[The insane and hilarious novel is a C4 Great Read.]

Author: Mark Leyner

2012, Hachette

Filed Under: Literary, Humor

Where to even begin with this book? This novel, if you want to call it that, is brilliant, perplexing, uproarious, and a little bit sad. One thing is certain: this is a superb bit of writing, and example of a writer at the top of his game, whose abilities with the written word put many of his contemporaries to shame. The rest is pretty much up for interpretation. If you want to glean more than just pretty bits of style from this book, come in prepared to to use parts of your brain you probably haven’t exercised in a while.

Leyner’s book is the sort of fictive work I used to read in grad-school literature classes. It is obtuse nearly to the point of being cryptic, but there is a method to the madness. If you’re willing to put in the time, you’ll find it worth your while. This is because, while there is not too much plot to speak of (I’ll get to that shortly), the book is bursting at the seams with substance. Structurally it’s a bit like a spiritual cousin to James Joyce’s Ulysses.

The Sugar Frosted Nutsack is an epic poem that isn’t a poem. It flips between genres and writing styles like channels before a bored couch surfer blankly clicking a remote. Some sections are stream of conscious prose, but there are also lists, book blurbs, sing-songy rhymes, tabloid grab lines, text message interchanges, and more. Through a combination of the expert writing I already mentioned and a savage wit, Leyner makes each varying piece work for the whole like a perfectly calibrated tourbillon. Out of context though, it probably just seems mental, like these “Excerpts from Eulogies”:

“This was just the aristocratic, autoerotic attitude of those whose hot buttocks were the pure products of the imagination of the Gods who’d invented the platitude.”

Ike—marionette, umbilicated to his Goddesses, murmuring in a language garnished with umlauts.”

“His birth as an object of divine desire, and his death—the Goddesses sated—supine and on fire, hated by his neighbors.”

“This shit’s retarded. It’s The Ballad of the Severed Heads. ‘It’s not toasted, it’s Pop-Tarted,’ Ike boasted to all his drug-addled, big-dick bards (the Upper Penis Committee) from the Upper Peninsula and Jersey City…”

The basic gist is that Ike Karton is going to die today. He’s going to eat breakfast, then get shot later on, probably either suicide-by-cop or gunned down by a Mossad agent. This is going to happen because he is a plaything of the gods. What gods? you may ask. Well, the book opens with a long, more or less insane introduction of a pantheon of gods and demigods who reside above the Burj Khalifa. They are created in the mold of the Greek and Roman deities, but these gods rule over every zany thing from balloon angioplasty and the movie Maria Full of Grace to, well, nutsacks. These gods, in particular XOXO (also known as El Cucho or Kid Coma, the god of head trauma, concussions, dementia, alcoholic blackouts, and about a zillion other things), are messing with the book as it is being told/written. The entire narrative is structured in this hyper-meta way: everything is being relayed through various styles and by choruses and characters and different narrators simultaneously before, while, and after it occurs.

I’m not sure I can describe it any better than that. Leyner pretty much lays out as solid description of the structure as you can get as part of his “What Makes Ike a Hero?” list:

G. Ike is the hero of the epic who simultaneously recites and reacts the epic of which he is the extemporaneous, albeit inexorably doomed, hero. This is why scholars frequently refer to Ike as the “Möbius Stripper,” i.e., the man whose lascivious dance (i.e., “his life”) is performed for the delectation of masturbating Goddesses.

This book is very funny, very stimulating, and completely ludicrous. It isn’t a book for everyone. If you’re looking to pass the time on a train ride, look elsewhere. But if you are up for some dense and experimental fiction firing on all cylinders, you will love this book.

Similar Reads: Palafox (Chevillard), Tristram Shandy (Sterne), Ulysses (Joyce)

[A review copy was provided.]