Spiegelman made news last fall with his New York Post series attacking Jonathan Franzen, Rick Moody, and Dave Eggers, largely accusing them of trendiness and greed. How does his own debut hold up against Heartbreaking and Shifty Wordslingers Franzen and Moody?
In Bayside, Queens, at 23, Leon Koch is learning to kick in his powers with drink and drugs—and down to the end of the night he goes. His buddies are Ortiz and Rahmer, who, at 16, built pipe bombs and blew up the home of a TMR—The Master Race, or The Mentally Retarded (“They were peasants, mouth-breathers, they didn’t wipe their asses. If you looked at their DNA, it was dogshit and Tic Tacs”)—got caught, and were sent away, Ortiz for a year, Rahmer for two (because of his parents’ death in a plane crash, Ortiz has a house and half-million dollars in trust). The story wanders nonlinearly between high-school days and Leon’s young manhood. When Leon falls for lesbian Dara, an S-M freak as well, their grisly sexplay turns on Dara’s need to have sex that ends like a symphony, with rockets and cannons being set off (“Everything has to be burning”). Meanwhile, Leon tries to help out Rahmer’s overly beautiful girlfriend Cali. He starts City University, gets weirdly involved in a huge demonstration in Union Square, where Dara incites the cops as pigs. Many chapters feel like druggy slapdash paste-ups—though maybe they’re an original choppy high-art form. Most amusing scene: when Leon and his new girlfriend Carrie try to get money for coke by selling his Star Wars Hans Solo handblaster, his storm trooper rifle from Empire, and his Luke Skywalker figurine with translucent blue-plastic light saber, but keep getting cheated on each item. Ortiz, at end, suicides, vomiting out the door of a moving car, then throwing his head under the back wheel. Leon afterward becomes mentally disordered and suicidal.
Bottom-dog lyricism, good dialogue, grim as a gallows.