'Et Tu, Babe': a weird but funny satire

November 02, 1992|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,Staff Writer

Reading "Et Tu, Babe" is sort of like dropping a tab of methamphetamine and watching a simulcast of MTV, a three-ring circus and "Saturday Night Live" while a Guns N' Roses tape blares from the headphones of your Walkman.

Got all that? From the opening of Mark Leyner's hysterically convoluted new novel, your brain is assailed with a dizzying array of hallucinogenic scenes, twisted characters and ridiculously improbable plot developments that is the closest thing to sensory overload achieved through the written word.

As for what the book is all about, well, I . . . I'm not exactly sure, really.

Apparently it purports to tell the story of the fictional Mr. Leyner, superstar savior of Harmony Books, who modestly describes himself thusly:

"I'm only 36 years old; I've achieved international notoriety as a best-selling author, body-builder, martial artist; I make more in a year from product endorsements than most people make in a lifetime; I've got a multi-million dollar headquarters with a guard tower, gatehouses, patrol dogs, armed sentries, a vast warren of underground tunnels; I've got a gorgeous wife and an entourage gophers and sycophants . . ."

If Mr. Leyner had in mind a devastating parody of the writer as celebrity, he has succeeded brilliantly.

The monster ego unleashed in "Et Tu, Babe" dwarfs anything ever attributed to Norman Mailer or Jay McInerney; picture Hammer sitting down at the word processor and you come close to the self-obsession displayed here.

Happily, it also allows Mr. Leyner, a gifted satirist, to skewer whatever conventions pop into his fertile imagination.

Mr. Leyner on aspiring writers: "My advice to the young people of today? I'm tempted to say: Surround yourself with flunkies and yes-men and have naked slaves, perfumed with musk, fan you with plastic fronds as you write. Because that's what's worked for me."

Mr. Leyner on the auto industry: ". . . I showed slides of my newest car, which is made by Visigoth Motor Works (VMW), a survivalist automobile manufacturer located in northern Idaho. I've got their sports coupe, the Piranha 793 (commemorating the year that Viking raiders sacked the English monastery at Lindisfarne). It features state-of-the-art technology that not only protects its passengers in the event of a collision, but ensures the death of the passengers in the other car."

Weird? You betcha. Weird is the thread that weaves everywhere through the fabric of this book. How else to explain Mr. Leyner's description of an interactive computerized laser video player that enables you to take any movie and insert Arnold Schwarzenegger as the actor in the lead role, leading to such chilling cinematic mutations as "My Fair Lady" with Arnold Schwarzenegger as Professor Higgins or "Gandhi" with Arnold Schwarzenegger instead of Ben Kingsley?

Some may find Mr. Leyner's frenetic, light-show prose wearying after 168 pages, but not me. The book is funny as hell.

Kevin Cowherd is a columnist for The Evening Sun.


Author: Mark Leyner

Publisher: Harmony Books

Length, price: 168 pages; $17

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