I wrote a bit about “Bubblegum” earlier– trying to determine, before I was done, if it was worth it’s own length. It’s 780 pages, which is a fair chunk of reading to commit to, and I had mixed feelings about it while reading it. It’s a work of great imagination, and can be archly funny. However, it’s just… long in spots for reasons I can’t fathom. The cast of characters isn’t particularly large, the story, while detailed, isn’t complex:
In an alternate timeline to our own, the internet does not exist. What *does* exist are small creatures called “Cures” which are an obsession. They are “the flesh and blood robot that thinks it’s your friend!” as the book puts it. They are small, furry, and incredibly cute– indeed, some of them are so cute that they put people into a state known as “overload” in which people literally squeeze them to death, or eat them, or torture them. The book has endless passages describing the ways in which people abuse these creatures. Society apparently thinks this a normal thing– despite the fact that they act and appear to be sentient, and respond to humans in a way that would indicate unconditional affection for them, humans seem to want to torture and murder these things.
Our protagonist is named “Belt Magnet” and hoo boy Adam Levin loves weird/dumb names– we get “Lotta Hogg” “Johnny ‘Jonboat’ Johnson” and “Fondajane Henry” among others. Belt is a once-published writer, who’s book “No Please Don’t” is out of print– “Bubblegum” is framed as a memoir, and Belt is hoping to use it to drum up interest in reprinting the novel, which everyone thinks is genius. On top of all this, Belt is a diagnosed schizophrenic. He believes he can communicate with inanimate objects, which he calls “inans”. They tell him various things, but most of them complain about being broken, and beg him to put them to death, a process that varies wildly. Primarily, he puts swingsets out of their misery, which he refers to as murdering them.
Belt’s childhood friend has become an incredibly rich man, and his son “Triple J”, is a precocious asshole, a fan of “No Please Don’t” and an aspiring artist– he asks Belt to write a ‘transcript’ of his collage “A Fist Full of Fists” which consists entirely of clips of Cures being murdered in various ways. Belt does so, makes some money, and with it finds, if not happiness, some sort of stability.
I’m leaving a lot out here– this thing is plot dense in a way that not a lot of postmodern novels are. Impressively, everything in it fits together in some way or another. An hilarious aside about this universe’s “The Matrix” (since there is no internet, it’s a ‘matrix’ that Cures secretly use to communicate) which stars Bennedict Cumberbatch is actually used as a plot point when Belt gets in touch with one of the Wachowskis. It’s all very clever, and I admired the sheer level of detail that Levin put into things. There are parts that are very funny, and parts that are sad, and parts that just drag. Trip is given entirely too much time, including a lengthy speech about fisting (yes, the sexual act). Characters monologue for dozens of pages. At least one of these monologues is imaginary. Some of Belt’s short stories are included. Belt describes the process of writing his own memoir at some length.
And after a while, that length just started to wear me down. I gave up reading other things so that I could focus on this entirely, in an attempt to get it finished. The last quarter or so started to feel more like a chore than something I was enjoying, but I was invested enough in the story to see it through, and, ultimately, it’s not disappointing– to my mind, it all concludes in a satisfying way; there’s meant to be a shaggy dog quality to it all, but… I can’t help but think some of this stuff could have been shaved down without hurting that.
Was it worth the time spent on it? “Kind of” is my definitive answer. There was a kind of manic inventiveness to it all which was admirable. And the meditations on what makes art ‘valuable’ also interested me in a way that few works do. Levin was successful in drawing me into his world, and less successful in convincing me that I should stay in it. In a way, these kinds of failures are more interesting than something perfectly written; we can examine the cracks and see what works for us and what doesn’t. Maybe more on that some other time.