Jillette socks it to readers
Kevin Wood Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer
By Penn Jillette
St. Martin's Griffin
228 pp, 12.95 dollars
From the first page, Sock pulls no punches. While some books seduce the reader with sweet prose and others entice with promises of a clever plot, Sock grabs you by the shirtfront, headbutts you in the face and throws you in the trunk of a stolen car before speeding off with the cops in hot pursuit.
First-time novelist Penn Jillette, better known for his inspired rants and carny barker spiels as "the larger, louder half" of comedy-magic duo of Penn & Teller, does not merely deconstruct the murder mystery, he pulls it inside out.
Sock has most of the standard elements of the genre--a big tough New York cop and his buddy breaking the rules to hunt a serial killer who murdered the woman he loves--but eviscerates the cliches. The tough cop is referred to as The Little Fool and is a sensitive, teetotaling, possibly bisexual police diver who gets pedicures from his buddy, a gay hairdresser, and gets fired for breaking the rules. The murdered woman was enthusiastically lapdancing her way through law school. And the narrator is a stuffed animal the hero has had since childhood.
Dickie the sock monkey is to Winnie the Pooh what William Burroughs is to A.A. Milne. A work sock stuffed with nylon stockings with the buttons off a gambler's sharkskin suit for eyes, Dickie is "the baddest wammerjammer monkey."
"Hustlers eyes, lumberjack skin, the heart of woman's legs and a grandmother's spoiling love. I got it all baby. I got it all, my little baby boy. Drool on me. Grab me. Carry me. Rip me apart. I'm a bad monkey."
Penn Jillette writes the same way he speaks on stage; with manic intensity. Sock has the energy of On The Road, the poetical outrage of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and the rhythm and animal sexiness of Mick Jagger circa 1972. He is wholly unpredictable, digressing into philosophical riffs on faith, sex, Ed Wood, death, Charles Darwin, strip clubs, grief, friendship, privacy and other topics too numerous to list.
Dickie is the Muhammad Ali of postmodern narrators, floating like a butterfly above the usual literary conventions and stinging like a bee with rapid-fire wisecracks. Virtually every paragraph ends with a line from a song, movie or some other cultural catchphrase. Dickie is a sock monkey who doesn't fear the reaper and loves the smell of napalm in the morning.
This is not a book for the faint of heart or the easily offended. Dickie is a delightfully, inventively foul-mouthed monkey and decidedly politically incorrect. Jillette has nothing but disdain for prudery of any sort and Sock is liberally laced with meditations on sex, some of them less philosophical than others.
Jillette plays with the medium as well as the message, injecting a few little doses of metafiction, occasional side stories, authorial asides, and a brief shift in narrative point of view.
Jillette's dark humor and flashy in-your-face stylistic bobbing and weaving mask a deep and often beautiful novel that takes on the big questions of the meaning of life and death without hedging.
Penn & Teller first hit the big time by confronting and criticizing what they refer to as fake magic. They constantly poked fun at the rabbit-from-a-hat, endless-rope-of-silk-scarves crowd and committed the cardinal sin of telling the audience how tricks were done.
Jillette shows the same sensibilities here. This book deals not with an imaginary action movie world, but with the real world. It farts and scratches itself and gets hungry, horny and tired. His characters screw up and suffer for it. The Little Fool teeters on the brink of a total nervous breakdown, gets fired for breaking the rules at work and for all his heroic qualities, exhibits the same moral and emotional weaknesses we all do at times.
The Little Fool wrestles with love, grief, Pascal's wager and the notion of faith in a very human way and makes a firm, unambiguous decision on the dangers posed by faith in imaginary friends.
In part an atheist manifesto and antihypocrisy screed, Jillette never gets annoyingly preachy or earnest, but constantly entertains, enthralls and challenges the reader.
Copyright 2004 The Yomiuri Shimbun
"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"
Sunday, September 26, 2004
Jillette socks it to readers