When is it time to stop reading a novel? And why do I feel so guilty about it?
I decided today to go no further in Mark Leyner’s The Sugar Frosted Nutsack. Was it bad? No, it was quite entertaining? Was it difficult? No, not in the way say Joyce’s Finnegans Wake or DFW’s Infinite Jest is difficult.
To be truthful, it is simply a tiring read.
The title refers to poor Ike Karton, the “nutbag” as he is called in his neighborhood in Jersey City, New Jersey. Here is his introduction (35 pages in):
“What subculture is evinced by Ike‘s clothes and his shtick, by the non-Semitic contours of his nose and his dick, by the feral fatalism of all his looney tics–like the petit-mal fluttering of his long-lashed lids and the Mussolini torticollis of his Schick-nicked neck, and the staring and the glaring and the daring and the hectoring, and the tapping on the table with his aluminum wedding ring, as he hums those tunes from his childhood albums and, after a spasm of Keith Moon air-drums, returns to his lewd mandala of Italian breadcrumbs?
So begins the story of Ike Karton, a story variously called throughout history Ike‘s Agony, T.G.I.F. (Ten Gods I’d Fuck), and The Sugar Frosted Nutsack. This is a story that’s been told, how many times? –over and over and over again, …”
Ike is a believer in a pantheon of Gods who have played havoc with the universe for billions of years. Earlier we learn that
The Sugar Frosted Nutsack is the story of a man, a mortal, an unemployed butcher, in fact, who lives in Jersey City, New Jersey, in a two-story brick house that is approximately twenty feet tall. This man is the hero IKE KARTON. The epic ends with Ike’s violent death. If only Ike had used for his defense “silence, exile, and cunning.” But that isn’t Ike. Ike is the Warlord of his Stoop. Ike is a man who is “singled out.” A man marked by fate. A man of Gods, attuned to the Gods. A man anathematized by his neighbors. A man beloved by La Felina and Fast-Cooking Ali, and a man whose mind is ineradicably inscribed by XOXO. [these are the names of gods we've already met]. Ike’s brain is riddled with the tiny, meticulous longhand of the mind-fucking God XOXO, whose very name bespeaks life’s irreconcilable conntradictions, symbolizing both love (hugs and kisses) and war (the diagramming of football plays).
Are you tired yet? I am…(but I have such a developed sense of guilt that I will probably return to it before the evening’s out.)
The novel begins with the beginnings of the universe. This gaggle of gods arrive on a school-bus, blaring the Mister Softee jingle, like a bunch of college students “Gone Wild” on spring break. Like the gods of other mythologies, they are petty and mischievous and promiscuous and quite often harmful to humanity. Now, they are living in the tallest (and most opulent) building in the world (now they are in Dubai, but they have had to move several times as humans keep building taller buildings.) Bored and propelled by their own machinations and relations they have become obsessed with Ike Kantor.
The novel plays with meta-fiction to a large degree. A sentence is repeated. Then the sentence that makes the repetition is repeated again including the original sentence. And again. And again. It is tiring…and soon loses its cleverness.
But the book is not the theme of this post; it is is the decision to give up on one. Why do some people (myself to be sure) feel a sense of obligation to finish a book once he or she has begun it? Is it financial, in that you’ve invested fifteen bucks in a book you might as well get your money’s worth? I don’t think so.
Is it something that happened to us when we were school children? Are we afraid that the nuns, headmasters, schoolmarms are going to rap our knuckles with a ruler for not completing our assignment?
Or is it respect for the artist? Do we feel the need to stick with something, to see where it leads to, out of respect and admiration for the writer’s work?
I don’t know.
But I have a day and half free–so I’ll probably end up finishing it anyway.