Book Reviews for Novels that Famous Writers Haven’t Written Yet: Delillo, Baker, E.L. James
Dear James Franco,
I’ve got some more book reviews of novels that famous writers haven’t written yet! At this point, you’re probably wondering, “How the fucking fuck is that possible?”
Here’s the thing: there’s a wormhole in my toilet. You probably know this, but a wormhole is like a space-time tube that connects two otherwise distant parts of the universe. Furthermore, one end of the tunnel might be in the present while the other end is in the future or past.
Wormholes are uncommon; in fact, they’re so rare that physicists have yet to find one. Let it be known that our scientists are simply looking in the wrong place because, as it is, once a month something from the future shoots out of my toilet bowl (and I’m wondering if there’s some kind of transaction going on here). Most of it is junk: a ball cap for a team that doesn’t exist yet, an ear wax removal kit, a Costco membership card. But every so often, I get a little magazine from Lit-Love Book Club, and it’s got reviews of the “latest” releases.
Why am I telling you this? You’re a busy man, James. I imagine you’ll be just as busy in the future, so I want to save you from reading books that you might waste your time. So here’s what I got this month:
E.L. James latest, The Haystack Itch, is rife with safe, Palin-esque eroticism, and lacks the overall homogenization of brutal decadence that defined her earlier works like Fifty Shades of Grey. Perhaps James, now in her early 70s (and purported to have converted to Pentecostal Christianity, according to the website The Jesus Project to Evangelize Sin-Inciting Popular Culture Icons), has lost touch with the revolution she provoked twenty years ago. Who can forget that large-scale paradigm shift in the sexual practices of the mildly illiterate; those six months during which otherwise happily repressed people whispered “I’d like to experiment with BDSM” at cocktail parties and backyard barbeques, and all in attendance nodded approvingly instead of flicking bewildered glances? The Haystack Itch will not reboot your sexual appetite, or have you running to the X-Rated store for anal springs, sphincter spheres, testicle twisters, shaft pins, and the new nipple-slapper deluxe. The novel is about Megan Zalk, the child of a Las Vegas prostitute. Megan is a math prodigy who, at the age of thirteen, solves the Hodge Conjecture, which has eluded mathematicians “for thousands of years.” Within days of the media storm, a suspicious interviewer asks Megan, “What does your mother do for a living?” Megan replies boldly, “She fucks and fucks and fucks.” James, it seems, is trying to manufacture a conflict of worldview disparities, pitting the Union of Nevada Prostitutes against all the world’s math departments who, we are led to suppose, desire to whore-our Megan’s intelligence. While this might create an interesting social critique, James usurps the narrative motion halfway through by introducing a Pentecostal pastor, Gabe Bryant. By the end of the novel, Ms. Zalk repents her wicked ways, and Megan denounces math—and all of the sciences—as “Satan’s lies.” The final words of the novel, spoken by Megan: “I have found Jesus. I don’t need to seek bondage with anyone but the Lord. And I hope you will too.”
Nicholson Baker’s The Transaction beings with Mina plucking out a pubic hair and dropping it toward Henry’s open palm. On page 414, Henry catches it. During the intermittent pages, we follow spiraling interior digressions about lollypop wrappers, the warping potential of wooden park benches, theories on how to apply first aid to a badly bit tongue, and the imagined history of the barbed wire fence manufacturing industry’s union relations. Readers are never quite sure who is doing the thinking. While this novel is at once achingly artful in its ambition to create authentic interiority in the tradition of James Frey, it is also overwrought with sandbox simplifications of all-or-nothing irrelevancies.
Don Delillo’s latest novel, The Mile Long Sonogram, is a not-so-convincing return to his early 1970s style. Delillo’s prose feigns the self-conscious naiveté of a young writer, but it’s difficult to play along with the illusion, for we Delillo-heads know there’s an old, wise, master behind the mixed metaphors and dangling modifiers (Does he really write, “A dog can’t change its feathers” on page 76? You bet). While this purposeful contamination of stylistic command might appeal to the few remaining meta-fiction enthusiasts—whom, whether we want to admit that the 2017 academic purge of postmodernism succeeded or not, constitute his primary audience—more attuned readers, like myself, will feel that Delillo doesn’t fully embrace the narrative risks that The Mile Long Sonogram wants to take. The story begins in a Chicago suburb, where an abortion clinic had just burnt to the ground. Dr. Mina Heley—having received multiple death threats from a religious organization called Don’t Kill—must convince her concerned husband, Jesus, that she plans to remain in her line of work. Jesus would rather she not. He has a point: both he and Mina have a ten year old daughter, Becky. Two days after the arson incident, someone had put up a sign on the Heley’s lawn that said, “We’re Thinking About Aborting Becky—From the Ghosts of the Babies You’ve Killed.” Instead of immediately tackling the problem, the family leaves for a “vacation” at a cabin New Hampshire. Insert domestic drama. End with ambiguity.