PROCESSED CHEESE by Stephen Wright
Kirkus Star


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Wright (The Amalgamation Polka, 2006, etc.) holds up a fun-house mirror to our money-obsessed society—and, after a while, the distorted reflection grows uncomfortably close to real life.

It’s one of the oldest and most persistent hypotheticals haunting our collective dream life: Suppose a big bag of money drops from the sky right in front of you and there’s nobody around to claim it. Such is the astonishing, intoxicating situation facing Graveyard, an economically challenged resident of Mammoth City, the grandest metropolis in an alternate-universe America. He and his wife, Ambience, are literally rolling in their fat new pile of fresh dough, unaware that the bag belongs to MisterMenu, a master of the universe inhabiting a luxury penthouse in the 52-story Eyedropper Building with his jaded, aggrieved ex-supermodel wife, MissusMenu, who, in a fit of pique, threw the bag at him and watched it sail “over the parapet” and “into the anonymous city.” As MisterMenu contrives with dark forces to retrieve his lost sack, its seemingly inexhaustible contents are being heedlessly, giddily flung all over town by Graveyard and Ambience. The happy couple begins their spending spree by “refurbish[ing] their dilapidated lives with product purchased almost exclusively in the TooGoodForYou District.” That clause alone exemplifies some of the dry wit served by Wright, whose deconstruction of American myths using page-turning narrative and unsettling imagery was previously displayed in such novels as Going Native (1994). Even as his characters’ indulgence in empty pleasures becomes ickier, riskier, and more life threatening, Wright sustains a vision that comes across like an updated “Thimble Theater” comic strip from the 1930s juiced with the free-wheeling, whacked-out comedy of a vintage 1970s Firesign Theater LP. The book’s unending stream of uproarious faux brand names—such as StandUpAndCheer, DominationDonuts, the Gibe & Cloister 418 firearm, and WalleyedMonks Champagne—doesn’t distract from the ferocious and mostly effective assault on our own world’s obsession with getting, spending, and having, whether it’s sex, drugs, guns, cars, clothes, appliances, or shelter.

This dark, harrowing, and wildly funny novel somehow both challenges and affirms that tried-and-true adage: Money isn’t everything.

Pub Date: Jan. 21st, 2020
ISBN: 978-0-316-04337-3
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Little, Brown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 2019


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