This book was a struggle to finish. I’ve read instructional manuals on hooking up my VCR with more chutzpah, but I wanted to give it time to redeem itself and had to put off reading about anarchism and wrestling to see if Jack could pull some magic off at the end. Nope. In the kindest light, WAGNC! is a treatise on being down. The protagonist is vapor locked in depression, which could be a poignant, sober look a viable, crippling disorder. It’s not. Granted, there are a smattering of well-written sentences, paragraphs, and sections. The best section of the book is where Jack goes to visit one of his dying grandmothers, who had previously been giving him grief about his beard. There’s a tender exchange where she calls him her “beautiful, beautiful boy.” That passage aside, it’s difficult to recommend this book because it’s, ultimately, whiney, ineffectual, horribly self-absorbed, and woefully delusional. How, at the end, Jack fancies himself as a rugged individualist is laughable.
Right before I picked up WAGNC!, I read A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, a fantastic, succinct book that follows the sunrise to sunset activity of a man who is in a Siberian concentration camp. The book, although horrifying by the situation of subzero temperatures, watery gruel, and being in prison, is ultimately redemptive. Ivan never complains. He has to stitch extra bread into his mattress so it won’t get stolen. During the day, he masterfully helps make a perfectly level wall to his own prison. In the evening, he’s stoked that there’s a bit more of rancid potato floating around in his bowl.
Jack Saturn complains, at length, about almost everything. This is by no means a complete list, but here are some of the great issues tackled in WAGNC! He’s bummed they’re phasing out Stewart’s soda from his girlfriend’s college cafeteria, of which he’s mooching off from her meal plan. The college happens to be Reed, an expensive college where a friend of mine, Chris, was a cook at. It’s the same progressive college that Chris was a cook and not a student at, and was expressly prohibited by the school to see Howard Zinn read. It’s the same school, which prides itself in giving grants to those in need, and although Chris was supporting himself by working in the kitchen, he was forbidden to attend classes there. And Jack Saturn’s complaining about the soda selection.
Jack Saturn complains – for pages, mind you – that the used Megadeth CD he bought really has a Cranberries CD inside the case. This sends him into a tailspin. He feels, “destroyed by the mistaken purchase.” And he’s not kidding.
Jack Saturn takes pages and pages to go buy a fucking umbrella. He lives in Portland, Oregon. It rains there a lot.
On page forty, Jack learns that “the ultimate oppression was to be found in the ponderously tight physical and emotional space underneath an American flag (his emphasis).” Yet Jack Saturn, by help of the very same government and the policies that it makes, is on a long, year-plus jag of unemployment checks, which provides him with assloads of free time to wander about aimlessly. Could it be, Jack, that the very same America you loathe is responsible for the same money boob you’re suckling? It’s this lack of penetrating thought – or that issues are more complex than Jack paints them – that’s severely missing from WAGNC! That’s infuriating. America’s bad! Give me some money, though! End of story.
Jack Saturn makes hard, fast stands against buying his licorice from Plaid Pantry, a local, family-owned chain of twenty-or-so stores in Portland, Oregon, because he wants to support the littler guys. Such bold moves!
Jack Saturn gets thrown for a massive loop by the fact that when sending postal service package via little stores instead of the USPS directly, they mark up the price. Brutal! (They’re called “middlemen,” Jack. The object you walked into when the bell went ding is called a “store.” That “store,” to stay in what they call “business,” has to make this thing called “money.” If they didn’t charge you more for sending packages than the USPS they would be helping you, a stranger, for free. They need to make a “profit.” You can avoid this additional fee by standing in line at the post office. This is not rocket science. Dude, you don’t have to like a capitalistic society, but at least know its operating principles and how to skirt many of its oppressive effects.)
I also fundamentally disagree with Jack’s philosophies in life. I disagree that “some of us are too shy to speak and others of us are bombastic to the point of irritation, but either way, neither of us are really saying anything of worth.” If you truly believe that nothing of worth is ever said, you’ve set up a trap. If nothing said is of any worth, why write a book about nothingness? If conversations aren’t of any worth, why would I want to read a book that truly believes that premise, when books are very much dependent on characters who converse with one another? Jaded in your mid-twenties, as Jack proclaims he is, doesn’t make for a very edifying, enlightening, or satisfying read.
In closing, I want independent literature to be stronger and more vibrant than what’s available through a mega-conglomerate. I want it to be better. Unfortunately, WAGNC! is bereft with disappointment after disappointment. I’ve read more interesting place mats. –Todd (The Recursive Imprint, PO Box 3842, Portland, OR 97208)