Mark Leyner, Gone with the Mind, Little, Brown and Co.,2016. ,
The blazingly inventive fictional autobiography of Mark Leyner, one of America's "rare, true original voices" - Gary Shteyngart
Dizzyingly brilliant, raucously funny, and painfully honest, GONE WITH THE MIND is the story of Mark Leyner's life, told as only Mark Leyner can tell it. In this utterly unconventional novel-or is it a memoir?-Leyner gives a reading in the food court of a New Jersey shopping mall. The "audience" consists of Mark's mother and some stray Panda Express employees, who ask a handful of questions. The action takes place entirely at the food court, but the territory covered in these pages has no bounds.
A joyride of autobiography, cultural critique, DIY philosophy, biopolitics, video games, demagoguery, and the most intimate confessions, GONE WITH THE MIND is both a soulful reckoning with mortality and the tender story of the relationship between a complicated mother and an even more complicated son.
At once nostalgic and acidic, deeply humane and completely surreal, GONE WITH THE MIND is a work of pure, hilarious genius.
"This is Mark Leyner's best book, and that's saying something. He's always been the benchmark when it comes to comic brilliance and anarcho-absurdist zeal, and this book is as charged and hilarious as anything he's written. But Gone With The Mind dazzles in even stranger and more incisive ways, and, as the smoke clears from the stunning fireworks of Leyner's prose, a moving portrait of a mother and son emerges. Mark Leyner has finally bared his post-human heart."―Sam Lipsyte
"Dazzling, hilarious, heartfelt and entirely-mind-blowingly-original, Mark Leyner's fictional memoir, Gone With The Mind, confirms the author's status as one of the most singular, wild-ass and brilliantly fearless voices in American literature. In prose that is equal parts Roth, Joyce, Scientific American and the Marx Brothers, Gone With The Mind delineates the deep soul and life story of man staring down the barrel of mortality-in the food court of a New Jersey mall. There isn't a convention Mark Leyner does not shatter, nor an aspect of 21st century culture-from robot rape to first person shooter games-he does not reexamine and render fresh. Quite possibly the first literary work of genius-comic and otherwise-of the new millennium."―Jerry Stahl
"It's almost impossible to write something that's this out-and-out hilarious and this touching, this moving. But Leyner's done it. The guy has a mother of a mind. Don't know quite how it gets him to the grocery store and back, but it's given birth to this astonishing, completely openhearted, completely unprecedented book."―Amy Heckerling
"So utterly blown away by this book! If your average autobiography has a writer painting a self-portrait with oils or watercolors, Gone With The Mind sees Mark Leyner gleefully vivisecting himself. You will know Mark Leyner-biblically, medically, metaphysically, and otherwise-when you do yourself the mitzvah of reading it. I envision other authors' memoirs shuffling off shelves into trashcans when Leyner's book is placed alongside them. It's going to knock your socks off."―Rob Delaney
"Did you ever wonder who birthed the current crop of post-modern darlings? Look no further then Mark Leyner. Leyner is the original charged particle, formally inventive, hilariously funny, completely original. His newest work, Gone With The Mind, both satirizes the non-fiction novel and infuses it with his signature surreal pathos. Think Beckett on acid. Read this book."―Darcey Steinke, author of Sister Golden Hair
"Absurd and profound."―The Millions
"Whimsical and unconventional, this is probably Leyner's most mature work. There is plenty of sincere storytelling throughout, and Leyner's masterly ability to interlace humor with existential dilemmas makes for a compelling novel, autobiographical or not."―Publishers Weekly
"Every bit as self-referential and genre-bending as his previous fiction.... An exercise in deferred gratification that is itself immensely entertaining and surprisingly gratifying."
