There’s something to offend everybody and entertain many in this engagingly subversive novel from the resolutely quirky author (Ambivalent Zen, 1996, etc.).
In a bizarre near-future narrative accompanied by dozens of faux-scholarly footnotes, critically acclaimed author Walker Linchak (best known for his series “The Completes” —e.g., The Complete Book of 9/11) describes the experience that makes him a cultural icon. Awakening one morning, he discovers that a substantial crust has materialized inside his right nostril. Thus is a new search for information and meaning initiated, as Walker—like Kafka’s Gregor Samsa, adjusting to insecthood—undertakes to analyze the phenomenology of Nasalism: i.e., nose-picking. Both Walker’s accomplished wife Sara and his brother Mickey (a condescending psychoanalyst) assume he’s nuts. Yet the world of cyberspace opens its virtual arms to Walker’s musings about a habit that’s lauded as principled self-exploration and ridiculed as masturbatory. Our author’s “nasal blogs” stimulate widespread interest and enviable fame. Sara’s hesitant adoption of the practice becomes surprisingly sexually arousing. And Walker’s former Yale roommate, unemployed President George W. Bush, becomes an enthusiastic acolyte, appearing on Larry King Live and emotionally endorsing a “bad habit” now being recognized as a candid admission of the human need to relax, do what feels good and not feel bad about it. It’s difficult to imagine a satisfactory resolution for this defiantly eccentric fiction’s dippy premise, and Shainberg settles for a flatly unconvincing open ending. Still, the poker-faced parodies of scientific methodology and Internet self-importance are fun (it’s about time somebody lampooned Wikipedia), and it’s oddly ingratiating to hear soon-to-be-ex-President Bush enumerating his own failings rather than leaving the job to amateurs of all persuasions.
Somewhat limp and intermittently exceedingly arch. But a case can be made for listing the book among the most amusing fiction picks for fall.