About Alexander Theroux: “Alexander Theroux is a writer who resists classification. His first book, Three Wogs (1972), is a triptych of novellas that examined the class and racial conflicts that occur between the archetypal Londoner and the inhabitants of the British Isles, the “wogs,” who are “not one of us.” This exceptional debut received a nomination for the National Book Award. Theroux’s second novel, Darconville’s Cat (1981), is widely considered his masterpiece. Anthony Burgess hailed it as one of the best 99 novels written in English since 1939. Darconville’s Cat is an exquisite novel of revenge and thwarted love. It too was nominated for a National Book Award. An Adultery (1987) is a detailed, fictional character study of the sin in question in a contemporary New England that still manages to evoke the echoes of its Puritanical past. Theroux has also published two widely regarded books of essays, The Primary Colors & The Secondary Colors (1994 & 1996), along with a collection of poems, The Lollipop Trollops & Other Poems (1992), as well as two monographs and several books of fables. Laura Warholic, or The Sexual Intellectual, published by Fantagraphics, [was] Theroux’s first novel in twenty years.” – Bookslut
******An artillery of trigger warnings.******
Just as one doesn’t read Theroux for a Patterson-patterned plot in lieu of the wonder of words, you shouldn’t read him if you make the perennially stupid mistake of confusing a character’s actions and beliefs with that of the author’s, nor if you read books in the facile hope of becoming besties with the characters. And at the apex of a current cult of outrage in this cuntry, the censorious-saurus rears its empty head to gnash at anything offensive, which is everything, so if you haven’t already noticed, beware that this review adopts the bellicosity of the novel in question.
The term ‘shaggy monster’ is often used for any novel above, say, 500 pages, yet if only one novel deserves the label, it’s Laura Warholic, for it boasts digressive soliloquies on venomous hatred and idealized love and vice versa, lists of sex facts, historical curiosities, unsavory characteristics, freaks and phonies, as well as poems, song lyrics, and even sheet music. Like Ulysses, high and low culture and everything in between is used. Though it does have some nagging pleonasm and repetition, this did not significantly affect my reading experience. The novel is also similar to Infinite Jest not only in its shagginess but also in its merciless indictment of that great oxymoron (emphasis on moron) known as ‘American culture.’ All of it ending with the echo of a Greek tragedy, not unlike that far slimmer, more soft-spoken novel, The Great Gatsby.
While Darconville’s Cat is the epitome of titillating verbosity, a lingual animus of animosity and amore and more, Laura Warholic is less so, yet it still maintains a consistent flow of delightful words, such as ipsissimus, feuilleton, xeriscape, gletz, chemotaxis, actirastic, ostinato, cachinnation, geosynclinals, eutectic, aposematically, and azoic.
Speaking of the Cat, it’s often said that revenge is a dish served cold and, as cold as it is, it also hasn’t gotten cold, as it were, in the fired-up mind of Theroux because about 20 years later we get a hilarious cameo, Darconville’s lost cat Isabel Rawsthorne, who womanifests in a lesbian club called the Sewing Circle no less, a place infinitely more freakish than the medusan music venues in modern vampire movies. Amid this raucous scene of big and small racks screaming on the rack: ‘“I’m an acomovulvate,” shouted fat-assed Isabel Rawsthorne, a wallop-thigh-sized middle-aged greyball going up to another woman who looked like a tin-cup chimp.’ Rawsthorne is only one among alien throngs, for we get multiple humorous lists of the mostly grotesque-sounding club-goers, such as “amazons, cowboy girls, berdaches, women in lumber-jackets, dime bull-dykes, inertinites, female mastodons, kickboxing bansheettes, tribadists, succobovaients, gynoids, sex sufists, dandle queers, sexual variety artists, female infonauts, exchromonians, tinjinkers, bold she-males, old boy actresses, lumber-mothers, algogenesolagniasts, gregomulcts, mammathigmomaniacs, asylum-seekers, nerdoïdes, two-fisted falsettists, ambiguas, half-and-half figures, neurosthenic seek-arrows,” and much more.
