crook of his claw.
Thing thrust up her microphoned hand like he was the teacher and she had to pee, "Ew, ew." She panted -
"There he is! There he is!"
Startled by her own voice, Thing raised her eyebrows, looked to the camera lens, and remembered her dignity.
"His music is better than it sounds."
Then she cleared her throat.
"Ehem, so, yes, there he is. That daaaarrling of drummers, adored, mostly, for his trouble with the three Ls - love, law, and Lee."
Having successfully read the cue card, Thing checked to see what she was wearing (a white thong bikini), and adjusted the little there was of it - although to do so was to risk toppling over. In fact, any sudden movement raised that risk, as Thing, having chosen for the occasion extraordinarily high platform sneakers, was forced to take a rather unstable and suggestive posture - just to stand up. And, it being a windy, chilly afternoon, her bikini top (like her posture) commanded attention - and the tattooed and greasy rocker lowered his sunglasses, reached into his pocket, and offered Thing a lollipop. Through her 800-watt tan, she blushed with the attention, accepted the Blow Pop, and immediately regressed to five years old - sucking on the lolly so raptly that a stain of cherry-red juice fringed her lips.
"I'm musical too," she offered, shyly -
"I've always wanted to play the strumpet."
With that, Tommy Lee commandeered her microphone - and nudged her to a position very nearly beyond "title safety," or, in other words, to an inauspicious location at the periphery of the frame. Even so, Thing, puddingified, wasn't about to stop him. And just as if it were a serenade, she remained transfixed, as Tommy, who knew more or less what he was supposed to do, belted out his four lines -
You're as hot As a Malibu snot! Sweet for the pickin', And salty, for lickin'.
Then he retrieved the gift sucker (which evacuated Thing's lips with a kerplop), and advanced on his next conquest, while Thing managed little more than a limp, damp look ... and a sigh....
4. Los Angeles Courthouse - September
Sadly, the anatomical formula was an unforgiving one, and after a few dozen spots, it was rather a tax on the imagination to find novel approaches to exploit that aspect of human physiology. How much swimming? How many pools and beach showers? How much cold water?
Accordingly, as the result of a dearth of ideas (and shaky ratings in the key consumer category "had four-plus pieces of chewing gum in the past week"), it was decided to divert attention to Thing's backside, the rationale being that this might prove as bounteous as her frontside - or, if not that, a divergence amusing enough to buy some time. And though they'd fairish success with the recipe (Howard, for example), interest was rapidly exhausted, and the backlash of the experiment was to put Thing in pants (she retained her bikini top) in an effort to classen things up.
And so, in pants, outside the Los Angeles courthouse, amid throngs of newscasters, in that primordial war with ratings, Thing faced an unfamiliar challenge - to battle with all the other media flunkies for a few mortgage-paying words from an alleged child molester.
Thing reported from the courthouse steps -
"At any moment, we expect pop star Michael Jackson, who most believe isn't so bad after all."
The pedophilia, the pants. Thing knew it was a break, but she also knew it'd be a long bloody march from here to the news desk, and she elbowed her way to the front lines with Kong-like self-importance. She'd get something off that chalky Sambonochio if she had to kill someone to do it.
Still ... it was almost too much to ask when Jackson bounded down the steps and leapt into the media frenzy, hollering -
"Where's Thing? I've got a song for Thing!"
And yet - despite her gleeful squeaks - Thing somehow knew that this was not how it was supposed to be. It was not that she was experienced in such matters, but when that barrel-chested Peter Pan hopped onto the roof of his personal ice-cream truck, which began to issue forth that candy, welcome-to-the-carnival tune - she had the sense that her peers at CNN would be unforthcoming with that key to the clubroom.
We get sweaty riding rides. We cuddle in our tighty whites. It's natural that boys get stinky. We scratch our pits and sniff our pinkies.
For verse two, Jackson reached for Thing - to pull her up beside him on the roof of the ice-cream truck. She resisted - at first quite casually, and then quite pronouncedly, with flailing desperation. She was sure that he was going to say something he shouldn't say - not on television - and she could already feel the weight of Public Opinion. But the other reporters, palms and probing fingers on derriére, they pushed her aloft - and, flashbulbs flashing, cameras humming, jingle music jingling, Jackson piped his second verse.
