You know what I think powerful people love the most about life? It’s the fact that karma is no more than another comforting fiction, and in all likelihood the shit they pull, unless it’s flagrantly stupid, is never going to come back and bite them in the ass.
But perhaps the reason they’re not quite happy — why they need massages and facelifts, why they feel a little insecure, why they have to pile up yachts — is that once in a while, it does. Once in a while, one of the serfs will take it upon himself to manufacture some karma. “The rabbit,” as the Relaxed Muscle song goes, “is gonna teach the eagle a lesson. With his Smith and Wesson.”
Tony Meander, the “hero” of Andy Nowicki’s latest novella (full disclosure: I’ve reviewed a work of Andy’s before, Considering Suicide, and that work was printed by the same outfit that’s set to release my new novel NVSQVAM this June 15, Chip Smith’s Nine-Banded Books), is one hell of an angry rabbit.
Thirty-three now, he’s never gotten over the trauma of his high school existence as a weird, smart, hyper-bullied nerd. On the surface, his life seems OK now; he’s on track for a PhD, even if he is alone, and the reader suspects he always has been alone; in fact, he’s quite religiously anti-sex as an adult, claiming the loss of sperm will reduce his powers. His colleagues have no idea what “powers” he’s talking about, though he occasionally makes jokes about himself becoming an ubermensch or god of some sort. When he’s not talking weird crap, though, he seems like an uber-decent fellow.
But under the surface, the basic loathing he developed for human nature while his classmates tormented him continues to boil and bubble till it finally breaks his brilliant mind. He goes on a murder-suicide shooting rampage at his class reunion, blasting through the crowds till he gets to the pretty, bitchy cheerleader who made him hate sex so much, whose fake come-ons–she once deliberately crowded up to him to give him an erection, then berated and humiliated him for his body’s involuntary response–ruined one of life’s main comforts for him. He has a special surprise for her. And the way she reacts is even more surprising.
The plot is a simple revenge fantasy; but the book is interesting in other ways. Tony is, as the title suggests, a huge fan of the kids who carried out the infamous Columbine mass murder, wherein two bullied students took out their violent revenge while they were in high school. In fact, for most of the book, while he sits in his car near the site of the reunion, he is under the schizoid hallucinatory impression that he is actually on a pilgrimage to Columbine, and since the text is delivered in the first person, the reader is taken on his imaginary journey with him. I don’t think this is a spoiler, since most of the events he describes are so dreamlike and unlikely; in fact, even Tony wonders whether anything he’s experiencing is real.
But within the hallucination, Nowicki explores not just the themes of powerless, human group behavior, and revenge, but the utterly weird thing that is religion itself.
A lot of Nowicki’s writing (he labels himself a “Catholic Reactionary,” a self-labeling which may or may not be part satirical) deals with religion in a strange fashion; for example, Contemplating Suicide is a meditation in two halves, the first being a fictional (but suspiciously autobiography-tinged) narrative of a miserable nerd who, facing his fall from childhood’s purity and the bleakness of the godless, boring, senseless grown-up world, can’t decide whether to kill himself. The second half is a somewhat scholarly essay (but too angry to be properly scholarly) asserting that we must believe in god, because otherwise things are meaningless, and to say that things are meaningless is a meaningless statement.
The two pieces sound like they were written by two different people, and the net effect is the queasy feeling that even if God exists, there’s something wrong with the way we envision Him; and if God doesn’t exist, that’s an even worse fact than it seems on the face of it. So perhaps to live decently we must force ourselves to believe in… in… um…
“The Columbine Pilgrim” presents religion in an entirely different light; Tony’s self-aggodizement comes off as a grotesque parody of the Catholic canon, complete with whorish Virgin Mary. His new auto-worshipful religion, a splicing of Marx, Nietzche, and a dab of Hitler for good measure, could be read as a scathing satire of the anarchic tendencies of secular society; if man really is the closest thing to a god, what’s to stop the rabbit from glorifying his gunplay–or the eagle from gloating over his talons, for that matter?
However, it could also be read as a satire of the religious impulse itself; the way Tony slowly begins to believe his mad ideas is a maddeningly near-logical fulfillment of his wishful thinking. It’s as though he’s sitting in a theater watching a 3-D movie, and the part of his brain that’s dedicated to suspension of disbelief slowly creeps over the rest of his cerebral cortex, finally convincing him that the movie is the world. His wishful thinking becomes his reality, and in the new reality his religion tells him that it’s his duty to shed blood in his own name.
All in all, a stimulating read, and a short one; good for the ADHD, but personally I’d like to see Andy write something longer once in a while. Not that this needed to be longer; it’s the right length for Tony’s swift descent into the abyss, even if that makes the character’s name a touch ironic.