Like many modern heroes, the titular protagonist of Codrescu's latest novel knows neither what he wants nor where he's going. So when the devil appears, Wakefield, a well-read motivational speaker, does what any good literary character would do: he makes a deal to extend his life, and then tries to find himself. On a cross-country lecture circuit through Clintonian America, Wakefield observes ethnic wars, new Internet money and shiny coffeehouse chains, while conversing with day-trading slackers, doom-spouting art collectors and lesbian supermodels. But the "authentic life" Wakefield is seeking eludes him. The road trip becomes increasingly surreal, an Epcot Center display of clashing cultures and globalism gone awry. The devil has spared his life, but Wakefield may as well already be a ghost—like the devil, he stands apart, gamely philosophizing on subjects like the size of airplane seats: "The simultaneous machinery of gluttony and greed works to sacrifice the individual to corporate ego, imprisoning the body in a cell of fat, and every inch stolen from the body's ease ends up in corporate space." He initiates intimate affairs with women who demand nothing from him and continues to roam with no accountability or impact. Meanwhile, the novel grows slack as its humorous scenes and colorful characters become convenient springboards for Wakefield's speechifying. While Codrescu raises big questions and presents interesting and often deeply comic modern insights, this scattered novel feels more like an excuse for the author's NPR-like essays on contemporary existence than a cohesive narrative. Agent, Jonathan Lazear . (May)
Forecast: Praise from Tom Robbins and Robert Olen Butler should capture the attention of the younger fans of the former and the slightly more seasoned admirers of the latter.
Release date: 01/01/2004