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Laura Warholic: Or, The Sexual Intellectual…
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Laura Warholic: Or, The Sexual Intellectual (2007)

by Alexander Theroux

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125596,356 (3.3)63
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  1. 00
    Hadrian the Seventh by Frederick Rolfe (slickdpdx)
    slickdpdx: Both are stories of embittered artists redeemed, told by authors who love language and the esoteric.
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When the very first thing your book does is kick in with a thinly fictionalized analogue/pissy defence of the time you called the black men who raped a woman in Central Park "monkeys" and then pretended not to understand why everyone thought this was racist of you and here it is ten years later and you're still feeling all aggrieved over it, it's not a good sign. Especially not when the vicious racist that you're setting up as something very close to a fictional you (though see below) cannot manage to see himself as such or see why his attitudes toward women (they are all dirty and damaged, except for the ones who are angels who will save him and pure as the driven snow--he literally used to date a woman named Snow, until she melted) are so repulsive or see why he can't live a life. He thinks of himself as "the man with the faraway eyes," but his name is Eugene Eyestones, and the blinkeredness that implies, the way that leavens the author's misanthropy with a dollop of self-disgust at not being able to be different than he is, helps you take a deep breath and trust that he's going somewhere and keep reading, even when the next four hundred pages are nothing but racist screeds from a cast of sundry screaming ids brought to life with names like Discknickers (I kept reading "Dicksnickers") and Krauthammer and Micepockets.

With the amount of time I wasted on those four hundred pages--Theroux refused to have a copyeditor sully his work, so there are constant, and I mean constant, repetitions of whole snippets of dialogue and embarrassing typoes and blatant factual errors (and Theroux with his resentment and ego, possibly traceable back to the fact that his brother is the more popular novelist Paul Theroux, would no doubt try to pawn them off like a tinpot Joyce, as intentional, as something that will keep the professors busy for years), and it gets you down and in a hurry. Some blogger said there was a 700-page masterpiece hidden in this 900-page shitshow--I'll grant Theroux a 250-page stirring double portrait, but not more than that. Luckily, he starts to properly fill out the other half of the helix just as you're fed up to here with the clueless raging (one of the most perceptive comments on the book I've seen was by my LibraryThing friend Slick, who said something along the lines that this would have been a decent slab at seventies/eighties sleaze had it come out in, yeah, Street Hassle 1978 and not Hot Chip 2007), just as you're prepared to toss this brick in the air (but not too high, lest it come down and kill a kid--I think this is literally the heaviest book on my shelf) and write it off with a review like "Longer is not better" or "If you cant say anything nice ..." or "This made my life worse."

But the other half of the helix. Is Laura Warholic (the trick in the title is that the "Sexual Intellectual," retch, is Eyestones, not her), who is something like 35 (it doesn't add up, because to Theroux there are two generations, people who were in Nam like him and Eugene and lesser people who are young but also in their thirties but also should be in their forties if you do the math but are also referred to as Generation X and "slackers" but also use the most moronic version of teen slang you ever. I think he did it just to hurt me. Especially "klub kids." Long and the short of it is for Theroux--who is Eyestones, despite his efforts to maintain a majestic distance--time passed as normal until 1975, and then everything happened at once from disco to the Internet but we still are all men in our fifties who act like men in our hundred-and-twenties, absurd admixtures of every type of stereotype that doesn't exist anymore. You imagine him penning a particularly delightful bit of Yiddish/Nazi constant-shouting vaudeville duo--what? or gayhate and then going "Yes, Lexy, you've still got it, my man." The only people in this book I respect are the lesbians, because they had the perspicacity to realize they were in an Alexander Theroux novel and rebel by embracing it, just dialing the repulsive nonsense up to 11, caricaturizing their master).

Oh God! I forgot! All the black people are crack addicts except one sassy Caribbean sweetheart who wants to fuck Eyestones but can't cos she too dirty and one of them is actually called "Jamm the Wesort." I just don't even know where to start with this shit.

