Transcript for Mark Leyner on "The Sugar Frosted Nutsack"

Jim Fleming: William Gibson says that to read Mark Leyner's "The Sugar Frosted Nutsack" is to have it etched on your brain with a sharp periodontal tool.   Publisher's Weekly says it may indeed be the craziest book ever written.  So, what is this mind-bending hallucinatory vortex of a novel all about?  Who better to tell us than the author of "The Sugar Frosted Nutsack" himself, Mark Leyner.

Mark Leyner:  There is a man, he's an unemployed butcher.  His name is Ike, Ike Karton. He lives in Jersey City, New Jersey. Ike believes, rightly or wrongly, I don't want to have to issue a spoiler alert here. . .  Ike believes that there is a pantheon of gods that determine what happens to mortals. There's some question raised in the book about whether these gods only exist in Ike's mind.  There's also a kind of metaphysical proof, a kind of very logical proof, posited by someone that says that the fact that they exist only in Ike's mind proves their existence. So there are all kinds of conversations about that. But really in terms of what happens in the book, Ike goes to a diner and gets a tongue sandwich and flirts with the waitress, comes back, and then hangs out with his daughter's boyfriend, whose name is Vance, and basically waits to be killed.  Ike has that, I shouldn't say a fear as in a way it's a hope, Ike thinks it's his destiny to be killed in front of his family and his neighbors, killed by Masada sharpshooters. The great passion of Ike is really to bring that destiny upon himself as quickly as possible.

Fleming: I think that's actually a fairly concise reduction of the story that you're telling.

Leyner: It's very much the story, and not only is it the story, it's a story I reveal at the beginning of the book and repeat and elaborate throughout the book as myths can be. One of the things I realized when I started this book is that there's no suspense about myths. We all know the endings to them. I thought there was something kind of wonderful about that because it really confounds such a standard convention of novels, which is reading in order to know what happens. In this book, we know what happens and I'm constantly, in case you don't get it the first time, you know? [laughing]

Fleming: [laughs] You're making sure we know by the end.

Leyner: I remind you ad nauseum about what happens.

Fleming: Near the beginning of the book you state much of this. On page five, I wonder if you would read that long paragraph on that page? It ends on the top of page six.  

Leyner: OK.

(READING)

These drunken Gods had been driven by bus to a place they did not recognize.  (It's almost as if they'd been on some sort of "Spring Break", as if they'd "gone wild".)  At first, they were like frozen aphids.  They were so out of it, as if in a state of suspended animation.  It took them several more million years just to come to, to sort of thaw out.  The first God to emerge, momentarily, from the bus was called El Brazo ("the Arm").  Also known as Das Unheimlich-ste des Unheimlichin ("the Strangest of the Strange"), he was bare-chested and wore white Columbia-blue polyester dazzle basketball shorts.  He would soon be worshipped as the God of Virility, the God of Urology, the God of Pornography, etc.  El Brazo leaned out of the bus and struck a contrapposta pose, his head turned away from the torso, an image endlessly reproduced in paintings, sculptures, temple carvings, coins, maritime flags, postage stamps, movie studio logos, souvenir snow globes, take-out coffee cups, playing cards, cigarette packs, condom wrappers, etc.  His pomaded hair swept back into a frothy nape of curls like the wake of a speedboat, he reconnoitered the void with an impassive take-it-or-leave-it gaze, then scowled dyspeptically, and immediately turned around and returned to the bus, where he suddenly ensconced himself, along with the rest of the gods, for another 1.6 million years.  It's extraordinary, that among these sulking, hungover deities who chose to forever dose and fidget in a bus, there were several with enough joie de vivre to continue beatboxing that hypnotic riff for an eternity -- that music that's been so persistently likened to a dance mix of the Mister Softee jingle.  Perhaps it was a fragment of their alma mater's fight song.  They did act, after all, like classmates, as if they'd grown up together in the same small town.   (END OF READING)

Fleming: That was very nicely done.  Thank you.  I think that does give us a very clear idea of at least how one page of "The Sugar Frosted Nutsack" goes.  These gods, if they only exist in Ike's head . . .  There's a lot of fascinating imagination in his head, isn't there?

Leyner: Well, yes. I was going to say thank you, but you're praising Ike's head, not mine, which I like even better.  When I was originally toying around with this idea of gods and goddesses, I very much, adamantly, did not want to do anything that was like a paradox of Greek gods and goddess, or Norse gods, or Hindu gods.  I wanted to create a completely unprecedented group of gods and goddesses.  I think that procedure had some pretty interesting results and consequences.

Fleming: Well, we've met El Brazo in the reading that you did. Tell me XOXO, one of the central gods.

Leyner: Yes. I have to say I am particularly proud of XOXO as a character. I would say he may be the surpassing creation of mine over all these years. XOXO in a way represents the nemesis of all writers. In the book I originally talk about XOXO as the God of Head Trauma and Concussions and Amnesia. But then I distill XOXO's function down to really being the great opponent, the great enemy of the epic. XOXO changes the epic. In a sense I have to battle XOXO to complete this book. XOXO is a mischievous god and puts things in the book that I didn't intend to be in the book. He takes things out that I wanted in the book. As I was creating this character, I realize it's the most brilliant thing a writer could have because I can simply blame anything on XOXO. [laughing]

Fleming: [laughs]

Leyner: You know, if someone says, 'well, I loved the book but I didn't like this part'.
I can say, 'well of course not, that's an interpolation of XOXO's. I had nothing to do with that. I agree with you.'[laughing]

Fleming: This may explain why sometimes I felt as though you were writing whatever came into your head.

Leyner: [chuckles] I've heard that before. If that's what results, it's the most tortured stream of consciousness in the history of streams or consciousnesses.  It's a very meticulous, workmanlike procedure, almost grimly so, to end up with this result. One of the things I wanted this book to have is a kind of subjectivity of its own. It's almost as if the book is the mind creating itself.  You can watch.  It's like one of those machines without any membrane over it so you can see all of its inner workings. I think it's very easy as you're reading this book to see how this book is almost creating itself from page to page.  There's a kind of transparency about it that I like very much.

Fleming: You've also said that you think of the world as a cryptogram. Is that true? What do you mean by that?

Leyner: I really love thinking of the world as rampant with sort of signs.

Fleming: Clues?

Leyner: Clues and symbols and signs that wait to be interpreted. I think the world exists as a source of exegesis. I was reading some book a year or two ago, and it had to do with the Sicilian Cosa Nostra. There was a prosecutor in this case, and he said the loveliest thing, 'it is the vocation of a gentleman to interpret signs'. It certainly is my vocation to create a world that is sizzling and pulsing with signs to be interpreted. That's not a bad description of what I'm trying to do.

Jim Fleming: Mark Leyner is the author of "The Sugar Frosted Nutsack".  

[Audio replay of excerpt of Mark Leyner reading from his book.] ' . . . that music that's been so persistently likened to a dance mix of the Mr. Softee jingle . . . '

[music plays, a humorous and mysterious audio collage of dance music which includes the Mr. Softee jingle]  Here comes Mister Softee . . . Everybody dance now . .. Yes, everyone comes a'running for delicious soft ice cream, that's Mister Softee. . ."]

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