Avant-garde scenesters subject a square billionaire to cultural readjustment in this raucous debut satire.
In despair, Larry Frommer and his buddy Hank, two down-on-their-luck performance artists in San Francisco’s seedy Tenderloin neighborhood, resort to jobs at soulless computer company SI, where they labor in a cubicle gulag and stage subversive pranks like overflowing the men’s room toilet. When that goes south, the duo mount their most audacious piece yet: abducting Bill Gates–ian software mogul Bill Kunstler and transforming him into a “performance art machine” in much the same way he has molded legions of programmers into workaholic nerds. Their improbable but entertainingly choreographed caper goes smoothly, and Bill, held naked and helpless in a filthy cage in Larry’s apartment, undergoes a sadistic makeover as he’s kept in darkness, subjected to deafening yoga records and brainwashed with theater jargon: “NOW EXPAND IT! ABSTRACT! MOVE YOUR BODY!” The reprogramming, depicted in bloody, scatological and rather disturbing detail, succeeds all too well, and Bill blossoms into a mystical performance savant who soon has Larry and Hank once again dancing to his tune. Larry and Hank’s picaresque adventures lampoon many deserving subcultures, from the scurvy geekdom of Silicon Valley to performance art itself, which comes off as a quagmire of turgid pretention and straw-grabbing sensationalism. “HARK! TARRY! I SUBORDINATE YOUR TEXTUAL DADDY IN MY TWO-FOLD SOLIPSISTIC VAT,” intones one artiste as she bites into a formaldehyde-preserved toad. Wichmann takes aim at these overripe targets with whip-smart prose and a fertile, scabrous comic imagination that feels a bit like a mashup of Rain Man (1988) and Fight Club (1999). Yet there doesn’t seem to be much effort put into shaping or pacing the narrative other than to pile on more craziness until the proceedings implode. As scenes of gross-out excess drag on, the novel starts to feel as exhausting as one of the haphazard performance pieces it parodies.
An entertaining but overstuffed send-up that sometimes bogs down in provocations.