By Paul Auster
“Hilton Obenzinger is an American original. His lost histories are acts of legerdemain and cunning – mixing truth and imagination in ways rarely seen before.”
For the record, I didn’t yet know the outcome of the presidential election when I chose to read, for this week’s review, Hilton Obenzinger’s latest novel. It’s called A*hole. And I didn’t know of the book’s obsession with the cosmic father-son contention, upending the roles so that God/the petulant child gives birth to His own Christ/parents who must tough-love him into some kind of restraint and nascent wisdom. I didn’t know Obenzinger would be riffing on Dante, claiming we must crawl up Satan’s very asshole to find our way from hell to heaven, that the father, eaten by the son, passes out a blessed shit.
Not that Obenzinger seems to have intended any partisan commentary or topical reference in this disorienting postmodern work. I’m just saying … .
Consider the terrible consequences of a seemingly minor verbal gaffe: Through “the usual corruption of words,” young Jesus, the Logos — the Word, the Law incarnate — becomes Jesus, the Legos, building miniature houses of brightly colored plastic blocks, peopling them with clay into which he breathes life, only to smash the whole lot into oblivion when he gets bored.
Under the care of an unsure adolescent god, the world has gone so soft and insubstantial that a Nike-geared New York boy falls into the earth and pops (or is that poops?) up in the Philippines, where, knowing only two phrases of Spanish, he unwittingly spawns the cult of La Vida Loca, whose supplicants keep secret the sacred swoosh and chant the holy phrase, “Hasta la vista, baby.”
In an underground of a different sort, a detective of nostalgia tries to reunite Patty Hearst with fellow traveler Tania, and a young woman with the nom-de-plume of Prophetic Attractions attracts the interest of the CIA for her flawlessly accurate reviews of movies that have not yet been written.
Obenzinger has constructed an entire teleology of turds, a sacred scatology of sphincters complete with neo-cannibal rites and the saintly ablutions of Our Lady of Shit, who cleanses the public toilets of the world. A*hole is a little harder to follow than, say, Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader, but, like finally sending a constipated pain-in-the-ass shit to its watery rest, is much more satisfying than the effortless release of looser bowels.
Creative Loafing, Atlanta
Review by Woody Lewis (San Carlos, CA)
as posted on Amazon.com
Obenzinger is that rare combination of novelist, narrative historian, and social commentator who weaves a captivating and relevant story. This hip blend of prose and a sprinkling of meta-poetry (generated in command line interface interludes that really do serve to punch things along) is a milestone on the order of Breton’s “Nadja”. Think James Joyce meets Tom Waits and Charles Bukowski. Really! He combines mythical parent-child musings with portraits of a cyber-Skid Row, the Philippine origins of a sect that worships the Nike “swoosh” logo, the journey of Danny DeVito on the cusp of a physical labyrinth, and religious metaphors that manage to encompass Jonah and Jeffrey Dahmer in a visceral counterpart to Dante’s Inferno. Here is a deftly told tale that continues Obenzinger’s expert use of the unreliable narrator that I first observed in his estimable work “Cannibal Eliot and the Lost Histories of San Francisco”, which I also heartily recommend (there is even another girl embedded in a wall). Mark Twain’s America has been updated with observations informed by Obenzinger’s real-life stint teaching the Yurok Indians. He is the ultimate meta-narrator, who jumps in and out of his own story with startling ease and grace as he sows and then reaps a matrix of clues, symbolic associations, and point of view shifts that somehow make perfect sense. Behind these supple movements is the weight of a Stanford professor of American studies, Obenzinger’s “other” job, where he ponders notions of Judeo-Christian paradigms with an original brand of scholarship. I literally felt I wanted to scan this book into a text file so I could run searches on it, surely the type of symbolic crossword that already exists in the author’s mind.
A must read, and a great story.
Review by: Ann Deden (Australia)
as posted on Amazon.com
A fantastic page-turner that’s over too soon! Obenzinger weaves a tale of lives that intersect as they slide along their personal planes and slippery slopes of existence. Some collide, some barely brush past, yet none leaves the other unaffected. Each brief episode creates strong characters we respond to with a range of feelings from loving concern to visceral repulsion. Before long, I found myself racing through, eager to find out what further connections would be revealed. Such revelations make a whole of the parts, and create a story that moves in many directions in time and space without once leaving the reader behind. An exhilarating trip!