―Kathleen Rooney, Chicago Tribune
"Electrifying and theatrical.... You never know what Mark is going on about, but you can't stop listening."―Kenneth Champeon, BookPage
"[A] high-spirited satiric romp."―Jonathan Dee, Harper's
"Exhilarating.... One of the most refreshing pieces of psychoanalytic fiction we've come across."―Paolo Vergara, ZYZZYVA
"Truly absurd and absurdly true."―Charlie Jane Anders, New York Times
Things have been positively normal around here for a while; it must be time for another dose of Leyner (The Sugar Frosted Nutsack, 2012, etc.).
“Before I start, I’d like to say: Fuck everyone who said I was too paradoxical a hybrid of arrogant narcissism and vulnerable naïveté to succeed in life (even though they were right)” writes Leyner to set the stage. So begins the alleged autobiography of the author Kirkus once dubbed “the poet laureate of the MTV generation.” If The Tetherballs of Bougainville (1997) was about Leyner’s father, this is an affectionate if honest love letter to his mother, Muriel. Not that the gravity of family drama stops Leyner from going full-on meta with a nesting-doll scenario of such surreal dimensions that there’s no doubt it’s really him. First of all, it’s not even a straight-up autobiography. It’s a novel about Leyner performing a reading of his autobiography in the food court of the Woodcreek Plaza Mall along with his mother, a few fast-food drones—and absolutely no other audience. After an introduction by his mother, Leyner explains the origin of Gone with the Mind, which started as an autobiography in the form of a first-person shooter that begins when the author is assassinated or commits suicide. His ghost must then travel backward in time undoing the events of his life. “The, uh…the goal of the game is to successfully reach my mother’s womb, in which I attempt to unravel or unzip my father’s and mother’s DNA in the zygote, which will free me of having to eternally repeat this life.” His mother’s reaction? “It almost seems like overkill to me.” Despite the hyperstylized self-satire at work here, there’s a sweet story to be had for those who appreciate the author’s singularly outlandish wit.
It’s pointless trying to classify or summarize Leyner’s work. By now readers who get it are prepared to buy the ticket and take the ride. - Kirkus
"Ever since I was a little boy, I've been trying to reconcile constructivist aesthetics and fascist metaphysics...lucidity and violence...and the endless implications of that dichotomy."
That's Mark Leyner, ladies and gentlemen. One of the best, the brightest, the weirdest and the most influential modern writers of, say, 1996. Who once shared a stage (a talk-show set, actually, on the Charlie Rose show) with David Foster Wallace and Jonathan Franzen and didn't just hold his own, but schooled them both on the futility of seriousness and the seriousness of sentence structure.
He's the man who wrote My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist (in 1990) which blew the minds of anyone who was in the right place to run across the book and the right age and temperament to have their minds blown. I was, absolutely, of that age and temperament. He wrote Et Tu, Babe a couple years later, and I Smell Esther Williams after that — both of which were just as full-bore crazy and just as ridiculously beautiful on a line-by-line basis. He disappeared for a while. Came back. And now, this.
"I think I'm sort a sort of weird composite of thrill-seeking heedlessness and crippling hyperanxiety — I mean, I've taken LSD before a root canal, but I'm equally capable of calling the police and area hospitals if my wife is even five minutes late coming home from a pedicure, so..."
Gone With The Mind is Leyner's new novel. A novel that is, by turns, autobiographical, fictional, touching and just flat-out insane. It takes the form of a writer named Mark Leyner giving a reading in a mall food court — one to which no one has shown up except for two fast-food employees on their break, and Mark's mom, who arranged the reading and drove him there. Who begins the book with a long, rambling, introduction, transcribed verbatim (as is everything else that happens — there is no narrator, just some passing, italicized notes that read almost like stage directions) and run on forever. So long that you get that it's a joke, then get annoyed by the joke, then come to a place of grudging respect for the author for his commitment to the gag, then get annoyed all over again. And then it ends. Then Mark's opening remarks begin.
