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Roland Barthes and Marshall McLuhan; the politi- cal and existential dimensions of Jean-Paul Sartre; and, above all, the verbal exactitude of Nabokov— a precision that calls for a background in the sci- ences that cannot be faked, and isn’t. The novel is also unmistakably the work of its author, not only because his collective influences are distilled in such a unique way and measure, but because the book’s characters and subject matter resonate with characters and situations put forth in his films. There are echoes here of the mutual dependency of the Mantle twins in DEAD RINGERS, the “insect politics” of THE FLY, and the bodily mutations of VIDEODROME, and there is a prevailing sensibility of reveling in luxuriance that points all the way back to the gracious living offered by the Starliner Tow- ers of SHIVERS, his first feature film. Whereas his early work pointed to such comforts with a jaun- diced eye, this book revels in materialism; it often reads like the contents of a Hollywood award show swag bag annotated as though they were the rarest lepidoptera. CONSUMED is about two photo-journalists— Naomi Seberg and Nathan Math—a sexually en- gaged, if not particularly romantic, couple who find themselves absorbed into self-motivated projects (not really assignments) which take them in oppo- site directions around the globe (Naomi to France and Tokyo, Nathan to Budapest and Toronto), re- quiring them to sustain their relationship through personal electronic devices. The more they chase their respective stories, the more they download, the more sexually involved they become with their subjects and the knowing personal assistants who must grant them access, the more consumed they become in (and by) their discoveries—and the more their separate stories begin to expose and unravel cer- tain subterranean connections, the more aware the reader becomes that the two N’s are bound toward one another on an unsuspected collision course. Naomi’s story is an investigation into the ap- parent murder and cannibalization of Célestine Arosteguy, the female half of a telegenic team of Marxist philosophers, by her now-missing husband and partner, Aristede. Nathan’s contraction of an obscure STD from a terminally ill interviewee (in some ways, the most alive of the novel’s numerous characters) inspires him to shoot up to Toronto to profile the doctor for whom the STD is named, as part of a speculative article about doctors whose names became synonymous with devastating dis- ease. One often wonders from where all the money funding these two freelancers is coming, as they seldom seem very far from luxury (partly expressed in a ceaseless torrent of high end electronics brand


names and numbers) or their next air ticket. Where their bifurcated but esoterically conjoined adven- ture ultimately leads is to a crime that perhaps wasn’t a cannibal academic’s flesh-eating murder, but something nevertheless Thomas Harris-like: a technologically encouraged expression of love, ab- stractly reconsidered as an act of surgical modifi- cation—something at once so whimsical as to suggest a piece of Marcel Duchamp’s Dadaistic conceptual art, powerful enough to thread a com- plex network of people and parties on several conti- nents, and so extreme as to apparently close the door on one’s old life and open the door to some- thing, someplace, as yet denied to our knowing. One of these destinations involves discoveries made through the use of an experimental ear implant that opens entirely new channels of hearing options, but whether or not the novel’s varied roads of excess lead to a palace of wisdom is best left to the reader’s subjective experience.


Without spoiling anything, I can tell you that


CONSUMED concludes with a reminder that noth- ing may be real and not all that is real is trustwor- thy. How one feels about the novel as a whole will likely depend on whether or not you already knew this much about life, as it exists outside the book, but it should be particularly apparent when so much fetishistic attention is paid to the surface of things rather than to their underlying substance. The first half of the novel is exciting and rather masterful, written with a great sense of purpose and momen- tum; the second half unfolds more laboriously with an abrupt, sustained shift to First Person and a lot of involuted vamping that keeps layering it on with- out anywhere to go but the final page. Even if we were informed that the story was to continue in a second novel, we would have to ask ourselves if the pleasures of CONSUMED—the enjoyment of its style, its confectionery assortments of weird character names and places, its bugfuck erotic passages— were enough compensation for having to burrow through so much noise of detail. In his 2001 book HOW TO READ AND WHY, Harold Bloom defended the continuing relevance of the Bard by observing that no writer had yet suc- ceeded in becoming post-Shakespearean. When I mentioned this to an acquaintance, he plausibly responded, “J.G. Ballard?” With Ballard in mind as a measure of literary evolution or innovation, one can’t quite make the claim that CONSUMED is post- Shakespearean (the plot is partly motivated by sexual jealousy), which may suggest that it’s not quite as progressive or experimental a work of fiction as its medium cool, materialist surface may propose. Fre- quently while reading it, I found myself thinking that


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