To say that this novel goes nowhere and everywhere is merely to say that it’s by Mark Leyner, whose 1990 stream-of-consciousness novel My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist made him the darling of college-educated twentysomethings. Leyner’s latest describes an ego — the fictional Leyner’s — on the loose. ”Today I am the most intense, and in a certain sense, the most significant young prose writer in America,” he says, quoting from Larry McCaffery’s book-jacket endorsement of My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist. ”And I have the body of a grotesquely swollen steroid freak.”
Overwhelmed by celebrity after the success of his first novel, the fictional Leyner is a paranoid megalomaniac who snuffs out promising students in his writing workshops, obsesses about his muscles, and whiffs the ultimate drug (literally), Lincoln’s morning breath, which he steals from a museum in Washington, D.C.
Leyner’s crimes and their repercussions don’t so much advance a plot as propel his entertaining improvisations on subjects from ”Rhesus Pieces” (”bite-size chunks of rhesus monkey coated in granola and deep-fried”) to carpal tunnel syndrome caused by chronic masturbation. Though it’s not as poetic as My Cousin, Et Tu, Babe is a lot easier to follow and springs, uncharacteristically, from a seed of moral purpose: It mocks the currency of celebrity in America and mimics the fatuous behavior that inevitably results from it. But mostly it’s a romp through the data-choked landscape of Leyner’s delightfully twisted mind. A-