Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Books: The Tetherballs of Bougainville, by Mark Leyner

What a weird, hyper-satirical adventure. I'm still uncertain whether or not I liked it.

Leyner's uber-teen narrator, who wears designer leather pants and no shirts, plays video games with the aim of rescuing rock stars from being turned into packaged snack foods by aliens, and worships the tetherball players from the tiny island of Bougainville, witnesses the failed execution by lethal injection of his PCP-addicted father, helps the man choose a song to go along with his commemorative video of said failed execution (a remix of West Side Story's "I Feel Pretty" transposed into "I Feel Shitty"), refuses to share a cab with him, and then embarks on a sex-infused drug binge with the exceptionally attractive female prison warden.

I don't think I've come across satire any more dismissively jaded; once lethal injection fails, the state of New Jersey (governed by a lazy teenage girl elected into office when voting rights were extended to her peers) let's the narrator's father go, instating their right to kill him at any time by any means with total disregard to any possible collateral damage by a complicated, bureaucratic lottery process.

If this weren't absurdist enough, there is an additional layer of retelling; early in the book, the narrator announces that he's a contender for a grant for his screenplay, which will pay $250,000 per year for the rest of his life—but he hasn't written the screenplay yet (he's only been offered the award because he has such a good agent), and needs to turn it in the next day. The second half of the book is a screenplay version of events inspired by the first half.

Leyner's wild imagination is disturbingly close to the absurdity of real life, and he writes with a strangely precise elation. But its giddy hopelessness is even darker than honest despair, and I don't know that I can accept it.


jh said...

I haven't read this one but I really liked the audiobook of "My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist," which you can download here (http://audiobookcorner.blogspot.com/2008/06/mark-leyner-my-cousin-my.html). I'm not a huge fan but I think his stuff actually works better when listened to rather than read -- you don't have to be as concerned with trying to discern a larger narrative or pay attention to his annoying use of capitalization and line breaks and stuff and can just relax and enjoy the wordplay and absurdity as they wash over you.

Anyway, I'm trying to be more thankful to people who write things that I like and just wanted to say that over the past couple of weeks I've read almost your entire blog, from Tuscany to Iceland and beyond. I disagree with you often but I've really enjoyed reading what you have here and hope you write more soon.

Dahl said...

wow, thanks, jh. . . have we met? if not, how did you find me?

Anonymous said...

I was having trouble crawling through the first parts of Ada and search about this and your blog was one of the search results -- I clicked through and then after reading your Ada review read some more.

(I eventually got through the opening and started to really enjoy myself for a broad stretch of the middle, by the way, and then I got to the silliness of part 2 and became discouraged again; the book's under the bed right now)