ACTON, MA -- The eXile has a nice tradition of outing really bad books. The best-selling Million Little Pieces by the fraud James Frey, was brilliantly taken apart by John Dolan long before Frey was mumbling mea culpas on Oprah last January.
And, boy, do we have a shortage of crap? No way. Consider the following. Early in this decade a strange phenomenon appeared in American publishing: a profusion of supposedly funny com-ing-of-age romps by young Americans (or recent immigrants) through the post-communist wastelands of Russia and Eastern Europe ironic, insulting, ridiculous stories. And mostly bad (or truly awful) writing.
The eXile already reviewed such overrated junk as Everything Illuminated and Prague. There were many others, in particular the Russian Debutante's Handbook by Gary Shteyngart by far the worst of them all. And then, a few years later, he outdid himself, producing a truly revolting, repetitive and overbearing piece of crud called Absurdistan. Even the name is derivative there are a couple of earlier books by other authors with the same title. There is another literary turd of the same kind currently on the stands Ludmila's Broken English by some D.B.C. Pierre.
I have a little theory of why so much of this drivel appeared soon after 9/11. I may be wrong, but here is how it goes: Americans are pussies. It doesn't matter how many smart bombs can the US hurl down from 10 km up, and how many rednecks from dusty little towns it sends to the Middle East to have their balls blown off a hundred feet away by IEDs. To feel better about yourself, especially after such horrible tragedy and a fuck-up as Iraq, you need to vent you anger in a big way. Not just bomb somebody, but you need to intensely hate, despise and mentally rape your enemy, or somebody who might pass for it.
Yet have you noticed that even in the post-9/11 years there was hardly any popular fiction depicting Arabs as a hateful, ridiculous, universally-despised enemy? Not just "evil Islamo-fascists" but something with a truly racist "take that, camel-fuckers" tone? No. Yet there is a huge demand for true, unadulterated hatred, even given America's PC-limits. If you can't raise your voice on your obnoxious boss, you're likely to insult your wife when you get home. Or buy a rubber doll that looks like your boss, and beat it with a baseball bat.
There is a strict differentiation in the American media and cultural space con-cerningz whom you can hate or despise and how. One must be very careful with anybody non-white, of course. Blacks are strictly off-limits. Asians are too, for the most part. You can't say anything truly bad about Jews (you can criticize Israel's policies as much as you'd like to, but you risk being labeled an anti-Semite). You can make fun of Germans, but they are so neutered and inoffensive these days it's like making fun of pigeons. It is pretty safe to hate and mock French. But then again, how much can you milk tired jokes about "surrender monkeys" and rude garcons in Parisian restaurants?
But it is totally permissible to hate and despise Russians. It is as if a huge sign is flashing over the media landscape: "Here you may shit as much as you want!" There is a very small number of roles that Russians can play in American popular art vicious mafia thugs and their molls, obnoxious fat apparatchiks, half-starving babushkas, raving alcoholics, pitiful girls exploited for sex trade, or the occasional brave pro-Western dissident or a spy. Any kind of "normalcy" is simply forbidden. There are a few objective reasons for that:
1)During many decades of the Cold War the West conditioned its own plebs to hate and dehumanize the "savage Russian enemy," so this line produces automatic brand-recognition and little mental resistance; there is no "Russian lobby" in the US, but many ethnic anti-Russian lobbies (e.g. Ukrainian, East-European, Jewish, Baltic) were nurtured for decades;
2)Russians are essentially white Europeans (even if alluded to as "Asiatic despotism" on a proper occasion), so hating and despising them is safe from the dreaded "racism" label;
3)Russians are not known for mobs rampaging through streets because of some prophet caricatures published in an obscure newspaper, nor they likely to issue fatwas to kill offending authors, or actually cut their throats; so it is safe in a cowardly way.
Shteyngart exploits this long-standing trend to a new, monstrous depth. Almost every character in Absurdistan is pathetic, ridiculous, lying and scheming. But most shallow as they are have at least some likeable human traits. Except Russians, of course they can't have any redeeming qualities at all. It's one tedious, absurd, overblown, dehumanizing slog intended to invoke the most primitive, vicious loathing.
Shteyngart doesn't have any real talent. The only thing he knows is to repeat over and over again the same lame tricks he used in the first book. The same Midwestern liberal art college (Shteyngart himself graduated from Oberlin). The same upwardly mobile, buxom nigga girlfriend from the edge of a sex industry (a professional domina-trix in Russian Debutante and a hostess at a titty bar in Absurdistan). Even a Chechen chauffer, a minor character, migrates from the first book to the second. Oh, and a banal self-insertion (which was half-cute in Everything Is Illuminated) the character "Gary Shteynfarb," who became the wily English professor screwing the nigga girlfriend of the main protagonist, Misha Vainberg. Must be another masturbato-ry fantasy of Shteyngart himself.
If you look at the readers' reviews of Absurdistan on Amazon.com, everyone that gave it 5 stars looks like they came from one tribe short, adulating comments from "readers" like "samozvanka from brooklyn" and "alexis aleksisov" (totally improbable name), whose list of reviews consists of the Absurdistan only. The real reviewers with dozens of books on their lists grade this crap far harsher criticism. You know already what this means, don't you? That's right Shteyngart wrote the amazon reviews himself. Can you imagine anything more pathetic? Even the old trick of every aspiring author making the rounds of bookstores and buying a few copies of one's own book to create a buzz is not as lame as that.
Now about this other book Ludmila's Broken English. It is a British import. As I explained in my previous article, England is beyond hope and salvation in general, including its "literature". This book is total crap, from the first to the last page. It is written by some D.B.C. Pierre. He is an expat from Australia, living in Britain. His real name is Peter Finlay or something. D.B.C. stands for "Dirty But Clean." What's with these scrawny-looking white nerds like Shteyngart and Finlay, stomping on the "gangsta" subject they don't know anyway?
"Ludmila's Broken English presents a slightly different paradox: Dirty But Dull," is the highly appropriate summary by a reviewer for the Washington Post. "This book fails, and it does not even fail grandly... boils down to a tiresomely repeated set of pseudo-Soviet insults," writes another reviewer.
I'm a little suspicious of Aussie expats using strange abbreviations instead of first names. Years ago, when I was doing my Ph.D. thesis at MIT, our building the tallest one at MIT campus had a little ghost story (that was true). It was about an Australian grad student who was kicked out by his wife and who lived for more than a year in the "auxiliary room" with pipes and pumps and AC controls. He then went back to Australia. For some reason he used an abbreviation R.O.R.Y. Thompson in his scientific publications, instead of his real first name. This R.O.R.Y. ended up marrying again down under, and soon hacked up his wife into many pieces using an axe. You get the idea.
I don't know how this "D.B.C. Pierre" will end up, but wouldn't be too sorry if he'd be run over by some drunken Russian after a late party on Ibiza, while lying on a street in his own vomit, as many Brits do on summer nights. Broken English as in broken legs, face and vertebrae. He-he, very funny indeed.