Thursday, January 27, 2005

Crazed Sock Monkey on the Loose

I just read a book I would generally not read. And I loved it. This is a great exercise, to pick up something outside the (in my case, frighteningly wide) boundaries of what one would normally encounter. I usually steer clear of novels written by celebrities, biographies of queens, and science fiction fantasy. Now keep in mind, this doesn’t mean I’ll never read a book from these genres—I’ve enjoyed my share of Asimov and Bradbury, for instance—but it means that when contending with the overwhelming number of books on my to-read shelf and to-buy list, that these categories are generally my few guiltless exceptions.

But then you get the strenuous recommendation from someone whose opinion you trust and you know you have to make room in your crowded head. In this case, the culprit was Clair Lamb of Mystery Bookstore and Answer Girl fame, who told me that SOCK was her “favorite book of the past year.” Now that ain’t no “I think you might dig this” rec, that’s a more strenuous exhortation. So I bought it.

It wasn’t until I got home that I realized that SOCK was written by Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller fame. Had I known that at the store, I might not have bought the book. Now while I recognize that Penn is a brilliant magician, I’m not inclined to believe that a great magician makes for a great novelist, thought mine is a fatuous argument. I mean, every novelist’s gotta have a day job at some point and why would being a famous magician make him any less inclined to pen (ha ha) a brilliant novel than if he were, say, a journalist, doctor, or cop, professions which have churned out their fair share of great novels. I suppose I thought, “Well, he’s a famous guy and someone in publicity thought they could market the hell out of his name so they bought his crappy manuscript.” Simple, simple me. It took no more than a few pages for me to realize what a colossally judgmental ass I was (am?).

This book is the real deal. It’s a “mystery” (not really) about a somewhat incompetent cop who sets out to solve a murder with a gay hairdresser friend and his sock monkey.

Oh, and it’s told from the perspective of the sock monkey.

It’s a brilliant, inspired, wholly unique, bizarre, philosophical piece. It plays with language as if it’s clay—you can TASTE how much Jillette loves words—surprises you with character, and hammers at your (mis)perceptions with a series of well-placed postmodern salvos that undercut the narrative while oddly reinforcing it.

If you’re a language junkie or a book junkie or just a plain old junkie, you should cast aside your doubts (oh wait, that was just me?) and dig in. I can say without hesitation it is one of the most original books I’ve read all year.

I love that sock monkey. What a clever, devious little mofo.


Ellen Clair Lamb said...

I'm always so relieved when anyone likes something I recommend... although I generally agree with you, Greg, about celebrity novelists (THE HOTTEST STATE, anyone? I actually paid money for it.). The "mystery" part of it isn't especially compelling or fair, but the point of view is so brilliantly conceived and executed that it doesn't matter. One bad wammerjammer sock monkey, he is.


Aquaryan said...

His book is not inspiring you to have a special guest star in the next Tim Rackley novel does it? I can just visualize it. hehehe. I am reading Robert Crais'The Last Detective, right now. I had never read his books. I do notice that on page 108 of this particular novel, a certain name pops up -- "Hurwitz!" hmmmmmmm, I wonder.