Burn This Book

Another heresy goes up in smoke

Another heresy goes up in smoke

If, as Dale Peck famously observed, Rick Moody is “the worst writer of his generation” then perhaps Melvin Jules Bukiet is the worst writer for the generations. Whereas Moody chronicles contemporary suburban angst with flamboyant linguistic excess, Bukiet uses the same tools to go after and hack to pieces, among other people and abstractions, Franz Kafka, God, motherhood and basic human nature.

“And then Marco knew that he wasn’t just any pony. He was special. Because somebody loved him.” No, that isn’t a line from Bukiet’s latest collection of stories, A Faker’s Dozen, but one finds oneself craving such calmness and simplicity when reading the book. Unfortunately, if Bukiet used this line then “Marco” would probably be thinking those benign equine thoughts on the road to the glue factory. Or even if Marco was musing in some bucolic pasture, the sweet little girl who loved him would be a hunchback. The thing about Bukiet’s “work” is that no one wins, not the characters and not the readers who are inevitably betrayed by the author’s relentless bad taste and a cynicism so pervasive you could swim — make that drown — in it.

Start with the title. Since nothing is straight in Bukiet’s world, there are a scant eleven (get the joke, ha ha) stories here. They span the gamut of human experience from y to z. The characters include several fraudulent Nobel laureates and a happy mother/son incest duo. Elsewhere, we get a scurrilous depiction of Bill Gates as a transsexual teenage computer geek. In the guise of an assault on traditional religious pieties, Bukiet comes up with “Splinters,” a story in which a piece of the True Cross is auctioned to a tacky media baron with a sacrilegious agenda. In the final story, “The War Lovers,” a man who lives to photograph dead people ends up eaten by a gigantic mechanical rabbit. The reviewer’s creed is not to give away the plot, but I’ll do so anyway — to save the reader the experience. Perhaps the only thing we can be grateful for here is the missing twelfth or, God forbid, a baker’s abundant thirteenth story.

Throughout the collection, the prevailing concerns are money and sex and the craze of renown. All that’s shabby, vulgar and venal is presented as if that’s all there is, pace Peggy Lee, so let’s keep dancing and bring out the booze. Nor is Bukiet’s bilious maliciousness limited to this collection. In previous books he has curled a snake around a goose’s leg, frozen a swan into a lake and decapitated it, etc. etc. The pony “Marco” is lucky that he wasn’t here. What does this guy have against animals anyway?

If some of this review sounds ad hominem, it’s because the nature of the stories in A Faker’s Dozen encourages that point of view. Apparently Bukiet’s fun begins where other people’s fun ends and the result is not pretty. It is treyf, not kosher, unclean in the most Biblical sense. This is a form of “self-abuse” so vile one imagines God had it in mind when he dictated Genesis 38:9. (Look it up; time better spent than that wasted in reading Bukiet’s bottom-feeding prose.)

Undoubtedly the world is sometimes a cruel place, and surely the innocent suffer, and pain has often been a subject for fiction, but there must be room to breathe. At a certain point, a fixation upon society’s lepers and losers makes one wonder if the person who sees them is incapable of seeing anything else, anything of — call me sentimental — The Good. One leaves the twisting halls of  A Faker’s Dozen choking for air, yearning for decency. One senses that there is no depth this author will not plumb, no pit in which he won’t wallow. One does not, however, worry for Bukiet’s soul; either he doesn’t have one, or the sooner it returns home to hell the better off the world will be.

So there’s a little bit of cleverness in the syntax, so there’s some excitement in the plots, the point is that the sensibility throughout A Faker’s Dozen is nothing short of curdling. Yet at least Bukiet is consistent. Glancing back at some of his earlier books, we find a Jesus figure whose apostles are rapists and murderers (Signs and Wonders), a motley gang of Holocaust survivors out to steal a four foot cube of gold made from the teeth of slaughtered Jews (After, available at Amazon for 24 cents) and more and worse. What could a respectable publisher like Norton be thinking? Norton Anthologies may never look the same again. Even weirder, the editors here at Killing the Buddha appear to like Bukiet (they asked him to write a chapter of their own book), and wanted to do him a favor badly enough that this reviewer’s corrupt mandate is to think of one reason to buy his book. One word: kindling. Okay, okay, I’ll try. Apparently Bukiet has children and lives in New York , an expensive town.

Still, there are too many other more humane, more human writers who are capable of delivering a smidgen of hope for a reader’s $23.95, and they also need a buck, probably more than him (the guy teaches, though the idea that anyone would trust him with their young is a scandal) and he owns a bar (the drinks are probably watered) and he lives in a big house that he doesn’t deserve — so fuck him.

Anders Zabotinsky pastors the Rising Son Fellowship of Love Tabernacle in Tallahassee, Florida, and is a columnist for Christian Combustion, the magazine of Christ-like solutions to environmental challenges. This is the last piece he will write for Killing the Buddha.