The Sexual Intellectual of the novel’s subordinate title is Vietnam War veteran and poly-hobbyist Eugene Eyestones, who writes a column that explores the many faces and facets of sex and love. Eyestones, or E2 as some of his acquaintances call him, has a gyneghost in his past and a gyneghost in his future, Snow and Rapunzel Wisht respectively. Snow was a Vietnamese lover Eyestones had had, a Utopian relationship in which arguments were nonexistent and he reminisces how “there were so many sounds that made so little sense in the silences of night, except their souls.” Conversely, Rapunzel, as her name would suggest, is the unrealized fairytale, the beautiful mirage who works at a bakery. Rhapsodizing upon Rapunzel, Eyestones admires her from afar, taking it to hyperromantic if stalkerish levels, though “an undevout astronomer is mad” too. Yet this pure and pulchritudinous icon turns into something of a Necronomicon near the novel’s end. Caught between these two, Eyestones’s worship is curbed by the warship USS Warholic, the war alcoholic who is the titular Laura, conducting her scurvied skirmishes with Eyestones by using the hole in her head, likewise with others when she isn’t using the hole between her legs.
Laura is the embodiment of moronic America: debauched, plastic, ugly, incurious, delusional, pitiful, hypocritical, historically amnesic, pridefully ignorant, someone who has “the courage of her contradictions” and “always managed to see a tunnel at the end of the light.” Her unintelligence, if not anti-intelligence, is exemplified in a multitude of ways, including the fact that “her trains of thought had no cabooses” and “she needed a recipe to make ice cubes,” and anytime Eyestones utters an allusion or a generally lucid remark, she perceives it as an attack on the silly citadel of her dullard duck mind. Unlike many McDonald’s-sponsored Americans, however, she is disturbingly thin, fatuously skinny, a characteristic that the novel almost becomes unhealthily obsessed with, yet even Eyestones is in constant disbelief at her musculature or lack thereof. Thus she is something of an inverse ascetic, empty of everything those hungerkünstlers usually strive and starve for.
One of the thematic questions is the reason why Eugene is ‘with her’ at all, because it’s not even for the base excuse of bathetic coitus, for even when he had transient thoughts about such transactions, it came with the condition of an AIDS test, which she refused out of an irrational fear that echoes Schrödinger’s, not Darconville’s, cat, as though medically opening her box of “bushy scrubbing-brush pubes” would unsnatch one or more fatal diseases—Pandora’s pussy.
Pity, then, is a prime candidate, because “her tears were running down his heart long after they had died in her eyes.” But it’s more complex than that. Eyestones concedes that she is a kind of mirror: “Strangely, Eyestones needed Laura to see himself, even if he willed what he did not wish for,” which is also connected to vicarious salvation: “Eugene badly wanted her to find her way simply because, if she did, it seemed to him he would be able to do the same for himself.” More bluntly, he also uses (and abuses?) her as an unwilling muse for his Sexual Intellectual column—she is provocative only in one lustless sense. Considering this fanged and newfangled entanglement, which even resulted in an extended and tortuous road trip of Americana κακά, “Love was an orphan in their midst.”
In his many musings upon his relationshit with Laura, his unrequited love of the sidereal Rapunzel, and the generalized whole, Eyestones thinks near the end of novel, “If Beauty was not Truth, let Truth be Beauty.” This allusion reminded me of Alaric Darconville’s solipsistically delivered lecture to his duncy students in which he expounds upon the penultimate line in John Keats’s pottery poem: “It’s a concio ad clerum: a sermon to the clergy, wherein the poet is attempting to cheer himself up—in a fit of unsteadfastness, say?—and is at the same time begging us to accept not only what we should but also that which, poor poet, he more than sufficiently allowed us without special pleading. The poet’s own voice has interrupted him. He is awakened by his own snore. The line, which I digressed to explain, is only a false bottom, collapsing an otherwise beautiful poem…” And perchance this illuminates Eyestones’s mindset at that point in the novel, in which the mirage of Rapunzel is repudiated in particular, revealed as impure if not outright impish and impudent.