Aw, fuck this review, man. This book made me feel sour and small and tired. All the characters are the same, rant on max, except for Eyestones and Laura Warholic, whose bad dad gave her a sad and who is gangly and unperfumed and disaffected and therefore must die. They go on a road trip in the middle and are both so unmitigatedly awful that you're like "oh yeah, there's a bit on nuance here." That's right--"unmitigatedly awful" is what passes for nuance. I.e., the nuance is just that it's both Eyestones and Laura that are basically bullshit. Then it's four hundred more pages of rants, then some violent death, then it's over. And the only thing Theroux could find to praise about his own awful book was that the chapter full of factoids he looked up on the internet is full of life. Actually, he harangued the interviewer with it: "Did you like that part? Even a little? If you couldn't find something to like there you're dead inside!" And it was so pathetic and sad and he ended up calling the book a "total attack on mediocrity," which is just.

This book was petulant and bullying. It's like A Confederacy of Dunces if it wasn't a parody. It did make my life worse. I feel used by Theroux, like sometimes you somehow end up having to swallow your tongue at the guy who hates homeless people or the Chinese because he's, like, the bride's dad. It's not the worst book I've ever read; if you accept the premise that people=shit, it does an intermittently okay job at vividly sketching out what that would look like. But It is among the worst, and certainly the most dispiriting. ( )
4 vote MeditationesMartini | Jan 19, 2012 |
At its heights, Warholic is brilliant, fun and thought-provoking. There can be a razor sharp edge between a misanthropist and a person who is able to appreciate even those things that are most unlikable about us. That second type of person is the opposite of the misanthropist. I suggest that A. Theroux is among the second type. He relishes even the most unlikable people, at their worst. Unfortunately, that portrayal of unlikable people at their worst, and the fact that the novel is at points poorly copy-edited, will turn off many readers. Theroux also has, in this novel, a problem writing sufficiently distinct voices. The similarity of many of the characters' names only aggravates that problem.

I look at this novel like an infernal engine; throwing off sparks, but also fumes. Disappointing, but worth your time if you are looking for something really different or you are already a fan of A. Theroux. I regard Warholic as a must read if you liked Darconville's Cat. In many respects, its a bookend and a response. ( )
3 vote slickdpdx | Jan 14, 2012 |
A colossal display of inaccurate information, artistic ineptitude and novelistic incompetence. Quite dreadful. ( )
3 vote tomcatMurr | Dec 21, 2011 |
Currently reading, and will be for some time, as my edition clocks in at 748? pgs. or so. Not sure what the extra 150 pages could possibly add. Picked the book up just for the sheer volume of it, taken in by the superficial madness of 748 pgs. in today's publishing climate. Hope there is some real madness/genius to back it up.
  paperhouses | Jun 12, 2011 |
Caveat: Pour yourself a nice steaming cup of tea. Get settled. This review is not going to end anytime soon.

Laura Warholic or, The Sexual Intellectual - a novel by Alexander Theroux - is NOT merely a book. It's an obelisk. There exists another like it, maybe, on the moon, and another, maybe, on the far side of Jupiter. It is The Monolith from Kubrick's 2001 A Space Odyssey. Approach it and you'll hear a strange buzz. Become agitated. Jump about. Screech. Throw jawbones at it. Touch it. Grow reverential. Fall into a swoon. And awake, no longer an ape.... possibly. Possibly...

Or you may set out boldly, chanting to yourself like a boot camp recruit: "Hup, two, three, four" ..."Fifty books this year?" "Never fear." "This is just - one more!" And after few hundred pages - let's say, two weeks later - you may find yourself disgusted, arms weary, psyche muddied, in complete agreement with the reviewer who described the 878 page novel as "the Moby Dick of misanthropy".

I recommend you persevere. But begin by coming prepared. Purchase THREE (3) copies of the novel. One new, and two used. And stop by Lowe's while you're out, and pick up a fat Exacto knife, with an extra 5 pack of blades.

The new copy is for your coffee table. It will impress guests by its sheer size, thicker than a Webster's dictionary. The paper jacket features a lovely portrait of Evelyn Nesbit, the original Gibson Girl. I could gaze at it for hours. You might want to read the Wiki on Evelyn. Rather than discuss Laura Warholic over lattes and Danish, discuss Evelyn Nesbit instead. They are psychic sisters, as you will come to see.

