Jeremy P. Bushnell, The Weirdness (Melville House, 2014)
Full disclosure: I have known Jeremy IRL since the early nineties.
When I started reading The Weirdness—and I have to admit, I was planning on finishing the novel I was in the middle of before starting this, but I’d left it at work on a day I had to go to the hospital for an outpatient procedure, and this had popped up in the mail the day before and so I had it sitting on the desk next to me and grabbed it—I had planned to use it as a time-killer until I finished the novel I was actually reading at the time. You know how that goes. A week later, I had finished The Weirdness, and nothing else in my house save a cookbook had gotten any face time. I expected it to be a decent book—Jeremy and I wrote collaborative poetry together, I know the boy can write—but I was still unprepared for the book I got. Much of this has to do with its publisher. I am a huge fan of Melville House when they’re publishing nonfiction (Melville House is the home of the mighty Trevor Paglen, after all), but my excursions into their fiction catalog have always left me less than satisfied. Until now.
You will think you know what the title of The Weirdness signifies relatively early on. Billy Ridgeway, struggling writer (well, he still believes so) and neurotic, wakes after a long night of drinking with his best friend Anil and meditating on the presence of bananas at bodegas to find the devil in his living room. No soul-stealing required, the devil explains while sipping coffee (which turns out to be infernally good); perform one minor task and Lucifer will put a few words into a few ears, and poof, Billy Ridgeway will be a published novelist. It’s a tempting offer. But then, as Lucifer reminds Billy a few times during the novel, that’s what the devil does; he tempts people. The question is—does temptation trump neurosis?
There’s more going on under the hood here as well. Ridgeway’s relationship with an experimental filmmaker has stagnated, and he finds himself scrambling to save it while at the same time being drawn to a poet who’s the co-headliner at a reading that goes disastrously awry. There’s a faction called the Right-Hand Path who gets involved. (This is not a spoiler if you’re not up on your demonology.) There’s Billy’s rocky relationship with his father, and there’s Billy’s roommate Jørgen, a techno producer who’s been at a music conference for the past two weeks when the book opens…except he was only supposed to be gone for the weekend. How does all this tie together? Well, like I said, you think you know what the title signifies. Trust me on this…it gets weirder. By the time Bushnell works in all the loose ends, The Weirdness has the feel of an Edward D. Wood, Jr. pulp novel—except The Weirdness succeeds in every way Killer in Drag fails. Bushnell never loses command of his wildly-careering plot, his characters are well-drawn and distinct, and the book’s comic timing is never lees than impeccable. It’s fast, it’s funny, it’s more than a bit ridiculous, but above all, it’s just plan weird. I’d call that a success. *** ½