In an era when stranger-than-fiction characters like professional house-guest Brian "Kato" Kaelin and criminal-turned-criminal-defense-attorney Colin Ferguson clutter the national consciousness, the satirist has an enormous burden: How do you spoof a world that has become a parody of itself?
In Corn Dog, Leyner, whose oeuvre includes Et Tu, Babe and My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist, confirms that he is the American writer best suited for this daunting comedic task. Throughout his first collection of essays (reprinted from publications including Esquire and The New Republic), Leyner the writer fashions himself into Leyner the loonier-than-life persona.
He seizes upon popular obsessions as disparate as bodybuilding, parenthood, fear of government conspiracies and the mania for designer goods and weaves them into howlingly absurd scenarios that he depicts as if they were perfectly ordinary. In "Young Bergdorf Goodman Brown," Leyner haggles with a department store saleswoman over a $3,450 Giorgio Armani silk backpack embroidered with "ethnic beading" for his 2-year-old daughter's Haute Barbie doll. "Oh, Brother" finds him playing investigative journalist for the trial of the Zeichner twins (obviously based on the Menendez brothers), who say they murdered their rich, generous parents because they perceived Mom and Dad's gentle and empathic behavior as "bizarre, frightening and, ultimately, a grave threat." Leyner as a marketing wizard ("Eat at Cosmo's") offers a scheme for product placement in classic literature, so that Shakespeare's "a gap in nature" becomes "The Gap in nature."
Describing it as over-the-top doesn't begin to capture Leyner's style, an imaginatively explosive fusion of $10 words (always used precisely), slang, consumerist slogans and obscure medical terminology suggesting that Leyner (a former medical copywriter) considers our body of culture a little diseased. And yet, his own effusiveness becomes a weird celebration of the very things he ridicules. The America that gave us Hulk Hogan and Zsa Zsa Gabor produced Mark Leyner too. (Harmony, $19)