He tells the story of the writing of his autobiography, Gone With The Mind, which was originally going to be done in the form of a videogame — a first-person shooter with Benito Mussolini as the player's sidekick-slash-guide — and then became something else entirely. He talks about the hallucination who helped him write the book (the Imaginary Intern, brought to life one day from a pattern of cracks in the bathroom tile and who Mark grew to love) and the various ways the two of them spent their time (playing videogames, watching Lifetime movies, watching internet porn) and relates 10,000 stories from his childhood (some or all of which may or may not be true), all while constantly promising to the audience of empty chairs, his mom and two fast-food workers, that at any moment the reading itself is actually going to begin.
Except that it never does.
Gone With The Mind is novelistic anti-autobiography. It's filling this imaginary headspace—this world within the world—with robots and ghosts, with memories of summers at the Jersey Shore and the web-fingered girl who gave him his first handjob, long digressions on the eroticism of the female armpit, and...you get the idea.
"If I were ever asked to give a commencement speech," Leyner writes, as Mark Leyner, "I'd say basically, they're all gonna laugh at you. Life is pretty much like Carrie's prom. So...stay secret."
I loved the thing. All of it. Or anyway, 90% of it. It is looping and self-referential, alternately bonkers and manic and depressive. The same stories repeat again and again, looked at from different angles. And it ends with a promised Q&A section, but even that takes place in a women's bathroom stall, exclusively between Mark and his mom, that reads almost heartbreakingly sweet. Weird and heartfelt both at the same time. Which there should be a word for, but there isn't, so I'm making up one of my own: Weirdfelt. Because that's what Gone With The Mind truly is.
The most Weirdfelt book I have read in a long time. - Jason Sheehan
An absurdist autobiography is either a contradiction in terms or a redundancy, depending on how you look at it. Either the purpose of an autobiography is to make sense of the writer’s life, in which case absurdity would be a severe impediment — or else life itself is absurd, and all autobiographies are too. In his new autobiographical novel, “Gone With the Mind,” Mark Leyner seems to split the difference: He makes sense of his life by unpacking just how ridiculous it is to be alive.
“Gone With the Mind” is a blindingly weird novel: a book-length stand-up routine in which a man free-associates about his life to a mostly empty room, mixing the philosophical and the scatological with abandon. At times, it seems to be an argument against autobiography, as well as a lament about the impossibility of actually communicating with an audience. But after Leyner gets done slicing the fictionalized version of his life into small and disconnected fragments, the slivers turn out to draw blood.
The protagonist of “Gone With the Mind” is a frustrated author named Mark Leyner, theoretically reading from his autobiography in the empty food court of a mall deserted because of flash-flood warnings. The only audience members are his mother and two restaurant workers who insist they’re not there to listen to Leyner — not that they have much choice. But instead of reading from his book, the fictional Leyner delivers 200-odd pages of remarks that circle endlessly and encapsulate what T. S. Eliot probably meant by “the boredom, the horror and the glory.”
The real-world Leyner is well known for playing such postmodern games in his books, though in “Gone With the Mind” he has knocked his fictional counterpart down a few pegs. In his acclaimed 1992 novel, “Et Tu, Babe,” the protagonist is the famous novelist Mark Leyner, a Schwarzeneggerian Übermensch who lives in a lavish compound called Leyner H.Q. and is worshiped by a legion of fans called Team Leyner. And his follow-up novel, “The Tetherballs of Bougainville,” features another hero named Mark Leyner, a prizewinning teenage screenwriter.
The book’s main surreal touch is the Imaginary Intern, a figure the fictional Leyner conjures from the pattern of cracks in a restroom’s floor tiles. The Imaginary Intern serves as a kind of amanuensis as Leyner conceives his autobiography, which starts out as a first-person-shooter video game in which the player has to travel backward through Leyner’s life, undoing each incident until at last Leyner is unraveled in his mother’s womb. (Benito Mussolini, in a flying balcony, carries the player from scene to scene.) The autobiography, we are told, has mutated away from that initial concept, but we never really find out what it has become.
