Monday, March 19, 2012

Book: Wild Thing, by Josh Bazell (2012)

Dr. Peter Brown, formerly button man for the mob Pietro Brnwa, is currently Dr. Lionel Azimuth and working on a cruise ship thanks to the good people at the Witness Protection Program1. His handlers steer another potentially lucrative gig his way: tagging along with sexy paleontologist Dr. Violet Hurst on a mission underwritten by a reclusive billionaire (known as Rec Bill) to determine whether a lake in Northern Minnesota is actually home to a beast that’s a holdover from prehistoric times.

Lionel, or Peter, or Pietro2 was introduced in Josh Bazell’s Beat The Reaper, one of the most blazing debut novels of recent vintage3. Reaper was a dazzling high wire act, its stylized action always rendered on a human scale. Wild Thing is more of a wild thing, loose, shambolic and occasionally hard to swallow. The preposterous storyline is made even more of a reach by shoehorning an already compromised protagonist into it. Some of Bazell’s narrative digressions feel like cul de sacs. The material based on the real world – insider tales about medical mishaps on cruise ships and the consequences of meth on the American heartland – is stronger than the fanciful stuff, while a key role given to an Actual Political Figure4 throws off the balance of the book’s second half.

But Bazell writes with such comic verve and has an ideas-per-page count5 so abnormally high that you go along for the ride. He readily acknowledges the goofiness of his premise6. The frequent footnotes are back7, as is the sharp writing. (“Outside in the black-and-white TV moonlight there’s a low-lying fog on the ground of the kind I thought only happened in discos and vampire movies.”) The wrap-up is highly satisfying, and is followed by an appendix and a note section written with a fiery flair that give full voice to the anti-anti-rationalist sentiment that drives both the author and his hero. This screwball of a book may not live up to its predecessor, but I still enjoyed it.

1 Which is actually the Witness Security Program, or WITSEC, as Bazell rightly refers to it.

2 Whatever.

3 I liked it.

4 Henceforth referred to as Ac Pol Fig. If I refer to this figure again. Which I won’t.

5 Statistic trademarked by Vince Keenan, 2012.

6 His frequent invocations of Scooby Doo as an inspiration pay dividends, and include a fascinating sexually-charged exegesis of the show that ranks with Eddie Izzard’s comparison of Shaggy and Scooby to Falstaff.

7 Obviously.