"The unwashed armpits of the most beautiful women in the world ... a urinal with chunks of fresh watermelon in it ... a retarded guy whining 'Eddie, Eddie, get me an Ovaltine'- almost anything inspires me."- Mark Leyner, Preface to Et Tu, Babe
After the relative underground success of his previous novel, My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist, Mark Leyner wrote Et Tu, Babe, a novel about an egomaniacal, wildly successful author named...... Mark Leyner, and his unlikely downfall. It was published in 1992.
Leyner's previous efforts were funny and very good, but they lacked the focus of Et Tu, Babe. There is nothing wrong with literary experimentation, but my bourgeois opinion is that it is nice to have something other than a huge barrage of disconnected fragments once in a while. This novel shows Leyner coming into his own. He is as funny and weird as ever, and he manages to fit his unique style to something approaching a regular plot. This book was my introduction to Leyner and it is still the best of his books to start with.
Mark Leyner writes in a cranked up, highly associative postmodern style, full of pop culture references that will probably make him incomprehensible in fifty years. Just read him yourself to get the idea. Some vaguely similar authors are William Burroughs, Thomas Pynchon, Philip K. Dick, Robert Anton Wilson, Steve Martin, and the McSweeney's crew (Neal Pollack, Dave Eggers, Ben Greenman, etc). In fact, Neal Pollack's The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature is very similar to Et Tu, Babe, in terms of authorial megalomania.
The Village Voice's blurb on the back cover of my edition of this book says that "Leyner's brilliantly discontinuous humor... begs to be read aloud". I am exercising a good deal of self restraint right now, in fact. The temptation to turn this into a node of quotes is huge. After reading Et Tu, Babe, I came to the conclusion that Leyner was of a league with Woody Allen, S.J. Perelman, and other great absurdist-humorists. But on way more drugs. So read the thing, already. Now.