If the book’s running monologue seems aimless, this is completely intentional. The fictional Leyner keeps coming back to the idea that all narrative conventions, including anecdotes and vignettes, are debased and to be avoided; his hope, he says, is that “one could eradicate all the quaint handicraft synonymous with an autobiography.” He occasionally cites a maxim coined by Japanese manga artists: “Yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi,” meaning, “No climax, no resolution, no meaning.”
But along with the main character’s penchant for taking tiny details and magnifying them until they appear wildly silly, much of the energy in “Gone With the Mind” comes from his audience. The main character’s mother, who arranged the food-court appearance, delivers a 40-page introduction before he speaks, and we’re periodically reminded she’s there listening to him, as he overshares about his childhood and occasionally insults her. Then there’s the small Greek chorus of food-court workers, who are vexed to listen to this nonsense and appear to be a proxy for some real-life readers who might not appreciate the “Yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi” of it all.
But if you learn to roll with the Tristram- Shandy-on-nondrowsy-cough-syrup circumlocution, “Gone With the Mind” may worm into your brain. Leyner makes the case fairly late in the book for a kind of meaning through randomness: In the same way that tarot cards, taken in a group, signify something, a burst of vivid, unconnected images can leave a powerful impression.
When you strip away the conceit that it’s a metafictional author presenting a nonexistent autobiography, and ignore the two workers from Sbarro and Panda Express, “Gone With the Mind” begins to seem more like a man speaking to his mother about his life. His fear of mortality in the wake of a cancer scare, joined to his obsessive reclamation of childhood, add up to a kind of Freudian desire to be reunited with his mother, who’s right there listening to all this. As the narrator says at one point, the mother is the great hole in your life, and the more you fly away from her, the more you actually fly toward her. That insight is, like this book, truly absurd and absurdly true. - Charlie Jane Anders
Mark Leyner is part of a group of authors who emerged in the early 1990s that approached their word processors with a joint in one hand and a pitchfork in the other, looking to burn down the static state of literature and establish something new in its place. David Foster Wallace is the most famous alum of this informal collective, but the cult of Leyner can be just as passionate, and understandably so, given how his work is structurally daring, stylistically innovative, sometimes funny, sometimes sad, sometimes both at the same time. He’s exhilarating and exhausting in equal measure.
Leyner’s latest is an “autobiography”—it comes billed as a novel but certainly feels like something ripped from its author’s psyche—but true to his postmodern roots, it’s an autobiography in the Tristram Shandy vein. In Laurence Sterne’s book, the narrator attempts to tell the story of his life but can barely make it to his birth. Here, Gone With The Mind is set at a reading for Gone With The Mind, his in-book autobiography—a reading that never comes to pass. The book, which takes place at the mall food court that is the venue for the reading, consists of an introduction from Leyner’s mother, the transcript to a Q&A that features neither questions nor answers, and his pre-reading speech, the main audience for which includes Panda Express wage slaves on a seemingly endless break. Frequently “Leyner” will give a shout out to the utterly indifferent workers, a joke that, like Sideshow Bob’s rake, starts out funny, becomes tedious, and then circles back around to being funny again.
Dizzy yet? Gone With The Mind at times feels like the urtext of Leyner’s career, the culmination of what he’s capable of stylistically and tonally. It’s not as completely enjoyable as past works like Why Do Men Have Nipples?, a funny work of medical nonfiction, or The Sugar Frosted Nutsack, a novel about ancient gods chilling in Dubai, but that feels partially by design. He takes a stream-of-consciousness approach to his life, riffing on countless subjects and elaborate fantasies, though a key theme is his place within a culture that’s being “generated by disaffected, socially phobic kids who won’t come out of their rooms.”
Reading the book can be a confounding experience, one that works better on a page-by-page basis than it does as a cohesive work. Many of Leyner’s digressions and vignettes land—there are wickedly funny moments butting up against insightful bits of real emotion—but they don’t accumulate. The long “speech” section is disjointed and formless by nature, and though the ending clarifies the emotional logic that serves as Mind’s buried through line (it holds up much better on a re-read). First-time Leyner readers have only the author’s voice to pull them through; fans will not find this difficult, but newbies should start elsewhere.
