Let’s say you have a job, in America, at the present moment, and it’s every job, and it’s been a job for quite a long time: what book should you read at your long, extended, taxpayer-financed lunch “break” – and also during “prep” time- and before being released and going home? This book should fall within the borders of social nihilism, and yet present a whole, contained absurdist-realist world? Mark Leyner’s Gone With the Mind is certainly that experience, that alternate reality, and it will stand up as the necessary rejection of many strands of institutionalized culture and academia.
Leyner was a gas when he began in early Duran Duran epoch, went fallow, stayed on the periphery of celebrity writing through his frantic singularity, but Gone With the Mind brings his trademarked Larry Brach-Davidian Borscht Belt gonzo hyper-allusiveness into a more “realistic” territory. He’ll always introduce a bit, blast it into a comic, hyperbolic inventiveness, and bring it back on the next page, a habit of thinking that can seem clever and winning, but gets the reader, however grateful he (there’s a certain Aspergian quality to Leyner that must have his readership be lopsidedly male) or she is for technical wizardry of the writing, nowhere in his or her mind. The autobiographical particularities Leyner introduces are humane and genuine, buffeting his flights of literary fancy with grounded social reality, but when your main competition is some burners-on-high fictionist who hanged himself after a long and public series of nervous breakdowns, then your chosen field is suspect. The worlds of work and reading, watching and participating in family life, have been immeasurably enlivened by Leyner’s bounteous observations, but the stimulus has transferred to each one of us to inhabit our own fantasy persona of cultural resistance.
As the book winds up, the relevant question is now before the reader: who is more important to the next phase of the world – the two break-taking food court employees of Panda Express and Sbarro in the deserted mall, or the afflicted writer himself? The cult of the writer, or the reality of the dead-end worker?