This virtually plot-less comedic romp from Mark Leyner is both entertaining and inscrutable. The reader is left wondering: Is this merely a work of near-maniacal, off-the-leash fiction? Or does its very insanity belie a profound observation of human nature? The answer, in typical Leyner fashion, is yes. Both. Neither. 45. George Washington. And “over my dead body.”
THE SUGAR FROSTED NUTSACK appears to be an exegesis of the epic by the same name. However, the epic is also the novel, and the entire text of the novel is the epic itself. In other words, what at first seems to be an introduction to the story ends up being the very story it purports to introduce. Confused? Good.
"Parts of THE SUGAR FROSTED NUTSACK are fiercely clever and laugh-out-loud hilarious. Leyner’s style echoes that of David Foster Wallace, especially the dark, hyperbolic humor."
Ike Karton is the hero of the book. An unemployed butcher from Jersey City, Ike is the object of affection for a host of misfit Gods and Goddesses. Gods such as Mogul Magoo and XOXO try to thwart Ike in his endeavors, while Goddesses such as La Felina masturbate to his “totally ripped” physique. Over the course of the novel, Ike goes to a diner, orders a tongue sandwich, gets high with his daughter’s boyfriend, and plots his own death. This bizarre series of events is related in a disjointed fashion through a running commentary of mock scholarly analysis. Unnamed “experts,” it seems, are following, charting, graphing and debating the significance of Ike’s every move.
The driving force in the novel comes from a God named XOXO, who attempts to sabotage the story by making it more confusing. The epic, it is thus revealed, is actually a stream-of-consciousness narration inside Ike’s head. XOXO is the divine embodiment of the way in which he self-sabotages his own thoughts by wandering off into confusing digressions and contradictions.
Leyner’s novel illustrates the ways in which we are all trapped inside our own heads, forever viewing ourselves as the heroes of our life narratives. The epic is often referred to as an autonomous, self-aggrandizing entity: the ego feeding on itself. Yet, like the human consciousness, the epic is also vulnerable to outside influence. The commentary inside our heads is shaped by events occurring extrinsic to ourselves, as we are constantly incorporating external influences into our personal story.
Parts of THE SUGAR FROSTED NUTSACK are fiercely clever and laugh-out-loud hilarious. Leyner’s style echoes that of David Foster Wallace, especially the dark, hyperbolic humor. The frequent meta-references to “the epic” in the novel also call to mind “the entertainment” that is the focus of Wallace’s INFINITE JEST. His style and central character are similarly indebted to James Joyce’s ULYSSES. Like Harold Bloom, Ike fetishizes “sweaty, heavyset, middle-aged women” and anything scatological. We are in Ike’s head just as we are in Bloom’s. Like Joyce, Leyner includes many obscure allusions in his text, but this time they are pop-culture celebrities instead of Irish revolutionaries.
Unfortunately, THE SUGAR FROSTED NUTSACK is a one-trick pony. Once the unique humorous tic has been established, there are still 147 pages to go, and not much else changes. It is refreshing to hear a new voice, but the book may encounter the same problem as John Cage’s “4’ 33”, the piano piece that consists of four minutes and 33 seconds of silence. Once the shock value is spent, you don’t really want to hear it again.
Reviewed by Shelby Wardlaw on April 13, 2012