While not entirely successful, Mind provides a welcome kick to the autobiography genre, regardless of how it actually fits in there. It punctures the numbing egoism that drives the form—note the Soviet-style cover, or the way Leyner revels how his title is one flipped letter away from a notorious success—replacing it with both arrogance and simple humility. It’s hard to not give at least a little respect to a man who introduces himself with the line, “Fuck everyone who said I was too paradoxical a hybrid of arrogant narcissism and vulnerable naiveté to succeed in life (even though they were right).” -
"There's nothing more dispiriting for a writer than to have traveled hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles to give a reading, and then find him- or herself facing rows of empty seats," declares Muriel Leyner, the author's mother, on the opening page of Mark Leyner's goofy and profound fourth novel, "Gone with the Mind." This fictional autobiography sees Leyner continuing to walk the comic, meta-fictional path he initially set out on in 1992 with his debut novel, "E Tu, Babe," and it takes this common writerly nightmare as its premise.
Leyner's mother is the "coordinating director of the Nonfiction at the Food Court Reading Series" at "the Woodcreek Plaza Mall," introducing her son, and only a couple of Panda Express and Sbarro employees provide anything like what might be considered a crowd. Even they are "just taking a break" and "definitely not here for the reading" as they say when Leyner's mom asks them.
It's hard to imagine the real Mark Leyner having to contend with this kind of humiliating disinterest. In their "Most Anticipated: The Great 2016 Book Preview" feature earlier this year, the literary site The Millions described him as "one of the postmodern darlings of the 1990s," pointing out that "you may remember him sitting around the table with Jonathan Franzen and David Foster Wallace for the legendary Charlie Rose segment."
Although it's been four years since Mark Leyner released his last novel, "The Sugar Frosted Nutsack," and prior to that, he hadn't released a novel since 1998's "The Tetherballs of Bougainville," it's not as though he has vanished from the public eye. His writing appeared regularly in GQ and The New Yorker, he co-wrote the 2008 John Cusack movie "War, Inc.," and throughout the mid-to-late 2000s, he and Dr. Billy Goldberg, released a series of three medical/humor advice books, including 2005's best-selling "Why Do Men Have Nipples: Hundreds of Questions You'd Only Ask a Doctor After Your Third Martini."
Yet as limited as its setup may sound, this latest book is formally fascinating and wide-ranging in the subjects it pulls in in spite (or because) of its extremely narrow setting. Every bit as self-referential and genre-bending as his previous fiction, the book opens with a fairly harrowing monologue by Muriel that's so theatrical and stage-able that you can easily imagine it performed. Ostensibly, she's introducing her son, who's there to read from his memoir, but really, her speech is about her various harrowing pregnancy and childbirth experiences, as well as her encounters with anti-Semitism in and around Jersey City in the middle of the 20th century.
It's page 43 by the time Mark begins "Part II," "Reading." Except the thing is that he never actually begins to read. First, he describes at length the preposterously elaborate creation of "Gone with the Mind," which was initially slated to be "an autobiography in the form of a first-person shooter game that ends with unraveling the zygote in your mother's uterus," a process in which he was aided by a character known only as "the Imaginary Intern." From there Leyner treats the reader to an absurdly digressive monologue that blends such personal anecdotes as what he wore to his bar mitzvah with confessions of his armpit fetish with meditations on olfactory art.
Along the way, Mark pauses to notice that the food court workers are "paying absolutely no attention to anything" he's saying, but that does not stop him from continuing his effusive — and allusive — prelude, referring to a multitude of high and low cultural touchstones, including but far from limited to Helen Keller, Bobby Flay, Heraclitus, Jenna Jameson, Lifetime movies, the song "Call Your Girlfriend" by Robyn, "The Dick Van Dyke Show," "King Lear," TED talks, Ted Bundy, Ted Kaczynski, Ted Hughes and Ted Berrigan.
