A big, drooly, shaggy dog of a postmodern epic, one that takes up an awful lot of space but doesn’t give a lot of affection in return.
Theroux, perhaps best known for his meditative essays, The Primary Colors (1994) and The Secondary Colors (1996), has clearly read his dictionaries; his writing is a groaning board for logophiles, of a piece with, though more comprehensible than Finnegans Wake. One has the sense that, as in Joyce’s book, there’s a perverse private joke in play here, a way of memorializing pals and getting back at enemies. Friend and foe alike bear Helleresque names: There’s the unfortunate sort-of-artist Laura Warholic, her name redolent of tomb-raiding and the Factory, and the cultural critic Eugene Eyestones, who finds himself entangled with Laura and in trouble for controversial essays that offend various and sundry minorities. There’s the gluttonous Mr. Warholic, publisher and bon vivant who calls to mind any number of real-life publisher/bon vivant types, but who doubtless would not wish to be described as having, for instance, “a moon-fat face that gave him the grey, oily look of soft cheese.” There’s food writer Ann Marie Tubb and R. Bangs Chasuble, well-rounded film critic. Laura herself is described as “a highly edited person…[who] hated the arugula set,” more than a little needy, and more than a little pitiable. Then there are the random victims of fashion, their lives all T-shirts and “vodka, handcuffs, Pink Floyd LPs,” to say nothing of obligatorily ironic discs by Martin Denny. All these gasbags swirl about in the vast space of the First World, buzzing around Grand Central and alighting on San Francisco and Paris, trying to make sense of their lives, not doing much of anything, and talking. A lot.
A bloated Bonfire of the Vanities for the pomo set, full of carefully placed products (Pringles, anyone?), in-jokes and elegant blather.