CELEBRITY BOOK REVIEW: Gary Shteyngart on “The Sugar Frosted Nutsack”

by Courtney Maum

Recently, there has been much talk about my blurbing. This Shteyngart fellow will blurb anyone! He is a promiscuous praiser! He! Blurbs! Too! Much!

Well, if you think I run about the east side of Manhattan in a zebra striped zentai suit with my Bic For Jews pen cap off ready to blurb just anyone, then you are absolutely right! But my blurbery is a form of protectionism. I blurb, therefore I don’t review!

Unless you are Mark Leyner. Mark Leyner, I will make an exception for, and review. My first introduction to the comic provocations of this gifted rabble-rouser was in 1996, when he went on Charlie Rose to talk about the future of fiction with David Foster Wallace and Jonathan Franzen in a black suit and paisley necktie. Two of these writers would go on to write novels that defined a generation. But only one of them had the gonads to show up in a tie!

I learned a lot about spine-having from Mr. Leyner. I was all set to release my first novel under the title, “Uh oh, where is Russia?” when I stopped to pick up a withered balloon on my carpet and, bending down, confronted the spines of Leyner’s novels in the “it’s fun!” section of my personal library. My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist.I smell Esther Williams. Why do men have nipples? Hundreds of questions you’d only ask your doctor after your third martini. Here is a man, I thought, who is not worried about the spine! He does not care how many words go on it, he only cares if it is crazy! I decided, right then and there, while fondling the remnants of the sword balloon I’d made for my half-birthday the week before, that I, too, would put oomph into my forthcoming book titles. And so, instead of releasing, “Uh oh, where is Russia?” I released The Russian Debutante’s Handbook.

But enough about Mark Leyner. Let us talk about his book. Originally, I was going to direct you to the reading group guide at www.hachettebookgroup.com so you could find out what it’s about, but the link appears to be broken. This is not surprising! If I had to summarize the plot of The Sugar Frosted Nutsack, I’d be broken, too!

Which is why we will leave the pedantic task of plot summarization to my colleague, Ben Marcus, who recently reviewed The Sugar Frosted Nutsack for the New York Times. Just a minute, please. I have re-read his article, and it appears that Marcus has no idea what it’s about, either. No bother. We’ll press on!

“The Nutsack” (abbreviation, mine) is a literary pièce montée of Leyner’s other work. Phantasmagorical, brash and super-sexy, this book is a neuron without a doctrine. His sentences have no synapses―it is through metalexicographic contortions that the signal is passed. In a nutshell (nutshell, ha!), “The Nutsack” presents us with a host of bold-faced Gods who live in the tallest skyscraper in Dubai, where they engage in inter-suite reputational takedowns and generally do a really shitty job of ruling the world. Anyone who has ever received a unsettling text message followed by an emoticon, or waited for a chai latte for like, a really long time while the barista finished a pretty sub-par conversation, will understand the passive-aggressive power that the fictional God XOXO wields.

His goal is to destroy the world by leaving it in limbo. His conciliatory evasions are particularly deplorable when executed against the story’s hero, an unemployed butcher from New Jersey who is fated to die at a specific time that XOXO keeps on rescheduling. I mean, really. Who wants to put up with celestial non-professionalism when it comes to their own death?

Aside from the experimental typography that makes Leyner so popular with hot chicks who ❤ semiotics, his novels also present the reader with a semantic scavenger hunt for the sharp and geeky―let the smartest find what meaning they will. Deep within this creation story about the controlled and the controlling, I found, for example, a surprising muse. I have come away convinced that “The Nutsack” was heavily influenced―one could even say sperminated―by the German cult fantasy novel, The Neverending Story.

If you are surprised to hear me compare a post-post-modern comic meta-novel penned by a resident of New Jersey to a sci-fi epic fantasy written by a German, well, you have never been outlet shopping in Secaucus on Black Friday. The Neverending Story is a self-referential work of fiction. The book is named after the book that is the story’s subject, and anyone who reads it becomes a character in the book, and thus, in the story. Well, get this, my fellow Smarties, the exact same thing happens in The Sugar Frosted Nutsack. The novel is a transcript of the experience of reading the book, and anyone who reads it becomes a part of “The Nutsack.” Take that, Ben Marcus! You didn’t mention this mis en abyme shit in the Times!

In conclusion to my first long-form review, I present the blurb that graced the polka-dotted ectoderm protecting Leyner’s ninth book. “America should treasure its rare, true original voices, and Mark Leyner is one of them. So treasure him already, you bastards!

I could not write this better than I’ve already written it myself!

***

— Courtney Maum is a fiction writer based in between the Berkshires of Massachusetts and New York City. Her work has recently appeared online in Tin House, Blip, The Rumpus, Vol.1, Anderbo and others. A frequent reader at NY-based series and a Literary Death Match champion, she’s currently working on a collection of comic fiction. Find her on Twitter at @cmaum.

Editor’s note: Any resemblances to actual celebrities — alive or dead — are miraculously coincidental. For more Celebrity Book Reviews, click here.

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