By the end, including Parts III (a Q&A) and IV (the adjournment) not much has happened, of course, but that's the point. Packed with — as Mark puts it earlier in his non-reading reading — "cosmic apercus and trippy metaphysical speculation," "Gone with the Mind" is all strained anticipation and endlessly prolonged prologue. Leyner delivers an exercise in deferred gratification that is itself immensely entertaining and surprisingly gratifying. - Kathleen Rooney
"High above the bustling streets of Dubai, in the world's tallest and most luxurious skyscraper, reside the gods and goddesses of the modern world. Since they emerged 14 billion years ago from a bus blaring a tune remarkably similar to the Mister Softee jingle, they've wreaked mischief and havoc on mankind. Unable to control their jealousies, the gods have splintered into several factions, led by the immortal enemies XOXO, Shanice, La Felina, Fast-Cooking Ali, and Mogul Magoo. Ike Karton, an unemployed butcher from New Jersey, is their current obsession.
Ritualistically recited by a cast of drug-addled bards, THE SUGAR FROSTED NUTSACK is Ike's epic story. A raucous tale of gods and men confronting lust, ambition, death, and the eternal verities, it is a wildly fun, wickedly fast gambol through the unmapped corridors of the imagination."
"The great Mark Leyner has returned. He's brought with him a visionary comedy, a nearly epic exegesis of a wonderfully ludicrous (and somehow completely believable) epic, and, most important, a pantheistic belief system we can all finally get behind. Big ass brilliance on every sun-kissed page." - Sam Lipsyte
"This book did all kinds of things to my brain: squeezed it, shocked it, scrambled it and, finally, improved it. There is no one like Mark Leyner in fiction today, and with The Sugar Frosted Nutsack, he has found--or invented--a language with which to render the insanity and self-referentiality of our contemporary culture. A chaotic and vibrant novel whose form is perfect for a chaotic and vibrant universe." - Charles Yu
"The Sugar Frosted Nutsack is dizzyingly brilliant. Mark Leyner is a hyperkinetic shaman, who flies the banner of rum and candy and writes like a one-eyed feral bandit. His new book is supremely original, delirious and synapse-shattering." - John Cusack
"America should treasure its rare, true original voices and Mark Leyner is one of them. So treasure him already, you bastards!" - Gary Shteyngart
"A total delight. Like tweaking out on a super trippy crystal meth high, but without the crash of annihilating depression that normally follows. Not that I really know this for sure since I've never actually been high." - Todd Solondz
"The Sugar Frosted Nutsack proves once again that Mark Leyner is a mad genius, one of the smartest and funniest humans since Aristophanes. The gods must be crazy for allowing him to write their collective biography. I want a scrip for whatever drugs he's taking." - Jay McInerney
"A wild psychedelic digression of a novel that brings chaos to order in such a way that the story turns into pure mind. Reading it is like roller-skating backwards up a disintegrating spiral staircase composed of millions of fluttering small moths. Except that it's also like a thousand other things, none of which--I guarantee it--you've ever known or experienced before." - Walter Kirn
"Like all great books (The Bible, The Boy Scout's Handbook, The Joy of Cooking) The Sugar Frosted Nutsack thrums with a sense of inevitability, as if it has existed since the beginning of time. And it has. Read it out loud to your children, to your lovers, to strangers on street corners, and watch them be transformed." Nick Flynn
"The Sugar Frosted Nutsack is fantastic. It's volcanic and sexy and utterly unlike anything I've read before. It feels like the future in a dazzling way that has nothing to do with looking backward. It's been a long wait for a new novel from Mark Leyner, but worth it. Ten out of ten from me." - Douglas Coupland
"This stream-of-consciousness-laden gospel gradually reveals that the book itself is the eternal story of Ike Karton, a 48-year-old, anti-Semitic everyman from New Jersey.... There's nothing quite like Leyner on a roll. Anyone who's still with us by now should embrace this earnest exploitation of the myths of the new world, complete with celebrity cameos." - Kirkus Review
"Every sentence reads like a DMT-induced hallucination, adding up to an anarchic masterpiece of vulgarity, total pandemonium, and cartoonish free association; it may indeed be the craziest book ever written and adventurous readers in search of a seriously batty, one-of-a-kind work of unhinged imagination need look no further. Leyner and Ike Karton are heroes befitting our overloaded age, blurry yesterdays, and fungible times ahead." - Publishers Weekly
"Mark Leyner is back! And he's brought with him a whole pantheon of narcissistic, manipulative, petulant, and supermercurial gods, all of whom take up residence at the top of the world's tallest skyscraper – currently the Burj Khalifa in the Business Bay district of Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Adolescent in their whims and obsessions and irrepressibly mischievous when it comes to the affairs of humans, these gods have taken a particular interest in Ike Karton, a 48-year-old, 5'7" unemployed butcher living in Jersey City, New Jersey.
