Thursday, December 30, 2010

Herovit's World By Barry N. Malzberg

Rejected Naked Lunch cover

Original copyright 1973, this is a Pocket Books 1974 reprint. 94c cover price. 159 pages.

Jonathan Herovit is a lecherous, scotch-soaked author of over 90 pulpy science-fiction novels written under the pseudonym of Kirk Poland. As Herovit's World kicks off, our protagonist is at the yearly cocktail party for the New League For Science-Fiction Professionals.

As usual, Herovit desperately tries (and finally succeeds) to lay one of the young female SF enthusiasts in attendance as a distraction from his home life, which is spiraling out of his control. Faced with his wife Janice’s post-partum depression, his own burgeoning alcohol problem, and an overdue novel that he has no desire to write, Herovit begins to hallucinate that his pseudonym is speaking to him and wants to take over his life.

As the pressure builds—his wife makes overtures at leaving him, constant threatening calls from his agent, plus a period of impotence— Herovit’s conversations with Kirk Poland (and even some of the characters from his many novels) become more and more vivid and conversative.

This is a very nervous novel, which plays to author Barry Malzberg's strengths, and, naturally, entire chapters are dedicated to awkward and unfulfilling sexual activity because old Barry is a pervert of the first degree.

Roughly halfway through the novel (right next to the full color Kent Cigarettes ad!), pseudonym Kirk Poland offers to completely take over his life and “clean up the mess” that Herovit has created. After a dark period of drunken introspection and intense anxiety, Herovit finally succumbs to the pressure, relinquishing his life to his alter-ego.

Kirk Poland has trouble adjusting to his new reality after so many years of insubstantiality, but the new man is not without an agenda. First, he burns the manuscript that has been festering on Herovit's typewriter in order to start fresh with some new material.

Secondly, Poland intends to give Herovit's wife Janice “a good fuck” to set her straight, but since he is technically a virgin he finds it prudent to practice on a prostitute, which leads to my favorite passage from this dirty little novel:  

“He pours virtually yards and yards of seed into the prostitute, feeling them uncoil within, whole ropes of sperm flung from the ship of self (he must save that phrase for use someday), and he uses these ropes to clamber toward some sense of self-discovery.” (106)

Unfortunately for Poland, Janice is already on her way out the door when he gets home from his tryst, hoping to dump the baby and bills on him. Kirk bemoans that he “came into the sequence too late” and drinks himself into a stupor. When he awakens, thoroughly defeated, ready to renounce his newfound reality, he is greeted by Mack, the hard-nosed alien hater and protagonist of his Survey Team series. Mack gladly enters the shell that was once Herovit to set things right by murdering all those damn aliens that fouled it up for him in the first place.

Herovit's World really wasn't all that terrible. The nervous energy Malzberg creates is almost palpable in its intensity, and Jonathan Herovit reminded me of many of the loathsome characters you can find in any Irvine Welsh novel. I would definitely recommend this over the god-awful Sodom and Gomorrah Business if you really wanted to pick up a trashy Malzberg novel. 

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