Fax or Fiction?

But how can we be sure Sandy Bohrer actually received a copy of this chapter? Did a transmission ever reach George Corrigan? The certain knowledge that New Times got a fax is the only conclusive evidence that a New Times reader has; any information about other readers is mere speculation and epistemological paradox. Author-Thompson has devised an infernal network of intersecting circuits, and no reader can ever apprehend the full work. Any half-dozen fax recipients recall not Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author but rather six readers in search of a definitive text.

The work, of course, is striking not only for its form but for its content. It has been author-Thompson's good fortune, and certainly a result of his prodigious literary skills, to seize upon a topic worthy of such formal innovation. In the search for a plot that would complement the genius of the faxnovel, author-Thompson has made narrator-Thompson a paranoid and morally hypersensitive conspiracy theorist, a characterization that both justifies the incessant faxing of "Jack Thompson" and provides him with a wealth of material to exploit in his dispatches. Books have been narrated by paranoids before; who can forget Pale Fire? And books have been written about deluded crusaders; who can forget Quixote, or the New Testament? But the degree to which Thompson's Thompson has advanced the theme of literary paranoia is truly revelatory. He squeezes the pus of conspiracy from every pore of America's urban complexion - from free expression, from atheism, from homosexuality, from lingerie. In a fax transmitted this past May, "Thompson" even crows over the apparent public disapproval of a Hate Crimes Bill proposed in "Florida." Analyzing the reasons for this widespread opposition, narrator-Thompson suggests, "The public has correctly perceived that this is a radical gay rights bill designed to legitimize homosexual perversion." To demean a bill intended to protect minorities from victimization is distateful indeed. But Jack Thompson, novelist, must give voice to these irrational impulses. It is what makes "Jack Thompson," narrator, one of the most vividly drawn characters since Kafka's Gregor Samsa.

One might be tempted to think a novel confined to the one-sided ravings of a sanctimonious lunatic would implode into brittle solipsism, especially when those ravings are as full of ominous Biblical allusions to "God" and "sin" as narrator-Thompson's are. But this author is too savvy to let his work fail its readers. Though he must handicap his own powers of analysis, and even fairness, to ape the crippling myopia of "Jack Thompson," the novel is written with a persistent, if petulant, sense of humor. The very format of a business letter is mined for witticisms: "Thompson" is unflaggingly polite even to his worst enemies, even when the subject of a chapter is "Your Removal From Office," as it is in a September 1991 fax addressed to "George Corrigan." Similarly, "Doug Morris," president of a company known only as "Atlantic Records," is mischievously referred to as "scofflaw president" and "nervous president."

The minor-league wit that Thompson has perfected for his narrator extends even into the rhythms of the prose. Samuel Johnson had the Johnsonian sentence; "Jack Thompson" possesses his own unique Thompsonian prose, especially in his relentless employment of brief and sarcastic rejoinders to punctuate tirades. This pattern recurs time and again, including chapters of December 5, 1990 ("Even your own `expert' testimony did not help. Probably hurt."); November 5, 1991 ("The album cover features 2 Live Crew receiving fellatio from four women in bed. Nice."); and the double-dip pithiness of April 23, 1991 ("If you don't, you'll be eternally sorry. I'm not kidding. Look it up."). The juvenile ineptitude of the correspondence itself becomes pleasurable, recalling Gilbert Sorrentino's Mulligan Stew, which slyly insults publishers who turned down Sorrentino's manuscript by reprinting their foolish rejection letters in a prologue to the novel.

Part Two
In any work of fiction that uses paranoia as a central theme, the question of credibility rears its head high. The claims of "Jack Thompson," which range from unfounded insinuations of lesbianism on the part of "Janet Reno" to assertions that reports of auto-emissions tail-pipe testing belie a homosexual bias on the part of "The Miami Herald," are certainly extreme. But are they reliable? Author-Jack Thompson provides readers with sufficient reason to question the competency of his narrator. Sometimes "Jack Thompson" is so apoplectic with rage that he cannot even control his spelling: A local newspaper columnist named "Greg Baker" is frequently addressed as "Gregg," and in a reference to NBA commissioner David Stern, "Thompson" inexplicably writes of a "David Stearns." And several times, the tone of the work nearly topples over the line that separates sarcasm from dementia, as in a chapter of July 17, 1991, in which "Thompson" insists hysterically that "Sheriff Navarro's immigration papers indicate he is from the planet Pluto, where the Bill of Rights is not operative."

In author-Thompson's capable hands, narrator-Thompson will stop at nothing. He insults, he threatens, he attacks. In recent chapters, he has even returned to the clever tactic of aping legitimate press releases, a technique that began with the aforementioned "Hate Crimes Bill" chapter of May 1991, and has continued through November 11, 1991's "Immediate Press Release," which accuses the "National Basketball Association" of promoting high-risk sex. It would probably take an entire book to sufficiently address the similarities between this novel and classic crime-fighting serials, especially the Shadow radio program of the Forties and the Fantomas books of Thirties Paris. But the basic affinity could not be clearer, and local public figures are probably leaning forward in their chairs, knock-kneed with excitement over whether characters founded on them will appear in the next installment of the Thompson papers, or the installment after that.

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