Welcome to the United States of Everything. The military is the dominant force and war is the new national pastime. Books are irrelevant and libraries are all but forgotten while the majority of the population is on a state sponsored welfare system. This is the world where Saul Dressing finds himself in Andersen Prunty’s smart bizarro novel, My Fake War.
The absurd tale of an unlikely soldier forced to fight a war that, quite possibly, does not exist.
Saul Dressing is a flabby middle-aged librarian who just wants to be left alone to listen to jazz, watch porn, and cultivate his toenails. All of this changes when a soldier in a camouflage sweat suit shows up to draft him into the army of the United States of Everything. His mission is simple: go to a foreign country no one has ever heard of and incite the opposition to strike first. All alone in the middle of a desert with no enemy in sight, Saul must come to terms with the absurdity of his situation. Thus begins a surreal journey into the politics of war, consumerism, and giant robots.
My Fake War is a bizzaro novel with a message. It is cautionary tale to a generation that has known almost nothing but war. Prunty chooses to tell a very straight-forward tale while still reveling in some truly bizarre occurrences. The protagonist, Saul Dressing, is an overweight librarian whose favorite activities include slowly masturbating himself to sleep and growing his toenails so long that they are now referred to as talons. He is actually the most down-to-earth character in the story and is also the vehicle for most of the novel’s message. Dressing encounters the absurd as he is drafted into the military by a slop of a man known as Baxter Baxter. Baxter shows up to Saul’s house wearing a less than official looking sweat suit and tells Saul that he has been drafted and will be sent to a foreign land to wage a one man war. Saul is witness to some extreme weirdness as he comes to the ultimate realization that war may not be the answer and the enemy may be those who sent him to fight.
Interspersed between these strange plot points, Prunty allows Saul to muse over the philosophy of war. These are the moments that make My Fake War a complete success. Take this passage for example:
It seemed stupid. It seemed beyond stupid. It seemed like the most retarded thing in the world. Just within the scope of my vision, there had to be a hundred dead people. What here was worth that? What here was woth one dead person? If there was anything here, what could possibly be more valuable than one human life?
These are the moments where Prunty really elevates himself above his peers. He is able to drive home a very strong point with simple prose and an everyman type of humor. Despite the sheer ridiculousness of the story, Saul comes across as a sympathetic character. The reader feels for his plight as he is forced to engage in activities that go against his best moral judgment. At its core, this book is not only a statement on war but it is an exploration of human behavior and emotion. Pretty heady stuff for a novel about a fat librarian waging a one man war in a desert, huh?
As the story progresses, Prunty continues to peel layers off of Saul’s soul to explore the inner workings of the human condition. He actually has the entire story come full circle as Dressing begins to retaliate against the powers that forced him into war. Here is a passage that shows how Saul has come to grips with the need to fight:
But this was a matter of defense, wan’t it? Wasn’t I defending my home? Wouldn’t I condone war if people were trying to invade the United States of Everything, as opposed to us invading them?
Saul Dressing now understands when war and violence are appropriate. He now has the experience and perspective to be able to justify the need to fight. Saul is going on the offensive to maintain his way of life, not to better his way of life. This is the ultimate lesson that Prunty has set out to teach us. He simply asks us to reflect on the root cause of the wars that each of us choose to wage on a daily level. Why are we fighting? Are these wars worth it?
My Fake War really establishes Andersen Prunty as one of the elite names in the bizarro genre. He keeps the readers on their toes with enough sci-fi absurdity in the peripheral, all while Prunty drives his message home. The author never comes across as preachy or overbearing- he simply lets the story take center stage. My Fake War would be an excellent starting point for those looking for an entryway into the world of bizarro while those crazy bizarro die-hards will certainly appreciate this wonderful entry into this wonderful sub-genre.
You can check out Andersen on his website, here.