Mark Twain may be considered the grandfather of “realism” writing for his legendary text “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” a novel that brilliantly illustrated a young boy’s innocence in the face of a time period of blind racism. In the middle of the 20th century John Steinbeck used an excruciating amount of detail to describe the hardships of the “Great Depression.” These are just two writers that wrote historically significant pieces of realistic literature detailing and critiquing society of their era.In our time of economic hardship and a new breed of the working class, it is Arthur Nersesian detailing a new world of casual laborers and general apathy. Nersesian pens about a generation raised with poor moral upbringing and who constantly striving for self-realization.
The Armenian author was born and raised in New York, the location where all his novels take place. Nersesian burst onto the scene thanks to Mtv Books picking up his first novel, “The F*** Up.”
Following in the footsteps of authors like Twain and even Homer, this novel is a modern day Odyssey of an unnamed narrator whose decisions and apathy lead to his downfall. The unnamed working class everyman begins as a movie theater usher, a job that almost any person can relate to, a job where the employer feels constant alienation, where there is no room for climbing a ladder to success. It is a job where each day is a meaningless grind leading to nothing but a miniscule paycheck.
The narrator eventually loses his job over a pay raise he did not even want. His boss could not afford the extra fractions of a penny to employ him so instead of returning him to his base salary he is let go. He moves in with his best friend Helmsley following being kicked out by his current girlfriend but following in the title of the novel, he messes up that too when he enters into a physical confrontation with Helmsley’s girlfriend. If the narrator of Nersesian’s novel is a modern day Odysseus then Helmsley’s girlfriend Angela is the Cyclopes, sirens, and hydra all rolled into one.
As the narrator pieces his life together by working at a pornographic movie theater (under the guise of being a homosexual) his web of lies and deceit catch up to him once again and eventually he ends up homeless and injured after a run-in with the police, and later a gang of young thugs.
This novel is truly a great piece of 21st century “dirty realism.” Nersesian does not waste time developing many of his minor characters, but one person who makes the narrative a truly gripping tale is the misunderstood sidekick, Helmsley. The man is a brilliant writer but tends not to publish his work and is the smartest person the narrator ever met, yet he falls for a drunken and profane woman who does not understand her man’s true nature. One of the most prophetic lines uttered in the novel comes from Helmsley when he tells the narrator “Any given counterculture will eventually be absorbed into and become a part of pop culture,” a comment that could be construed as a direct attack at a media powerhouse like Mtv.
Nersesian told Chief Magazine about the importance of this line, as well as the irony of it being in a novel published by Mtv. “MTV occurred ten years early than it did, I can’t even imagine the East Village punk scene, you know, Television or Richard Hell, The Talking Heads; I can’t help but think that their music, their look, their feel, would have been swayed.. A lot of those bands, a lot of them would have lost their edge. So, on one hand MTV was the total antithesis, but on the other hand, I was 39 years old, I had written this book over 12 years ago, and they were really the first to say that they would publish it. At that point, it was the only show in town so I took it. But to their credit, they were very good about leaving it alone.”
Nersesian wrote several narratives that follow a similar diction to his first novel. He followed up his modern day Odyssey with “Chinese Takeout,” a novel centering around New York-based independent art, “Dogrun,” a bold novel written in the voice of a sexual repressed woman, “Suicide Casanova,” written about this generations sexual deviance, and “Unlubricated,” a story that exists inside the framework of 9/11 New York.
However, after all his hard hitting works of realism, Nersesian departed from his original pieces and began “The Five Books of Moses.” Partly a satirical look at politically motivated violence, the first two installments (“Swing Voter of Staten Island” and “Sacrificial Circumcision of the Bronx”) told the story of Uli, a man who is victim to a drug induced amnesia that ends up in a Nevada desert renamed Rescue City, New York. All the residents were relocated after the original New York was devastated by a terrorist attack.
Uli discovers the atrocities of a land run by two violent, political gangs, the Piggers and the Crappers, and eventually attempts to flee.
In the second novel, Nersesian delves deeper into the terrorist attack that destroyed the east coast version of New York with a novel deeply immersed in research. Though half the novel still follows Uli’s attempted escape from the Nevada wasteland, the other half details the life and time of Paul Moses, a fictional older brother to New York industrial giant Robert Moses.
For any readers interested in apocalyptic societies or even the historical significance of New York’s mid-90s makeover thanks to mogul Robert Moses then the first two novels in the series will make for interesting reading.
Nersesian plans to break from his series to write another novella that would appeal to his original crowd. It will be called “Mesopotamia”, and is expected to hit shelves early in 2010.
Ken Schmidt is a fifth-year student majoring in English with a minor in Journalism. He can be reached at KS609536@wcupa.edu