On the sidelines of this tripartite hodgepodge of femme fatale and Fata Morgana is a moldy medley of misfits, many of whom are associated with the quack-magazine Quink: the farting snorting Minot Warholic, editor at large, literally (citing Webster’s Biographical Dictionary, Steven Moore, in his book Alexander Theroux, suggests the first name is pronounced “MY-nut”) and ex-husband of Laura; the erudite Discknickers horseblinded by his hate for Jews and his foolish fascism; the flamboyant and wrist-buoyant cinephile R. Bangs Chasuble, one of the few sympathetic characters; a sort of Tweedledee and Tweedledum set of misandrist dykes, Ann Marie Tubb and the WWE-sounding The Krauthammer; et al. As in Darconville’s Cat, Theroux can roast a character like the best of comedians and here he indiscriminately incriminates till all are crispier than cardiac-arresting KFC, though the protagonist does get off fairly easy, merely cooked to a golden brown by a later list of faults scribbled by Laura in her lifelong journal of panfurious slander, something that turns out to be a pocket mirror reflecting her own darkened soul.
And but so, as in life, the crows in Theroux’s work are loquacious. Whereas in Darconville’s Cat one squawks “actaeon! actaeon!” and evokes Chiron’s pupil, in Laura Warholic “a few blackbirds flew off the roof, cawing kafka, kafka,” at a mounting moment of tension, evoking that bureaucratic writer of Prague, and more specifically the third of five epigraphs: “The crows maintain that a single crow could destroy the heavens. Doubtless that is so, but it proves nothing against the heavens, for the heavens signify simply: the impossibility of crows.” Indeed, the heavens signify the impossibility of many phenomena, corvine or otherwise, according to this novel, including the sharing of dreams and symbiotic love.
There’s a 40-page “Controversial Essay” in Laura Warholic, written by Eugene Eyestones and serialized (to the uproar of ‘readers’) in Quink. When I sent Theroux an email expressing my supreme enjoyment of the essay and its epiphanic nature, he replied: “By the way, since Laura Warholic was published—and the reviews were scant—not a single person, reader or reviewer, fan or friend, has ever, not once, has ever mentioned or alluded to either the ‘The Controversial Essay’ or ‘Bored on the Fourth of July,’ making me feel as if I had never written either. You are the first to do so. My hat is off to you, George.”
And aside from Eugene and Laura’s relationschaden, this essay is truly the crown jewel of the novel, or perchance the gem in the hilt of Damocles’s sword which swings above their Franken-stitched heads. It opens with this sentence, “A creative woman is an oxymoron,” which turns out to be more provocative than thetical, for what he truly means, and later writes, is that “a creative woman is a tautology.” One could also argue that ‘oxymoron’ in this context is being used for its deeper etymological meaning, from the Greek, suggesting that the pairing of ‘creative’ and ‘woman’ is “pointedly foolish” for its redundancy, similar to the academic phrase “creative writing,” for all writing is inherently creative. So before you jump to conclusions, cartwheel to complaints, frontflip to offense, backflip to backtalk, I urge you to read the entire essay with an analytical mind rather than an emotional gut, and you’ll likely see how brilliant the thesis really is, as well as the myriad examples, even if one could nitpick the odd point or two.
And so yes, a creative woman is a tautology because by sustaining the human race through the virtuosity of pullulation, the literal making of life, women are the ultimate artists and don’t necessarily need to write a 1,000-page novel. It’s worth emphasizing that the essay insists women are capable of non-biological art and have created amazing works, adding that we should be in even more awe of this art because it was made in a struggle against, in defiance of, the genetic need for parturition, and this is where evolutionary psychology comes into play. One might inquire, Why is this defiance more potent than a man’s defiance of the genetic need for insemination? That is addressed here:
Men who have remained inexorably the fighters, knights, and warriors in history have been conditioned that way quite simply because men as a sex are disposable, dispensable, and quite depressingly unnecessary in their large numbers, whereas women have to be protected to keep the race going. Our planet can casually afford to lose men. Wars remind us of that, along with the male love of war: that achingly dumb, indefensible, and repeated compulsion to crow and to snarl, to challenge, to fight. It is the incubators alone that matter. A single male can literally inseminate a hundred, indeed a thousand women. Man as a member of the superfluous gender, just as much as he needs to be a creator, can freely afford to be one, can afford to feel the psychic freedom, that is, to conceptualize what he is, decide what he wants to make, needs to fashion, yearns to see, hopes to realize. A man who creates is nothing less than a man seeking to prove himself valuable, worthwhile, acceptable, but also validated.
Put succinctly, “Men create art in order to feel by some sort of psychic couvade what women feel in the birth of her child.” This notion helped put some questions I’ve always had into perspective, such as my gnawing need to write and fill my own ‘womb.’ Uncannily, when I finished my first novel after three years of gestation/delivery, I made a social media post with the humorous tone that is used to announce the birth of a baby, something like “weighing a healthy 310 pages,” etc. And of course the cliché has always been that a writer’s books are his or her children.
