The Short Version: Mike McGill, private eye, has some pretty terrible luck – coming across the weird wherever he goes. This attracts the attention of one heroin-addicted Chief of Staff to the President of the U.S. and sets him off on a journey across the seediest of underbellies of this country, in pursuit of a secret Constitution that may have special powers…
The Review: First things first: MacGuffin. It couldn’t have been any other way, I suppose – but it was sort of the least-disappointing of all possible outcomes. The idea of the counter-Constitution, with Invisible Amendments, is such a cool thing (and it’s even funnier that Nixon traded it away to pay for sex) – but we all have to realize that even a man as twistedly brilliant as Mr. Ellis couldn’t’ve actually illuminated the contents of such a document to any satisfactory end.
So, yeah, MacGuffin.
Now that that’s out of the way – what a crazy, messed-up, wonderful little book. Ellis, despite being an ornery Brit, plants his novel squarely in America, circa mid-Bush II 2.0. It’s a sort of bearded-Spock mirror to that other Brit-writer-does-American-road-trip novel. It doesn’t hold up as well as that book, but I’m also not sure it’s supposed to. See, the thing about this book is that it doesn’t pull any punches or give you much pretense for existing: it simply is and you can either get onboard or leave this behind. And I’ll bet there are plenty of people who left this book behind – it is not for the faint of heart. What starts with a super-rat pissing in a coffee cup quickly degenerates to Godzilla porn… and it just gets way, way crazier from there on out.
Actually, the scariest part of this book? The fact that all of these things are real, or at least based squarely in reality (I don’t think that hotel actually exists in Vegas, for example). Ellis illuminates this in the back of the book – all of these things are real and documentable. What begins as something sort of funny – “oh, ha ha, people have the WEIRDEST sexual fetishes” – quickly becomes downright disturbing, in a “turn your face away and breathe through your nose so you don’t lose it” kind of way. And while this is a work of fiction from the guy who brought us Transmetropolitan, which certainly doesn’t hold back in its description of odd sexual deviancy, I’m inclined to believe him when he says these things are real. That’s just how messed up our country is, I think.
Speaking of Transmet, this is a novel that seems to exist in the universe as that series, albeit many moons before. Maybe that just goes to show how prescient I find the comics to be – or maybe it’s just that good of a reflection of our times. The more I think about it, the more Honey Boo Boo seems like a Warren Ellis creation and not a real person – it’s that sort of writing, you know? It makes you look at the things occurring around you and really take a moment to evaluate just how messed up a) the world is but also b) you must be in order to exist within it. An early moment, when Mike goes outside after having been visited by the Chief of Staff and given the job, stuck with me: he sits down next to an apparently homeless girl on the street… who, as it turns out, may in fact be some kind of psychic/clairvoyant. When he realizes that he never gave her his name… that’s the point of no return, both for the reader and for Mike. When the weird brushes up against you often enough, you end up forced to look at it – and then we’re off to the races.
The book isn’t all doom and gloom and weird shit, though. I mean, it is – it’s almost entirely that – but it’s also pretty hilarious. He starts it early, pushing the right buttons for me with a hilarious The West Wing reference (that pays off later with a reference about Sorkin & Studio 60) – but then it keeps going. Mike is a typically wry anti-hero type and while nothing is all that surprising or new about what’s said, content-wise, it is all said with wit and panache that makes it feel fresh and fun. This ends up biting the book in the ass just a little bit, as things get a little too predictable just before the big showdown in LA – romantic issues between Mike and Trix that we all saw coming from a mile away and felt a little unnecessary, to be honest. It’s not to say that it was bad, it was just predictable and felt sort of rote, written in order to bolster the characters a bit more but without much real feeling for it.
Rating: 4 out of 5. Look, if you’re easily shocked – like, if Chuck Palahniuk shocks you – you probably want to steer clear of this novel (and really maybe all Warren Ellis writings). But if you’re willing to gag a bit at the thought of testicular saline injections (and a whole lot more that’s a whole lot worse), this is one hell of a novel. Nasty, brutish, and short – how very American of you, Mr. Ellis.
(Yes, I know that quote is Thomas Hobbes and not an American. Thanks, nerds. xoxo.)