We went looking for trouble at Eljay's last weekend, and I found a hardcover of Andrei Codrescu's Y2K novel Messiah in the Goth stacks.
You know Codrescu from his commentaries on NPR and his ceaseless New Orleans boosterism. In the Olden Days, when the internet was mostly ASCII porn and MUDDs, and I had more time to collect interesting material things, I knew of him as the editor of a long-format broadsheet called The Exquisite Corpse. I actually had a subscription, though it was printed in an unreadably tiny font on smeary newsprint and went belly-up after a handful of issues.
Thanks to the magic of pixels and bytes, the Exquisite Corpse has re-risen in non-corporeal online form. Codrescu is still editor. I settled in, rubbing my hands, expecting good things.
There is some quite bad poetry ("I am the oak/ the wind speaks through me/ my red branches"), and an embarassing essay on laptop-failure-in-the-midst- of-writing-poetry-about-dead-parents ("In the morning...the laptop is still dead. But I have e-mail to read, clients to contact, Internet sites to research. (But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep ...Ed) Then there are the poems." Yes. Those.)
I don't know why I expect competence from Andrei Codrescu just because he is a Romanian poet with a regular slot on NPR. I should know better after reading the first couple hundred pages of Messiah, a novel about a young tough New Orleans girl who can't have an orgasm and gets kidnapped and brainwashed by Born Again Christians. On page 215, she meets her counterpart, an orphaned Serbian talk show host, at a strip club, and after a few minutes becomes instantly orgasmic. That's it. That's what happens. Aside from some pretty good speculations about the Kabbalistic nuances and international scope of Wheel of Fortune, there are no other events of note in this novel. Or if there are I don't know about them, because I stopped reading after the heroic quest (for orgasm) had been fulfilled (no thanks to the agency of the heroine, mind you -- all she has to do is meet her Serbian counterpart).
Yes, it's a shitty novel, but for some reason I kept reading it. The interchangeable characters and unobtrusive plot seemed merely a vehicle for the poet's need to bring Mark Twain and Nicola Tesla into the present in the form of angels; in a few places the author himself got lost in the characterlessness of his own creation and called his heroine by the wrong name. I don't know why I kept reading it -- probably because Codrescu really is a good writer. Sometimes that's enough.