The Sugar Frosted Nutsack is exactly the sort of next novel you might expect from Mark Leyner, in that Mark Leyner's indescribable, hyper-experimental, postmodern fiction generally defies the notion of expectation, except that you know it's going to indescribably hyper-experimental. Oh, and in my experience, it's likely to be hilarious as well.
The Sugar Frosted Nutsack, known alternately as both Ike's Agony and T.G.I.F. (for reasons unprintable here), and subtitled, "Ike Always Keeps It Simple and Sexy," is the infinitely recursive and punishingly repetitive ("the phrase 'punishingly repetitive' is used 251 times in The Sugar Frosted Nutsack"), epic story of Ike Karton, an epic that's been recited in public for thousands of years by blind, itinerant, drug-addled, orange soda-swilling bards.
What makes The Sugar Frosted Nutsack so infinitely recursive and punishingly repetitive is that the epic itself , the book that you soon will be holding in your hands, is not merely the epic story of Ike Karton, whose fate is inextricably tied to the whims of the gods, but it is that very epic couched in an impressively digressive exegesis including mystical numerological correlations, commentary and supporting ballad from TSFN audience members, and in-depth analysis of Ike and other supporting characters, all delivered with Mark Leyner's inimitably manic and scatological stream-of-consciousness.
Leyner's novel is a potpourri of elements both epic and postmodern, a swirling storm of language both high-brow and low-brow, a potpourri of pop culture shot through with a ridiculous and hilarious pantheon of gods that toys with the story's hero in the tradition of Greek gods toying with Odysseus. Among these deities are:
El Burbuja, the God of Bubbles – A stubby, pockmarked, severely astigmatic deity – originally just ruled over the realm of inflated globules. At first, everyone assumed he'd be satisfied as a kind of geeky "party God" whose dominion would be limited to basically balloons and champagne. And no one paid much attention when he published an almost impenetrably technical paper in some obscure peer-reviewed journal in which he claimed sovereignty over Anything Enveloping Something Else.
Yagyu – A God who was also known as Dark Cuervo ("Dark Raven") and Fast-Cooking-Ali – created "Woman's Ass," which was considered his masterpiece. Nothing he'd done before prepared the other Gods for the stunning, unprecedented triumph that was "Woman's Ass." His previous accomplishments had been deliberately banal. He'd created the Platitude, for instance.
La Felina, the Goddess of Humility - La Felina would, over the course of time, have many relationships with mortal men. She has a heavy sexual thing for Hasidic and Amish guys, as well as anarcho-primitivists, including Theodore Kaczynski (the Unabomber). Sometimes she wears a Japanese schoolgirl sailor outfit. La Felina hates the rich and she hates celebrities. (She has recently tried to induce a deranged person to stalk and kill the designer Marc Jacobs.)
