'The Weirdness' is Faust in the Information Age, with a strong dose of ironic detachment
LIT In this workaday world we live in, it's good to inject a little weirdness. Mix in moments of the metaphysical and dabs of the divine into our banal, everyday existence. And you can start by grabbing a copy of The Weirdness (Melville House, 288 pp., $16.95) and letting novelist Jeremy P. Bushnell do it for you.
The Faustian premise is a familiar one, with Lucifer showing up in hapless aspiring writer Billy Ridgeway's living room with that timeless offer of earthly greatness in exchange eternal servitude. Or something like that, because Billy is skeptical and won't sit through the Devil's PowerPoint presentation (yes, this is Faust in the Information Age) even though it comes with really great coffee.
From there, the journey begins, a slow buildup of character development to what becomes a wild ride navigating the battlefield between the Adversarial Manifestation and the human forces secretly arrayed against him, à la Harry Potter. But the real appeal of The Weirdness isn't the plot, as fun and fantastical as it may be.
No, the moments when I found myself enjoying this novel the most, the times when I laughed or smiled to myself with appreciation at the strength of the writing by this debut novelist, was when we peeked inside Billy's mind as the weirdness was unfolding around him.
Self-absorbed and filled with doubt, preoccupied with petty gripes and grievances, obsessing about that last tiff with his girlfriend, and wondering whether he's doing it right, the world inside Billy's mind is a comically hilarious counterpoint to the epic clash of good and evil that is unfolding around him. I wasn't sure whether I wanted to slap the kid and give him a big hug, but either way it was the stuff that really elevated this novel.
In many ways, this is an illuminating parable for these times, particularly among the young technology and finance workers here in San Francisco, who obsess about the latest deal or app or foodie delight, oblivious to the epic struggles around them except for when those strange societies of passionate warriors confront them, when Billy and those who want nothing more than their own personal success and happiness are made aware that there are larger struggles going on in the world.
And then, Billy is mostly just irritated by the inconvenience of it all. When members of the Right-Hand Path try to help Billy break free from the clutches of the devil, he just won't be told what to do or trouble himself with taking a stand, even though the secret cabal is based on the set of his favorite sci-fi television show, Argentium Astrum.
After all, these nerdy do-gooders took his cell phone and won't give it back, so Billy thinks that maybe he's better off working with Lucifer, who is at least offering to get his novel published, even though his own father turns out to be a top tier warrior against Satan, which causes poor Billy to feel more betrayed than loved or saved.
Don't worry, Billy is a piece of work, but he grows on you, even if you want to smack his whiny ass at times and maybe find yourself hoping the ever-charming Lucifer wins and subjects this kid to eternal hellfire. But by time Krishna shows up to save the day, you'll just wish you had more of this delightful novel still left to read. *
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