Years ago an American army captain ordered a million copies of a short novel, something to help keep the troops’ spirits up in Europe. Many credit the mass production of this book, _The Great Gatsby_, as the reason why F. Scott Fitzgerald, who had died in obscurity in 1940, rose to worldwide fame, and Gatsby became a part of the American canon. Part of this may have had something to do with the quality of the work. In the latest issue of _the New Yorker_, Adam Gopnik referred to it as one of three perfect books in American literature, along with _Huckleberry Finn_ and _The Cathcer in the Rye_. It seems successful tech entrepreneur Rich Shapero has followed suit, making it rain copies of his appalling opus everywhere from here to Copenhagen. If you were lucky enough to walk by Firestone around lunch last Monday or hanging out by the sketchy truck selling Skechers behind Frist, you may have been offered a free copy, and you might have been very surprised that it wasn’t the Bible, or authored by Americans for tax reform.
The cover of _Wild Animus_ looks like a cave drawing that seems to portray an act of bestiality: the outline of what looks like an Egyptian pharaoh is sodomizing a ram (the book’s main symbol/motif/literary-term-of-your-choice and source of constant amusement). _Wild Animus_ is the equivalent of a bad horror movie. It’s painful to read, but if you can find someone to read it aloud to you, you’ll be in for a world of hilarious pain. I would recommend a vagrant or perhaps someone who, like the author, doesn’t have a strong command of the English language.
In case you don’t have time to wait at the loading dock behind Frist until someone hands out the CliffsNotes version of _Wild Animus_, here’s the lowdown: a musician/mystic-channeler-of-ram-spirit picks up a girl and they go off into the wilderness together. Oh yeah, and he gives away the ending in the first three pages, something violent with a helicopter and a woman crying. The mystic’s name is Sam but he changes it to Ransom for obvious reasons of maximized awesomeness as he proceeds to drop acid, channel the spirit of the Ram (“Sam could feel the ram’s exhilaration, his love of precarious altitude, the command of vast terrain, the clarity of vast space” ), and make sweet, sweet ram love. Ransom is a smooth operator; over the first pages we see him calmly collect a coed’s digits while the riot squad gasses his Berkeley classmates. He’s also prone to random bouts of cringe-worthy philosophizing: “Sam nodded, ‘He lives on love. For him, sex is like rocket fuel.’” Or, “’I’m going to tell our story,’ Sam said. ‘As a fur-covered shaman, a wild ram-man, chanting the liturgy of surrender” (67).
According to the Artist Bio on Shapero’s website, (www.richshapero.com), it took the author about twenty years to complete _Wild Animus_. He took frequent trips to Alaska as part of his spiritual awakening and research for the book. He has a wide variety of diverse influences including, but not limited to: William Blake, Jim Morrison, Blind Willie Johnson, Blind Willie McTell, The Church (not sure if he’s referring the Australian proto-punk band, or the Roman Catholic one, church that is, not the band, or perhaps the Scientologist one), Herman Melville, and Henrik Ibsen.
While I can’t stress enough what complete and utter crap this book is, if you can admit that Shapero has an ethos, he does stick to it. Ransom, his protagonist, one of those artsy stock characters that only exist in parodies of 60s parodies, frequently breaks into song or hears an unknown inner voice speaking about the mysteries of life, the forest, and whatever the hell is left of _Fern Gully_: “Poise tripped, lunging into a cock and spring assault/Huffing, heart-flooded, headlong over a flashing flush I vault/Yes, I hear you chattering/No, I will not halt” (76). I’ll give Shapero a quiet golfer’s clap for trying to channel the spirit of Walt Whitman, but he doesn’t seem to have realized that novels are as much products of revision as of writing, that spontaneous creation usually doesn’t work on the page, or anywhere else, perhaps with the exception of _8 Mile_, but even rap battlers pre-write lines and rehearse disses. So yes, if Mr. Shapero sought to write a spontaneous novel, without revision or seemingly any critique coming from outside his acid-washed blood-brain barrier, then he has succeeded, but his success has resulted in one atrocious novel. Within the first few pages, he commits every sappy, uninteresting cliché you see in any introductory creative writing course. The sentences are awkward at best.
_He would know who he was and where his destiny lay. What he sensed as he stood in her embrace, feeling the onset of the drug, was the beginning of something momentous for both of them._
_“Are you ready for this?” he murmured._
_She seemed as quickened as he._ (69)
Shapero seems to know the definition of metaphor and recognize that it can be useful, but he shoves words into places they don’t fit, describing details and scenes well past the point of redundancy: “Sam’s concentration narrowed, his expression growing perplexed, as if he was trying to recall where he’d left something” (15), and, “Sam unbuckled his belt with trembling hands and stepped out of his pants, conscious of his nakedness in a way that she was not” (49).
Sometimes it’s difficult to discern whether the text is referring to Ransom or the ram spirit or whether they are the same thing and why the hell that might be relevant. Why a ram? Because it’s adept at mountain climbing? Because it has horns and is therefore always horny? Methinks yes.
_Ransom groaned, hooking Lindy with his arm and rolling over her. “The way they spring—“He kissed her, full of wonder. “They keep their hinds together. A unified thrust.” He arched against her, demonstrating. “That’s why people think sheep and goats are creatures of lust.”_
_She laughed, embracing him with her legs, gazing adoringly in his eyes. They were running, flying, in their own world again, just the two of them, as he’s promised._
_He unbuttoned his shirt. The hunger it triggered in her surprised him. She stripped his pants down, biting his left pectoral, rolling the muscle between her teeth. They tore their boots and underclothes off._
_“Like they do,” he said_ [referring to the Ram, for those of you playing the home game]. _Without a word, she rose onto her hands and knees. Trembling all over, he mounted her, her warmth like a current flowing through him. His loins fired, and he was suddenly the creature he’d dreamed of, head high, hunched and thrusting between earth and sky”._ (84)
You can’t make this stuff up.
So unless this is a piece of avant-garde concept art being orchestrated by the ghost of Andy Warhol from some obscure European locale, say Lichtenstein… I’m at a loss.