What you might get if you crossed Bret Easton Ellis with Salman Rushdie.
Of course, Wenzel’s second outing (after Lit Life, 2001) is written like neither of theirs. Where Ellis and Rushdie come in for comparison here is in regard to its protagonist, Kyle Clayton. He’s one of those bad-boy Manhattan novelists whose meteoric fame seems in inversely proportionate to the length of their slim but award-studded volumes. Clayton hit big in the 1980s and has acted like a pompous bad-boy ever since. It’s now the late ’90s and he’s desperate for a comeback. And where better to mine material than from his marriage to a Muslim Turkish woman, a marriage that necessitated the WASP-y Clayton’s conversion to Islam? After a magazine publishes an excerpt of the book (it starts with the line, “All Muslims are mad, of course”), things become a bit strained between Clayton and his wife Ayla and her family, what with the death threats and all. On the edges of Clayton’s self-destructive behavior—he’s a raging, barely recovered alcoholic—is Erin Wyatt, a struggling actress he once had a fling with. Erin is now waiting tables at the city’s hottest eatery, City, owned by Loomy Tumin, a blindingly rich investor who has a thing for Erin and who’s going to be interviewed by Clayton for a Talk-esque magazine. Unlike many novels of New York, which try to eviscerate a particular subculture, Wenzel’s has an omnivorous, Tom Wolfe-ian appetite for the city at all levels and a rakish ability to sketch it all in howlingly funny, satirical ways. By the time it all comes to its explosive if somewhat hollow finish, though, Wenzel has probably bitten off more than he can chew and has to try too hard to bring the whole to its sort of upbeat conclusion.
Still: Perceptive and close to brilliant, when it’s not trying too hard to be funny.