The first of the used copies is for your daily commute. Or lunch hour. Or the time you spend waiting in the line at the unemployment agency. That's where the Exacto knife comes in. Slice the book up, chapter by chapter, and keep a stapled, or similarly bound, chapter with you wherever you go. No one could possibly be expected to carry around three and half pounds of novel. Or barrel through it at 500 words per minute.

One of the characteristics of Theroux's maximalist style is that he digresses - a lot. Entire chapters of Laura, and Darconville's Cat (his earlier masterpiece) can be read as standalone essays or encyclopedic compendiums. Chapter XII, for example, entitled The Controversial Essay, is a forty page Swiftian satire, a tongue in cheek rumination on whether women might not be as creative as men - the thesis being that a woman's biologic needs channel the plupart of her creativity into child rearing. Ouch! Talk about wearing a "Hit Me!" T-shirt to a N.O.W convention. Chapter XXXIII, entitled "What in Love or Sex Is Not Odd?" could, with a few choice illustrations, easily outsell Laura if extracted from the novel and marketed separately. It contains factoid after factoid about love and sex. Some ironic. Some amazing. Some baffling. "Mistletoe, the symbol of love, is poisonous." Aristotle Onassis, the world's richest man, used to love to lick the area between womens' toes, like a cat." "Chimpanzees french kiss." And so on, and so on.

The second of the used copies is for your amusement. Chop it up in little pieces. Sections, even merely paragraphs, of Laura can be used to create Temporary Autonomous Zones (see T.A.Z. wiki), that is to say, for creative anarchical purposes, or simply put, to raise hell. Call up Rush Limbaugh, or any shock jock, for example, and bring up ideas from Chapter XXX, "Bored on the Fourth of July" in which the flaws and weaknesses of democracy are pinched and popped like so many pustules. Other bits of Laura serve as treasure maps for intellectual adventuring. Try googling the many women and their achievements listed in Chapter XIII "A Short History of Creatrixes". Or if you really have the time and money, try visiting the places that Laura and Eugene do in Chapter XXVII in their odyssey across the USA. Or paste a choice paragraph on a bathroom stall, or add it as an attachment to an agenda item.

Okay. Okay. Okay. Laura is Gargantuan. Full of pyrotechnical displays of intellect and lyrical discursions. But is it another Finnegans Wake? Dazzling wordplay but, for most, mystification upon mystification? Not at all.

The storyline is simple. Eugene Eyestones is a somewhat monkish intellectual who earns his living writing a column on sexual matters for Quink, a hip monthly journal serving the greater Boston and Cambridge area. The other staff members of Quink - with names like Ratnaster, the Krauthammer, Mr. Fattomale, Anna Marie Tubb - are a motley collection of oddballs - from midgets to flaming queens to neo-nazis - headed up by Warholic, a slobbering, farting, belching, overbearing dictator of an editor. Eyestones, out of pity, comes to befriend Laura Warholic, his editor's abused ex-wife. She, in turn, is one of the most pathetic, self-loathing, and obnoxious heroines in recent history...from the hairy mole on her shoulder to her enormous self-pity to her skinny hips to her skanky persona. As he comes to know Laura, Eugene is changed.

For long passages thoughout the novel, most of these characters indulge in long tirades about racial, socio-economic or artistic groups they find offensive. The Irish, the Jews, gays, Hollywood, Generation X all come under savage attack at one time or another. It's like an endless monstrous Don Rickles concert without the wink and without the humor. A lot of readers will never make it past these tirades. And understandably so. It's not unlike putting the schematics for an A-bomb on the internet. Some people will appropriate some of these remarks for their own dark purposes. Why write and repeat such unpleasantness?

