The Id Idiot , by Peter D. Bellone
Creative Arts Book Company, Berkeley 2003
There are a lot of loonies out there. All of them have written books, and most of them send copies of their self-published masterpieces to eXile. Most of these are bad enough to make you believe that perhaps the mainstream publishers aren't quite as clueless as they seem.
But every now and then, someone sends us an apparently self-published book good enough to read. And in the case of Peter Bellone's novel, the Id Idiot, good enough to worry over, reread and review.
I don't want to overpraise Bellone. If he really exists -- if he's not the persona adopted by a sane, calculating author -- then he really is an idiot, a babbling psycho. But that's the authenticity paradox: when literature has spent most of the last century attempting to imitate the speech of the deranged, it's inevitable that the deranged will eventually become the only proper writers. And Bellone's unreliability as narrator goes much deeper than that of most conventional writers.
For starters, Bellone has done everything wrong in packaging his novel. The pun on "Id" in Id Idiot suggests it's going to be some dated, tedious Freudian tale. It's not. In fact, it has nothing to do with Freudian psychology. To make things worse, the book has a picture of an Afghan street scene on the cover. As you can probably guess by now, the book has nothing at all to do with Afghanistan.
Instead, it's the memoir of an American loser. Not the cool, gaunt, stylized loser we expect from American films and novels, but the fat, whiney, longwinded, self-justifying loser you have actually met. Like all the real losers and psychos I've known, Bellone can be perfectly lucid for long stretches, then say something so embarrassingly awful that you blush just reading it.
The authenticity of his loser-persona extends even to his spelling and grammar, which are full of typical mistakes made by half-educated speakers of American English: "who's" for "whose"; garbled tenses (eg "No one could blamed them"); and alarmingly blurred referents, as in, "Her warm breath prickled and then into goose bumps."
The story is bizarre in a way that rings true: Bellone, dumped by his friends, starts hanging out with crazy people, including an aged black bagpiper, Theo, and an androgynous Nechaev type named Billy. He and Theo hit the road, landing with a Christian cult commune, flee its authoritarian leader to preach the Gospel in Las Vegas, then start a homeless shelter in their home town, St. Louis.
Those are narrative cliches, all right -- but they're the kind of cliches a genuine idiot would do his best to live out. The whole notion of preaching to the minions of evil in Vegas has been exploited at great length by Stephen King, who is like the corporate version of the American unconscious, in The Stand, one of the longest, dullest and most successful novels ever written. Maybe Bellone read it; maybe he just drew from the same pool of shameful, embarrassing fantasies. But it's lame enough to be very, very believable.
The sheer embarrassment of being crazy was one of the most powerful impressions I took away from reading this novel. Standing on a milk crate outside Caesar's Palace in Vegas, the hero preaches to the fallen: "I looked out at the passing laughing drunk crowds and thought, yes, these are the new Jews of a modern, secular Diaspora...sacrificing their foreskins for the em?pty virtues of free market enterprise."
Take this a few notches up in IQ and you're in Kinison territory. But even Kinison would have balked at speaking so long in so painfully deluded a voice. If it's deadpan, it's the bravest since Andy Kaufman died. Bellone has inhaled every foolish prejudice of the moment, and faithfully exhales them at the reader, as when he echoes American Francophobia circa 2003 by cursing the casinos of Vegas for their Gallic associations: "Bally's Paris, kitty-corner to us, the spotlighted replica Eiffel tower was a totem to French sensuality, French kissing, French ticklers, French embassies. That was wrong, but they flaunted it anyway."