Vol. XXXI, #2 Gilbert Sorrentino and Mulligan Stew
Lars Iyer. Spurious. Melville House, 2011. 183 pp. Paper: $14.95.
The jacket copy on its back cover calls Spurious "raucous" and "hilarious" and the front matter labels the book “a novel.” These are not the first words that come to mind. “Provocative” and “narrative” would be more accurate. The substance of Spurious is philosophical debate, though, so my quibbling seems appropriate. Spurious consists of the musings of the narrator Lars and his (only?) friend W. There is some plot insofar as they travel together, and there is a brief conflict surrounding W.'s proposal to move to Canada, but the book is mostly talk without action. These obsessive men are both amused and depressed by the world, searching for some solace for the misery of existence through discussion, writing, friendship, and alcohol, all of which are treated as pleasures but also as subjects of philosophical inquiry. W. is the alpha philosopher of this tiny pack, a supposedly brilliant man who has spent his whole life waiting for an idea. Thinking is hard work, and it can't coexist with reading, writing, talking, or drinking. The characters’ discussions range from the esoteric to the mundane. They are particularly obsessed with “end times” and believe they are living on the verge of the apocalypse—W. exploring various religions to cope with this idea. They are also obsessed with Kafka and live in the shadow of his genius. The headiness of this philosophical dialogue is offset by W.’s casual put-downs of Lars about his weight, his lack of savoir-faire, and especially his apartment, which is plagued by a mysterious dampness that cannot be eradicated or even explained by experts. The damp is ominous, but also comical: a domestic conundrum that portends a vague larger doom. Other light touches grace the offbeat friendship between these pompous men, like their childish penchant for drawing male genitalia and their fussiness as they travel in Europe. It’s ultimately a buoyant (if not raucous) narrative floating on a dark sea of philosophical gloom. [D. Quentin Miller]