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Sunday, May 30   11:59 PM

Lucky Wander Boy

The blurb on the front, from some guy, says that D.B. Weiss "does for video games what Michael Chabon did for comics."

And I speak as both a geek and an English major when I tell you that he, in fact, does quite a bit more.

I first heard about this book in Freiburg, where gaming magazines and my monthly Wired were the only English texts I allowed myself. I actually read more videogame magazines in those few months than I ever have before or will again.

There was a side article, in something. Maybe XBN. A gushy blurb about Lucky Wander Boy that noted its similarity to the work of Haruki Murakami.

Having just finished reading my fourth Murakami book, I was sold. But I was also cheap, and forgetful.

Several months and one transatlantic flight later, I looked over at Jonas' desk (after the requisite swiveling) and saw Lucky Wander Boy crowning my roommate's Tower of Unread Masterpieces.

With little motivation and the room to myself for the weekend, I dove into Weiss' debut work earlier today. I'm only about two-thirds of the way through, but since I'm sure to be gushing about Good bye, Lenin! around this time tomorrow, I thought I'd write about Lucky Wander Boy now.

There are a lot of good things about this book; foremost among them is Weiss' clever marriage of a modernist Japanese prose style with American tropes. This stops his work from having the universality of a Murakami (who, despite frequent references to hippy-era American popculture and traditionally Japanese character archetypes, is accessible everywhere) but there's a microbrewed charm to his choice of subject matter. From page 69:

"Skiing," she said.
"Intellivision, of course."
It was all I could do to restrain myself from backing her into the water cooler and pressing my mouth to hers.

D.B. Weiss is writing about videogames and their gamers, and unlike the illiterate punks who killed me a zillion times in Counterstrike years ago, he's writing well.

The prose is light and infrequently punctuated, and the similarity to the equally-spare style of many Japanese works is intentional: Weiss name-checks numerous Japanese authors throughout, and the narrator is well-versed in Japanese culture.

Though noticeably American.

The author treats bombastic diction and pretentious writing (not necessarily the same thing) with sly irony. He approaches sentiment cautiously and honestly. He tries to use videogame terminology (and sounds!) for more than their inherent comedic value, and actually pulls it off.

He seems to be familiar with cyberpunk, but his infoporn dumps are more cerebral than the glossy I‑wish‑I‑could‑draw descriptions in most of the stuff I've read.

"What is this?" I found myself mumbling.

This isn't trying to be the next Great American Novel, and if it were trying, I'd like to note that its lack of well-meaning but distracting sexual politics makes this a better choice than Kavalier and Clay, one recent recipient of that title.

This is a novel about something simple, and what it means to a relatively small group of people. And what it means to all of us. As another guy points out on the back cover, Weiss has constructed a modern mythology, a very wonderful and modernist thing for him to do.

And in his choice of building materials—an important part of our culture nonetheless derided as trash or pigeonholed as frivolous—he's meeting culture snobs on their own terms.

From page 32, another sentence for my book of unlikely sentences:

It's difficult to ignore the similarities between Donkey Kong (the creature) and the demiurge of Gnostic heresies.

It's hard to describe the effect that reading this quite unique book has had on me tonight; I'm only vaguely familiar with the classic arcade games that constitute the bulk of the novel's videogame references, but still I feel spoken to.

Some passages are so good, so apt, that I find myself short of breath: and that sounds hyperbolic even to me, because it's a very rare feeling. That said, there are also some weak moments, especially towards the end of the book.

So that's me, gushing.

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