With that in mind, big books, predominantly written by men, are not necessarily the product of a “penis with a thesaurus” as some feminists would have it, not a macho flex. There’s Don Quixote, Against the Day, Solenoide, Moby–Dick (which should have been titled Moby–Womb), Midnight’s Children, News from the Empire, Anniversaries, Witz, The Manifold Destiny of Eddie Vegas, Underworld, Terra Nostra, Ulysses, Zettel’s Traum, 2666, Infinite Jest(ation), Wizard of the Crow, Los sorias, Jerusalem, The Recognitions, A Suitable Boy, Women and Men (notice the primacy of the feminine, an inversion of the usual phrase, unlike War and Peace), Giochi dell’eternità, my second novel, Morphological Echoes, when it’s finally delivered, and, a point around the point—matryoshka metaphysicality—the novel under review. Some of these books have very long gestation periods indeed, a well-nigh lifelong pregnancy compared to 9 months, such as the 30 years it took William H. Gass to write The Tunnel (a telling title, no?) or about the same amount of time for Harold Brodkey’s The Runaway Soul. These are all attempts to fill that metaphorical womb with a creation as meaningful as life itself—in comparison, they are failures, naturally, but many if not all of them reflect that ever-flowing love of life and birth, suffused as they are with élan vital.
The predictive capability of Eyestones’s theory would suggest that, more often than not, a great female artist would tend to be childless, having defied her biological superpower for writing or sculpting or painting, etc. The essay offers a wide range of examples but one that came to my mind was Marguerite Young’s artistically pure if hyper-redundant Miss Macintosh, My Darling, a darling child of paper and ink that took almost 20 years to gestate, finally delivered weighing a whopping 1,200 pages. Did society celebrate this filling of the metaphorical womb in lieu of the physical womb? Some people, yes, but others not so much, and today the novel has precious few readers. In an article for the Paris Review, Meghan O’Gieblyn wrote, “Young acknowledged that her most brutal reviews came from male critics who blamed the length of the novel—or perhaps its very existence—on the fact that she was childless and had too much time on her hands. She sums up the tenor of these reviews in a 1988 interview: ‘If she had gotten married she never would have done this.’” While such disgusting patriarchal comments, and cultural pressure in general, do contribute to a lack of big novels by women, for instance, these factors are probably outweighed by the biological impulse, which is a good thing insofar as none of us would be here without that evolutionary need.
Another thought-provoking essay in the novel is titled “Bored on the Fourth of July” and takes on that American sacred cow: democracy. People often think in a binary way, like the most primitive computers: Republican or Democrat, Democracy or Communism, ad infinitum. As Carl Sagan wrote in Cosmos, “No nation, no religion, no economic system, no body of knowledge, is likely to have all the answers for our survival. There must be many social systems that would work far better than any now in existence. In the scientific tradition, our task is to find them.” While “Bored on the Fourth of July” spends little time offering an alternative, it at least provides some prodigious seeds for disabusing us of our monomania for democracy. Although the essay must be read in full, here is something that approaches a summary: “There is less kinship than antagonism between stability and progress, and in the strange and irreconcilable tension faced by the framers in trying to forge a democratic constitution upon both resides the burden the country faces today. In Emerson’s words, ‘Each a good half but an impossible whole.’ It is all of it a dilemma rich in possibilities, also in contradictions.”
The essay doesn’t allow us to retreat into the fog-comfort of historical amnesia, revealing at least a portion of the gloomy glacier beneath: “America stole a quarter of its land from Mexico, passed a Chinese Exclusion Act, wantonly exterminated the native population, confiscated its land, then humiliatingly rounded up and impounded the one percent who were left and penned them up on bleak and remote reservations in some of the most desolate places imaginable, all the while preventing the entire black population—four million Africans in chains ruled by 375,000 slave-owners—from anything like an education for four hundred years. What of their representation? Any of them?” Of course, this was written before we were graced with the social victory of a Black president but that was met with backlash from the coprobrained bracken.
