by Arthur Nersesian
Writers are not supposed to have the kind of career Arthur Nersesian has had anymore. MTV Books gave him a shot with The Fuck-Up in 1997, cleverly wrapping the title around the cover so that it looked like JCK-UP; it’s sold 100,000 copies to date, while the author continues to publish independent novels with Akashic Books and major-label ones with Harper Perennial. Wasn’t this what Kurt Cobain was trying to do?
Nersesian’s latest independent offering looks like a dark Iraq War novel but opens in a different land between two rivers: Manhattan. A voice that ridicules the suicide habits of women is revealed to be that of Sandy (Cassandra) Bloomgarten, the tabloid reporter who scooped Brangelina. Nersesian has placed his familiar boozy voice inside a “middle-aged, dried-up Asian adoptee with a failed marriage and a drinking problem” from “some podunk town between Memphis and Nashville.” (Sandy is nothing if not specific.)
Sandy pursues a FEMA scoop—it’s early summer, 2005—but, owing $19,000 to various nebulous credit providers, takes a chance on an assignment near her hometown of Mesopotamia, TN. When Mesopotamia leaves Manhattan, Nersesian plunges the reader into a kid-friendly rural mystery of murdered Elvis impersonators.
Elvis is so often used as a metaphor for fame that we forget his racial transgressiveness, and that is what Nersesian focuses on here while delivering a broad satire of tabloid news. He populates his Tennessee with a festering racial stew including “a sexy, virile Elephant Man” and a group of Aryan youths named Ruffy, Cotton, and Urleen. He has an unexpected sweet spot for America’s polyglot offspring, though (including a Jewish child named Downer): Bush-bashing Cassandra admits she is a “confirmed pro-lifer,” as Katrina waits in the wings.