We giggle when we drink our juice. We like it sweet and 90 proof. Bear cubs wrestle, bear cubs grunt. You think it's wrong, you're ignorant.]
Excerpted from The Whole by John Reed Copyright © 2005 by John Reed. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
John Reed was the kind of man who, one instant, might touch you to your very core -- send a symphony into the marrow of your bones. But he was also the type who, the next instant, might prove exasperatingly shallow. Such was his sad contradiction. There he'd be reciting something truly something -- but reciting it at the exclusive room of the trendiest possible of-the-second club to an audience of those beautiful and ambitious New Yorkers who, though not always successful at it, were the most willing, in the name of glory, to lead lives unexamined and vapid.
His tragic and untimely demise unfolded at a juncture when I was most disgusted with him -- for not a month earlier, his reprehensible behavior had ended our relationship. One that had seemed riddled...well, with potential.
He could be a boy sometimes, standing as he would have in 1977, a child of the Manhattan wasteland -- a body filthy and lean, and trying to discover for itself honor in the void. This aspect of his work had been of interest to me. And since, during the course of our romance, we discussed our writing with each other, I became quite familiar with his proposal for Duh Whole -- the tale of a girl gone awry, and a great big hole. Hence, it was not unexpectedly (the prospect of finishing the unfinished works of expired authors ever-tempting) that I was approached the very minute John first coughed (with luck, it'd be a foreshadowing of consumption and doom). His outline proved surprisingly complete, and having no book deal of my own, I was soon secured in the effort -- and with John's institutionalization and rapid decline, I was given the green light. If you like my work, you might look for other novels ostensibly by Reed, such as Snowball's Chance and A Still Small Voice, which, incidentally, I also wrote.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Maybe, out of the 200 pages, 10 could be edited out. But funny. Does anyone know PG Wodehouse? This is more of the American catastrophe. Not the English one. I guess the blonds always get it in literature, but they do have fun.
The Thing that's really interesting about the book is the structural mockery of media culture. It is basically structured like a reality tv show, but then it slides into the American fantasy of fame and fortune, which is not reality, and totally disturbing. Also, totally seductive. I thought Thing, the lead character, was the kind of girl a lot of guys would die/kill for.
I'd read Reed's previous novel, Snowball's Chance, and picked this one up for a trip. I never quite got around to it, and then finally read it when I should have been studying for a final. (I should also be studying right now.) Interesting pace, and very funny. It gets faster and faster and faster, and then eventually explodes into a fireball of nothing. Not what you'd expect. Reed is constantly surprising. Is it true he's a few people? Makes sense, I guess.
Thing was selected for certain symmetrical assets that caught the bulging lusty eyes of MTV executives at a beach party. Surprisingly she hits it off with the viewing public and becomes a correspondent though she has the intelligence of a burned out light bulb. She is promoted as blond bimbo candy based on her garb unable to contain her twin peaks. However, seemingly even faster than Thing becomes a superstar, she becomes yesterday¿s fad....................... As Thing plays chutes and ladders with fame, a Midwestern boy Bobby Peterson digs a hole that expands until his and his family and their house fall through the chasm. Thing begins to research the phenomena which she feels will bring her salvation. However, clues take on a strange journey through a land of mysticism highlighted in remote sign posts like Vegas and Roswell..................... This is a strange tale that satirizes media coverage (to include a parody of John Reed) as being filled with sound and fury but signifying nothing more than an MTV video. Readers will feel for Thing, who is treated with disdain for having a boob size bigger than her IQ and enjoy the irony of the weird, but fun story line. Obviously most readers will not give Mr. Reed¿s tale a SNOWBALL¿S CHANCE, but fans who enjoy a trip into a modern day looking glass led by a Black Rabbit and a Thing, though lacking in the wits and puns of Alice¿s holey escapade, will want to escape into the WHOLE tale................................ Harriet Klausner