Of all the Gods and Goddesses, it is La Felina who takes particular interest in Ike, hero of the proletariat, "a man standing on his stoop, on the prow of his hermiatage, striking that contrapposto pose, in his white wifebeater, his torso totally ripped, his lustrous chestnut armpit hair wafting in the breeze, his head turned and inclined up toward the top floors of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, from which the gaze of masturbating goddesses casts him in a sugar frosted nimbus."
Clearly, The Sugar Frosted Nutsack is not for everyone. Drenched as it is in sex, it is certainly not for the reader deterred by the aforementioned "masturbating goddesses," nor is it for the conservative reader who likes their literature on the straight and narrow. The Sugar Frosted Nutsack is a roller coaster designed for the bawdiest, most thrill-seeking and experimental of readers. It's a niche audience, but one that will gratefully receive Mark Leyner's offering." - Mark Flanagan
"In the early 1990s, Mark Leyner was one of the most promising young writers of American fiction. His cult-classic novels, with titles like My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist and Et Tu, Babe, tapped into the collective mind of a pop-culture-obsessed, Ritalin-prescribed generation.
Then, in 1998, Leyner stopped. Now he’s back — with a book that’s funnier and more feverishly imagined than ever. In The Sugar Frosted Nutsack, out Monday, gods splinter into competitive factions, bicker in Dubai, and infect the mind of Ike Karton, an out-of-work butcher from New Jersey. Wired caught up with Leyner to ask him what it’s like to return to fiction after so much time away.
It’s been 15 years since you last published a work of fiction. Was it a conscious exile?
- I think there are lots of writers that reflexively write books. It’s almost like renewing your membership to the writer’s club. And I didn’t want to feel like that was what I was doing. I really like the feeling that I’m coming up with a book that has a kind of urgency. There were also some practical considerations: My wife and I had just had a kid, and I was doing screenwriting to earn some disproportionally juicy money.
But it’s good to be back?
- Writing fiction is really the essential activity of my life.
As a self-consciously “current” writer, was it hard to write something that felt fresh and of-the-moment after so much time away?
- That’s a question that filled me with trepidation. The other books felt so congruent with the zeitgeist. When I started writing, I was a more social person, and I’m probably a bit more solitary now. My process was to just steep myself in my obsessions — all the capricious and fetishistic thinking that I’m engaged in. If I concerned myself with contemporary references, it would just detract from the strangeness of the book.
Your prose is data-rich: It features arcane medical jargon and tabloid factoids. What are your reading habits like? Do you have a system?
- I suppose I have a system, but it’s not really an a priori system. If at any given moment I look at the books that pile up next to the bed or in the space where I work, it looks like someone who is trying to read the most insanely miscellaneous and contradictory selection of books possible. Some of it is because I have very wide-ranging interests, but then some of this is because my reading is very tangential. I’ll read 30-40 pages, and then something will move me, so I’ll put that book down and start reading something else. They always tend to superimpose themselves on top of one another. I’m reading a book now about Stalin’s military prowess, and then I’m reading a really wonderful book by the great scholar of Jewish mysticism, Gershom Scholem. Could there be more contradictory things than those two?
Your books are frenetic and perfect for someone with a short attention span. Reading the early ones now, they seem very prescient, like precursors to online communication. Has the internet changed the way you write?
- This is probably what gives my work a sense of being almost militantly contemporary. You see, I had those habits before…. I’ve always had a kind of hyperlinked proclivity anyway: impatience, a quick capacity to boredom, tangential wandering. It’s a kind of connoisseurship of miscellany.
Do you watch a lot of TV?
- If it were left to me entirely, I probably wouldn’t, because I love reading and I love watching the kinds of things that aren’t necessarily on TV: stuff people put up on YouTube, all those crazy personal performance pieces. But I have an 18-year-old daughter, and I end up watching a lot of the stuff she watches and really liking it. If there was a Teen Mom marathon, It would hold me for an unconscionable amount of time." - Interview by Alice Gregory
Interview by Brian Joseph Davis