Vít Bohal on Thor Garcia’s THE NEWS CLOWN
Thor Garcia’s News Clown (2012) offers a first-person romp through the present-day, pre-apocalyptic environment of Bay City, USA. The narrator, inconspicuously named Thor, is a legman for the local News Now Network and tries to get the most meaty bits on the brutal murders, rapes, and general mayhem that happens in the city and environs. Psychological trauma, child victims, weeping relatives, you name it; Thor’s there, sticking his microphone in the teary faces, trying to get the skinny. The job is tough, but Thor puts in his hours, gets ahead, and eventually gets that promotion, where he starts doing more serious stuff, like courts. The work is hard, and the pay is low, but what can you do when a pack of recent graduates would kill for your job?
The News Clown is Garcia’s first full-length novel, but doesn’t show it. There are no blemishes on the sleek, paratactic style the author uses throughout, and the seven years which took him to write it were time well spent. The language is crisp and efficient, and easily lures the reader further and further into the plot. Garcia shows a real zest for a concise, tabloidish style of writing, and it’s plain fun to read chapter titles such as “PATRIOTS DEMAND: Stop Smoking Crack,” or the more personal “DYNAMITE: Clown Left in Dust as Gal Pal Sobs.” The language doesn’t miss a beat and is a joy to read.
The setting of the novel and the people that populate it exude an entropic malleability, and words play a big part in this. Thor the journalist uses words for his own, arguably nefarious, ends (usually to get at some poontang, or at least some free booze). He is only, however, the product of a polis that has begun to implode, the tip of the iceberg that’s ripped the U.S.S. America apart. The newspaper-men Thor comes into contact with are hyenas that swarm on any social stragglers, and struggle to give the masses some cheap laughs on someone else’s account. But the laughter doesn’t last: what transpires is a profound sickness about real-life American society at large and the novel quickly becomes an explicit social commentary on the situation in the noughties U.S.A. The narrative employs a type of neo-noir aesthetic in that the catch phrase ‘Trust no one’ is not given as an option, but as an axiom of interaction across the entire playing field that is Bay City. The people lie, murder and cheat left and right, and only the lucky ones seem to survive.
Garcia manages to show America as a nation drowning in a cesspool of crime, brands, and cheap thrills. Consumerism is a dominant theme of the novel, and the author offers numerous passages where he tediously enumerates pop-culture references like movies, or references popular songs. The tedium seems purposeful, and drives home the notion that art in a digital-age America has become just another commoditised product. The media only further the vivacious entropy of the social landscape, and buying in is the only option for the people who populate it.
The door slammed. I heard the BandWagen start up. She backed it out. She drove it off.
Motorbikes speeding across the desert. Click. Oprah stuffing a turkey. Click.
Orioles vs. Blue Jays. Click. The Pope bowing down as break dancers spun on their heads in the Vatican. Click. A small-titted blond wearing a polka-dot red shirt doing jumping jacks. Click. Marlon Brando tossing snacks to a dog as Larry King leaned forward with interest. Click. Men in wheelchairs tossing three-pointers. A guy with a plastic leg pole-vaulting. The Amputee Olympics.
I got up and went to the kitchen. (The News Clown, 253)
Garcia manages to effectively identify the numerous ideologies that populate the American social environment and expose them by making them hyper-real and truly monstrous. For instance, his treatment of the language of journalism is spot-on in its vacuity and simple sensation-mongering. In a cross-genre gesture, the novel often includes newspaper columns supposedly written by the narrator, and it is enjoyable to read Thor’s stories first as related by himself, and then mediated through the news columns he publishes for the News Now Network. The absurdity of modern-day journalism is really pushed into the forefront and provides a type of over-arching theme. In a recent interview Garcia himself has voiced the opinion that journalists are simply “stenographers for the police state” and the novel goes out of its way to drive this notion home. The language of the news clippings is completely incapable of relating the complex reality of the brutal crimes that happen in Bay City, and Garcia plays with this discrepancy extensively.
On a political level, this novel is a slap in the face of mainstream media, and a direct attack on their role as herders of the status-quo, ‘business as usual’ mentality. Although Garcia has voiced contentious views on American politics, views which may loosely be dubbed as a type of enlightened conspiracism, his treatment of the politico-media complex is admirable in its scope as well as in its veracity. What bides very well for the text is that all these grave themes remain completely implicit in the narrative, and Garcia never indulges in pontificating. Indeed, Thor the narrator essentially loves the cesspool that is Bay City, or at least attempts to accept the American landscape as it is and without any deeper scorn or judgment. He wafts through the surreal happenings only as a type of scribe, a walking recorder of the post-post-modern, post-sane Americana.
The novel occasionally slips into auto-pilot, with the described events soon seeming similar to one another: booze, a girl work, booze, buddy time, booze, work… There is essentially no plot development, and Thor seems to be banished to some sort of digital-age limbo. As a character, he is completely shallow, and is not fleshed out in the least. Garcia seems to skirt the borders of a more psychological take on his characters, but quickly flinches away when things start getting more introverted, and does not explore these tendencies to any real depth. He does wander into a type of personal zone on occasion (as when Thor goes to visit his father at a rehabilitation center for alcoholics) but these incidents are episodic, and have no real impact on the narrative as a whole, which steadfastly drags on in its lush, fast-paced style of narration. Garcia transposes the theme of consumerism, shallowness, and vacuity into the very style of the narrative itself, and in this way the text becomes self-referential. For better or worse.
The News Clown sheds a stark light on the American reality without trace of any cheap sentiment. Although it is preoccupied with social politics, the theme is tackled without any feigned intellectualism. Garcia rather offers a satirical and sardonic view of the American reality. In a recent interview Garcia voiced a disdain for writers such as David Foster Wallace and Dave Eggers for their sentimentality and their “bloated” style; the lucid and flowing style of The News Clown shows that he can walk the walk as well.