Author: Ann Sterzinger
Publisher: Nine-Banded Books
It took me forever to finish NVSQVAM (nowhere) by Ann Sterzinger. One of the reasons is because, though she had initially sent me a PDF copy that I was supposed to review on this here blog like three months ago, I don’t own a kindle and, for the life of me, I can’t read books off of a computer screen or printed computer paper. The second reason is because I was mostly reading it at work since, when I’m at home, I’m typically doing other stuff like drinking, watching movies or going to gigs.
It should also be noted that, while initially I was just going to read the PDF file off printed paper, because Ann had become one of the two co-hosts on the Savage Hippie podcast – the other being David Cole – and, I suppose, my friend, I wanted to do that whole “supportin’ mah friends’ art” thang, and plunked down the cash for her book, which, by the way, has a neat illustration from Billy Spicer on its cover and a fun to touch glossy cover stock.
So, because Ann is no longer just some weird female author who wears a Dr. Who t-shirt and writes a hilarious blog, in which she wrote my favorite article ever, “Islam Isn’t a Race, It’s a Mental Disorder”, but is actually someone I talk to on a regular basis, her book now seems like an extension of her real life personality. In fact she literally recites whole passages out of it in casual conversation.
But don’t think that, just because she’s a woman and she’s my friend, that I’m going to grade on a curve or sumthin’. Nope. In fact I’m going to pick up apart, scrutinize and try to find fault with her book every step of the way just to be a dii.. just to prove that I’m an unbiased reviewer, who judges the art, rather than the artist.
The first thing someone might notice upon cracking open NVSQVAM is that there are a bunch of annoying footnotes on nearly every page. Personally I prefer endnotes so they don’t slow up the flow of my reading, and typically I trust that the person who wrote the book gives enough context clues on the references, where I wouldn’t even need to read the footnotes or endnotes in the first place. As it turns out, you’re supposed to read the footnotes, in which Ann takes potshots at such edgy targets as Walmart and the Bush administration. But, what’s really frustrating about the footnotes is that, in some cases, she bothers to explains references to punk bands like X-Ray Spex and the Rezillos and voluptuous comic woman artist Chris Cooper, while in other cases, she brings up Nitzer Ebb, the industrial group, with no footnote at all, as if it’s common knowledge to the average reader; “she had a Nitzer Ebb sticker.”
The other thing people will notice is that, in spite Ann’s being a woman, the protagonist is a man named Lester. And it makes me wonder: with a name like that, why not go all the way and call him Chester?
Basically the narrative of NVSQVAM puts the reader in the middle of Lester’s apparently miserable life, which I guess takes place in a hillbilly, bible belt town in Southern Illinois, but, as far as I’m concerned, could just as easily take place in Allendale, MI, where I preceded to drink and fuck away six years of my life at Grand Valley State University.
As for the story, after being booted from a mediocre punk band called the Incognito Mosquitoes, who then changed their name to the even stupider Pigpocket, Lester was forced to marry his girlfriend Evelyn, who conveniently “forgot” to take her birth control pill and delivered their son, Martin, who, for some reason, has an IQ of 160, and, as one might expect, Lester absolutely despises. I’m not sure why she made him THAT smart. When I was a little kid, I was pretty perceptive, and probably would have been graded with a higher than average IQ if I had been tested, but I didn’t necessarily need to read at a level MUCH higher than the grade level I was in. I understand that Lester is supposed to hate his son, but there are a myriad of other reasons to do this other than his ostensibly being smarter than his dad.
I DO however like how Lester talks to his son. I distinctly remember older people talking to me in a similar fashion. But, then again, my folks are from Russia, so I learned at an early age that adults aren’t nice, and the world isn’t pretty.
But anyway, Lester decided to go back to school for classics, translating works in Latin, and has to deliver a dissertation on the topic. Needless to say, by this point in his life, he’s lost all the passion (if he had any) for his chosen field of study and now treads water in a life of mediocrity.
Now, let me be honest here. While I think the book is hilarious in parts and thoroughly entertaining, especially with Lester’s misanthropic inner dialogue, if I were to really analyze the scenarios presented – meeting Lester’s football obsessed father, meeting Evelyn’s faux snob parents, copious amounts of boozed out nuttiness and some fun, but improbable twists – I REALLY don’t see them as being all that indicative of a life in suburban hell. Then, once again, my parents ARE Russian, so couching mean-spirited attitudes in the form of “tough love” is something I just take for granted.
I’m also not a Generation X’er who apparently felt like he had to compromise his ideals to live a Middle Class life. In fact, I don’t even HAVE any ideals! I just want to drink, watch horror movies, read comic books, go to shows, collect records and have a cute girlfriend/wife/XX person to do it with. So, to ME, getting wasted all the time and having someone there by your side really isn’t something I consider to be too big of a problem.
HOWEVER, Evelyn committed the grand daddy cardinal sin of dating; she got herself pregnant behind Lester’s back, or so it’s implied. So, no matter how many times Evelyn might evoke the romance from the old days by doing something cute, at the end of the day, she is still a manipulative cunt. And whether it’s fair or not that Lester hates the spawn of their loins is completely irrelevant; at the end of the day Evelyn cajoled a man into a life he didn’t necessarily want to be part of, and it can never be rectified…
Or can it? A person with a traditional sense of Christian or I guess mainstream morality, would most likely see the climax as unfathomably tragic or – spoiler alert – a parent’s worst nightmare. But, one who believes in good old fashioned revenge, might in fact feel the conclusion to be quite satisfying. Let’s put it this way; in spite making you think you hate Lester for all of his self-pity during most of the book AND even tricking you into being slightly empathetic to Evelyn, Ann reveal’s that she is on Lester’s side the entire time, giving him the strength to say, “fuck you” at the end.
It’s tough to say if I think she’s really taking on the voice and persona of a man or just telling a really good story from the third person, and I have to question why she presents the “plebes” in the southern Illinois town with such disdain, when she herself allegedly really likes the “stupit” folk who make America’s gears turn, but the one character she ABSOLUTELY nailed (in more ways than one) is Cyndi.
Holy cow, the Cyndi character is spot fucking on. She’s a typical white trash chick, who replaced smarts and learning anything of value with pure snark. She doesn’t know a whole lot about the world, but convinces people she’s “cool” by knowing a bunch of obscure old bands. I LOVE and have dated girls like this. They care not a wink about politics, know not a lick about what’s going on in the world and don’t care for political correctness either. They think offensiveness – like her collection of boy band posters with Hitler mustaches – is fun for its own sake, and just go with the flow. Ann, if you’re reading this, the Melissa girl, who I was with on Halloween, was this chick. She started bitching about how the air we breath is polluted, to which I responded by explaining that the air we breathe is the cleanest in the world, and that it’s China and India that have the dirtiest air. And she said, “Oh, REALLY?! Wow, well, thanks for telling me! Now I’m a little more knowledgeable!” Yep, love ’em!
A lot of the writing has the kind of sass that slips through in a normal conversation, describing fruit from trees as alien brains or describing enormous Dodge Ram pickup trucks as giant kill machines. But, there is one passage that is written so deliciously vividly to the point of causing nausea in the reader (note: it could be a spoiler):
This time it was much easier. Like a knife cutting a rare steak… Two cuts across, two cuts the long way. One more across, one more the long way. That just left the right hand…
In the words of the Cramps, “I ain’t nothin’ but a gore hound.”
As I was reading NVSQVAM, I noticed that some of these situations could have happened in my own life. If anything, the book is a reminder of why someone should either wear a condom or jizz in a girl’s face.