With enough dash, fanfare, sex appeal and aplomb to shake even San Francisco to its knees again, Jackson Tippett McCrae has written a book that will undoubtedly unnerve many and delight others.
The story of a novelist struggling in New York to get his work published is nothing new, and after so many years of hearing this sort of tale bandied about, one
might expect a eye-rolling and heavy sighs upon opening the cover of this iridescently packaged book.
Nothing could be farther from the truth in this saga that reads like a modern-day
re-telling of Faust with a dash of Palahniuk and Sedaris thrown in for good measure. As it is with all of McCrae’s books, it’s virtually impossible to go into the brilliance of the writing without giving away key plot details. Suffice it to say that this brilliantly-written novel
should take its place among cultural cult icons like Catcher in the Rye,
Fight Club and Portnoy’s Complaint, for it is in essence a compilation of all these and more. It
will probably be looked upon aghast by some, just as those classics were once viewed, and McCrae owes a debt of gratitude to those who came before him and paved the way for this half-obscene, half-shining book.
McCrae does not shy away from edgy materials ,and his pick for the name of the main character could not be more perfect. Max Perkins is our protagonist in this sordid and hilarious tale of woe. Boy gets book; boy loses book; boy gets book; boy loses book... (you get the idea) would be one way of putting the plot, and the fact that so many famous books flowed
through the hands of the original Max Perkins is at once ironic and telling. But what McCrae adds is sheer genius as he uses the first Max Perkins as a jumping-off point for not only the journey of our helpless writer
of the same name, but literally an amusing anecdote once told about this famous editor to Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Thomas Wolfe.
A paraphrase is in order, lest I get saddled with the ungainly label of plagiarism.
Let me give credit to where the story originates in modern times, for that too
plays an important part—as McCrae evidently did his research well on Perkins: it originates in the biography of Max Perkins by the esteemed A. Scott Berg. The story is this:
One day, the original Max Perkins was asked to remove all the offending words from Hemingway’s works. In order not to forget, Perkins jotted the obscene words Hemingway was so fond of on his day calendar, under the heading of “Things to do today.” P*ss, sh*t, and fu*k were three words that Perkins found most often aberrant in Hemingway’s works, so that is what he wrote under the heading. Mr. Scribner, the head of the most prestigious publishing firm at the time, walked by, saw the inscription, and told Perkins that if he needed to write those particular items down so as not to forget them, he was in real trouble.
The reason for the telling of this story is this: the novel, believe it or not, centers itself on these three bodily functions and actions. Before you stop reading, know that McCrae handles these topics so delicately and humorously that you’ll not remember the anecdote from the beginning of the book and fall right into his trap.
What is this trap? Ah, that’s the secret, for the clever McCrae lures us into a story that’s funny, warped, sad, and irreverent, only to throw us off the track that our hero is on, or at least thinks he’s on.
Max’s journey is one of incredible turmoil as he hawks his novel, Mrs. Squigglemire’s Bustle, around New York. His friends include a male prostitute and a warped and sleazy editor; yet another is a midget. Mix into this some unfortunate truisms about the publishing industry and how books make it from author to bestseller list, and you’ve got a novel that’s anything but mundane.
What impresses me most about this colorful, lurid, lush, beautiful and opulent novel
is the ending. Never before have I so not seen something coming—and I’ve read a lot of books. The final twist of the literary knife is such that you’ll actually have to shake your head to make sure that you read what you thought you
just read. I was only mildly reminded of Palahniuk’s works and the humor of Sedaris, for McCrae has unquestionably outdone even those pros when it comes to humor, balance, storytelling and plot. A superb compilation of wit, cynicism, color and irreverence, Katzenjammer: Soon to Be a Major Motion Picture
is only going to be appreciated by a certain cadre of individuals who love a
particularly good book.