Longtime novelist Mark Leyner returns with elaborate story of an anti-hero rock star
By Michael Shashoua / Jester editor-in-chief
Mark Leyner’s novel “The Sugar Frosted Nutsack,” to be published March 26, marks a return to literature for the experimental author, after some diversions into movies (co-writing the John Cusack satire “War, Inc.”) and a mix of audio fiction work (“Wiretap”), collaborations on popular science books such as “Why Do Men Fall Asleep After Sex?” and magazine journalism.
This novel, for those unfamiliar with Leyner’s work, reads as a baroque satire of pop culture. “Nutsack” inundates the reader with boldfaced names, repetition of scenes and tropes, and a strange almost non-sensical plot – if it can be called a plot. On a certain level, it’s similar to Jennifer Egan’s much more focused novel “A Visit from the Goon Squad,” published last year, which also makes an eccentric musician its protagonist.
Leyner’s hero, Ike Karton, is the leader of a rock band and a randy bachelor. The author puts this hero into the context of a “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”-inspired world of vain, all-too-human, sniping gods whose whims influence collisions of pop culture personalities spilling over onto mere mortals like Karton.
There are refrains and tropes Leyner returns to repeatedly, apparently to entertain or for effect, like the “-ack, -ack, -ack” repetition of the words “heart attack” in Billy Joel’s “Movin’ Out” and how these sound like many different things, like Popeye’s laugh or various utterances or occurrences in the novel. Or Mexican folk songs known as “narcocorridos” glorifying criminals a la the song “Heisenberg” used in the TV series “Breaking Bad.”
All of these elaborate references and writing styles contained in Leyner’s “Nutsack” are certainly entertaining for a certain distinct subset of readers who will marvel at the aptitude of their use. They do detract, however, from trying to follow the plot of what’s happening with Karton and what it may mean. Leyner requires the reader to really work and operate on two levels – the tornado of references, and the narrative, to get the whole purpose of “Nutsack.” It’s a worthwhile challenge, but it’s not for everybody.
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