One of my rules of thumb when reading a book, or watching a movie for that matter, is that I have to like at least some of the characters in the book. Since I’m investing my time in the book or the movie, I want to be in the company of pleasant people. After all, outside of the entertainment world, I don’t willingly want to spend time in the company of people who disgust me.
I discovered over the past couple of days, though, that there is an exception to this rule, and that exception is Gary Buslik’s Akhmed and the Atomic Matzo Balls: A Novel of International Intrigue, Pork-Crazed Termites, and Motherhood. Akhmed and the Atomic Matzo Balls is peopled by some of the most unpleasant, malevolent, and stupid characters you can imagine — but it’s so clever and funny that I, the reader, was delighted to follow their complicated, self-serving, insane machinations.
I’m actually not quite sure how to describe the book without diluting the pleasure you’ll get should you decide to read it. The book’s own description doesn’t do it justice, but I’ll offer it for what it’s worth:
Iranian president Akhmed teams up with the leaders of Venezuela and Cuba and their American intelligence agents to smuggle radioactive matzo balls into Miami Beach. But intelligence being as slippery a concept to these nincompoops as chicken fat on linoleum, when each member of the gang decides to ladle out his own personal nuke soup, holy terror Akhmed is left steaming. Will his plan to destroy America float like a fly or sink like a lead dumpling?
Star-crossed lovers, conniving academics, and blustery social climbers collide with ravenous termites, international do-badders, and multi-level marketing in a plot as fast-paced and hilarious as a runaway mountain bus. Radioactivity has never been so much fun.
Those bland paragraphs leave out the delights of seeing the inside workings of the mind of a far-Left academic, keeping up with the Iranian president’s manic dancing, watching the Venezuelan dictator dream of mass-marketing schemes, and generally following a serpentine plot that moves effortlessly from Iran, to Cuba, to Haiti, and to the high seas, with stopovers in Chicago, New York and Miami Beach.
One of the things I liked best about the book is that Gary Buslik loves words. His prose is rich and vivid. He also recognizes when people, rather than loving words, abuse them for obfuscation and self-aggrandizement. My favorite character — and, incidentally, the most unpleasant character in the book — is the pompous Prof. Les Fenwich. Buslik has clearly been studying the Leftist academic mind very closely. Watching Les giving himself permission to order Kobe dish at an expensive restaurant is a rare pleasure:
Unlike the Delmonico, this Kobe meat sat well with Les’s conscience. Kobe was Japanese beef, from Japanese cows that had been fed only the finest grains, never force-fed, never rushed to market. True, at a gazillion dollars a pound . . . the meat did seem a bit pricey, but didn’t we owe them that? Didn’t we racistly and cruelly intern Japanese-Americans at the start of World War II? Didn’t we murder, maim, and genetically deform thousands of their civilians — the elderly, women, children, handicapped — by dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki — vile, unnecessary, barbarous acts whose only true motive was a show of force that would ensure the supremacy of the American military-industrial complex?
And on and on, until Les concludes that it’s his patriotic duty as an America-hater to order Kobe beef. But really, how could Les think otherwise? As his former lover remembers him, he is a completely hypnotic speaker, if you like bombastic, unintelligible prose:
His long, complex sentences, stitched with discursive subordinate clauses, phrase slathered upon phrase, digression after digression, turned on themselves in eddying pools, only to eventually emerge into grammatical Valhalla — the syntactical equivalent of rapids rushing over a waterfall before settling into a placid alpine lake. She adored the way he used compound adjectives, convoluted modifiers that precariously dangled, metaphysical tropes, and Latinate roots with Anglo-Saxon appendages.
(Right now, I’m trying to convince myself that I am a better and less pompous writer and speaker than Prof. Les Fenwich.)
When Mr. Buslik offered to send me a copy of his book, I game him my usual shtick: If I like it, I’ll review it; if I don’t like, no matter the reason, it will never see the light of day at my blog. I definitely do like this book, and am happy to recommend it to you. One warning, though: there are a lot of swear words, as well as some sexual and scatological references and comments. Also, a lot of the images (especially those revolving around the pork-crazed termites) are disgusting in a dark humor way. I don’t normally like those features in a book either, so it says a lot about this rich satire that I enjoyed the book, not just despite this occasional crudeness, but because of it.