As Duxbak, Eyestones’s only true friend and one of the few sympathetic characters, says, “It is a sentimental religion today to stay ignorant.” And those European mutants known as Americans, like most people on the planet, are zealots of this religion, producing an iron ingot of irony considering how much knowledge is available with only a few taps on the ‘smart’ phone. The most widespread and eternal pandemic is that of stupidity.
Since the publication of Infinite Jest (1996) and Laura Warholic (2007), not to mention Coover’s The Public Burning (1977), it has only gotten worse here in Amerika, where the Pez-ident, with shrunken puppet hands directly proportionate to his Planck-length penis, is a crowned clown in the shapeless shape of pellucid feces, topped on the hollow head with the cotton candy hairs from a ginger’s cunt, his witchy fish lips of a corpse-flower-breathed mouth only capable of baby talk, the drooling googoos that make his gang of goons go gaga for garroting and guillotining immigrants and colored guys and all gynos. A presi-dunce so visually, mentally, and verbally grotesque that he almost makes the concept of political correctness attractive. Now rise from your seat, grab a woman by the pussy, and recite the altered and ever-relevant pledge of allegiance that Eyestones thinks up: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, […] and to the dim subjects for which it stands, on vacation, while we plod, almost risible, with liberty and justice for sale.”
Now, are you wondering what a couple of the crippled critics thought of all this (although ‘thought’ is too generous a word)?
Jeff Undersmear essentially complained that the novel had no redemption, forgetting that the Sexual Intellectual isn’t Dear Abby. Perhaps his own lack of self-redemption caused him to condemn the novel as mirror, when in fact he missed the point, for the novel is utterly suffused with banquet upon banquet of thought, there for any willing and voracious mind to digest, rather than be spoonfed some feel-good happily ever after, like the puppy who yearns for a tummy rub and thus exposes his diminutive endowment, the red lipstick small enough for a snail’s mouth. Simply put, the best writers pose and explore questions, the worst ones answer them.
Then there’s David “The Yahoo” Bowleggedman, who, at the expense of nearly 900 pages of philosophical and anthropological implication, focuses with his strabismic eyes on what he deems are character flaws in Alexander Theroux, thus The Yahoo proves himself to be a professional critic (or neck tic-cricked prefussional, to be more precise) who made at least one of the amateur mistakes listed at the beginning of this review. ‘Tis a pity….
The external mishandling of the novel reflects the internal and vice versa, for there are around 200 typos throughout the tome, many of them quite glaring. Moore explains in Alexander Theroux that these typos occurred after he had bowed out as gratis copyeditor of the project, leaving to the Fantagraphics team the task of including Theroux’s further additions. Whatever the explanations for publishing a book in this condition, the typos turned out to be a consistent reminder that this novel was and continues to be neglected by the ‘literary community’ in just about every way.
No redemption? Too much of a viper’s vituperation? As William H. Gass mentioned, he would read the darkness of Beckett and feel paradoxical euphoria: “Tell me how bad it is again!” For all the cynicism, perceived or actual in Laura Warholic, this is art written with a love for language and life, as I mentioned in my review of Darconville’s Cat, “Theroux has an almost maniacal lust for life that cannot be manacled even as Darconville loathes much of what can be seen in his fellow humans, but perhaps the loather is more in tune with what human beings are capable of feeling seeing doing and thus regresses emotionally or reacts negatively in response to the omnipresent primitive and dull,” and such an observation is reinforced by this passage from Laura Warholic: “In a sense, Eyestones’s pessimism arose from a true idealism, a deep-seated yearning for a better order, a wish to find perfection in the chaotic facts of reality, an impulse that stood and stands behind much art,” including, of course, the art Theroux provides us.
Editor’s note: The aim of Invisible Books is to shine a light on wrongly neglected and forgotten books and their authors. To help bring more attention to these works of art, please share this article on social media. Also, check out Chris Via’s Leaf by Leaf review video here.
George Salis is the author of Sea Above, Sun Below (River Boat Books). His fiction is featured in The Dark, Black Dandy, Zizzle Literary Magazine, The Sunlight Press, Unreal Magazine, and elsewhere. His criticism has appeared in Isacoustic, Atticus Review, and The Tishman Review, and his science article on the mechanics of natural evil was featured in Skeptic. He is currently working on an encyclopedic novel titled Morphological Echoes. He has taught in Bulgaria, China, and Poland. Find him on Facebook, Goodreads, Instagram (@george.salis), and at www.GeorgeSalis.com.