But there is a justification. It is a purging. There is an undelying seriousness to the novel. It is the saga of a spiritual quest. Elements of Parsifal's Grail quest are reworked, rehammered, bent to fit the 21st century. Loosely, Warholic serves as Amfortas (the wounded leader), Micepockets as Klingsor (the evil sorcerer), Eyestones as Parsifal (the questor), and Laura and Rapunzel as Kundry (desire and illusion and diversion). The various staff members of the journal contribute to the metaphor sometimes as ineffective knights, sometimes as spewing demons. Viewed in this light, much of the seeming misanthrophy, is not gratuitous but a part of the dark contemporary wood through which Eyestones must wander on his interior journey. Laura is the hag he must embrace with true compassion, and not merely pride, if he is to be redeemed.

In a prefatory quote to the novel, Theroux employs the words of the French poet Paul Eluard: "There is another world, and it is in this one." Eyestones arrival at that vision constitutes the core of the novel. It's a long journey, but if you travel with him, and think his thoughts, the novel begins to work its magic. Just be prepared to serve a long apprenticeship. And don't, like Mickey, think you can steal the magician's broom too soon. ( )
41 vote Ganeshaka | Apr 3, 2009 |
Showing 5 of 5
It is a pissed-off book, and reading its six hundred pages is as much fun as a hot August road trip with Don Imus, Ann Coulter, and Andrew Dice Clay. Yet it is also a remarkable achievement, a bombastic, squirm-inducing, and belief-rattling satire on political correctness shown through the lens of a sexless love story between two of the most unlovable (if not repulsive) characters in recent American letters.
 
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Epigraph
Vectors converge in tensegrity, but they never actually get together; they only get into critical proximities and twist by each other. - R. Buckminster Fuller
You can write on a wall with a fish heart, it's because of the phosphorous. - Anne Carson
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. - Franz Kafka
There is another world, but it is in this one. - Paul Eluard
Every sin is the result of a collaboration. - Stephen Crane
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Little Bob Merkle:
Ducking down, Gnorm all of a sudden loudly moaned to Dicksnickers, who looked up and sardonically quoted, "Shut the doors, shut the windows, shut everything! Here comes the Invisible Man!" It was Little Bob Merkle, white mouse and office uniformitarian, who at every chance he got took anything for free, stole things, and was even now boosting a fistful of multi-colored plastic cocktail stirrers that he thought he could sell later at a flea market. A skinflint, he would never waste a motion not to his direct benefit and even held inexplicable grudges, for at the office it had not gone unobserved that he refused to be in the same room with Larry Clucker, whose exit like some solar/lunar recirpocation usually precipitated Little Bob Merkle's appearance. He was heartles in his conniving need to keep solvent, constantly walking around outside with his head down searching the ground for lost coins, a nickel or a dime, or anything that might come his way. He cheated and lied and was envious but basically frightened of life. He had small sharp incisors and pointed ears like yucca leaves and a weak handshake, warm and obsequious and moist as a used bowling shoe. A colorless nonentity, he looked drained or packed in ice, with that coiffure of puffy-white and hairbursts coming out of his ears like paper frills on a roast. It was widely asserted that he had one less layer of skin than anyone else. His pink cheeks puffed in rather than out, and when his mouth opened only tiny words emerged.
Mutrux (the lawyer):
Mutrux had a square, sawed-off head with straps of dark hair fastidiously swept over to one side, manifesting the fop's endless concern about head-to-back-hair ratio. His raptor's eyes, which were hooded above and pouched below, gave his face a look both defiant and madly eager to impart bad news. He seemed whenever he looked at you continuously to be counting, weighing, surveying, measuring with a slow grim smile that cut into his face like a wound. Whenever he did speak, his words were clipped with cold authority, sharp stunts of strong opinion, like the sound of iron bolts being drawn.
On San Fransisco: People don't actually walk there, ever notice, but rather meander, following, needless to say, the now decade-long yuppie rubric of devoting an entire morning --'California matins,' I call it-- to purchasing a cup of coffee...which, while taking little sips from it, they hamhandedly proceed to squire around the office or the streets or a park all morning like a fucking trophy!
Eyestone's rooms, like his own dense prose, suggested a point of view: diverse, adorned, amused, premeditated, filled with details, highly inclusive.
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