“An obliteration of every sacred pillar” – Only Americans Burn In Hell by Jarett Kobek

“This crazy hick showed up in sophisticated ol’ Jerusalem, where everyone posted on social media about the decline of society.

And he spoke of love and forgiveness and mercy and brotherhood.

And he told the people of Jerusalem that they didn’t have to follow the scripts of their lives.

So they killed him.

He was crucified, given the lowest of all deaths.

“Ow, that really hurts,” said Jesus when the Roman legionnaire Casca Longinus thrust his spear into Jesus’ side.

“Give a fuck, me,” said Casca Longinus. “Haddaway and shite, you poof.”

Then Jesus died.

 

And maybe he came back to life.

Who fucking knows?

Anything’s possible in a world so supranatural that Donald J. Trump ends up in control of 6,800 nuclear warheads.”

Only Americans Burn In Hell, the third novel from the Turkish-American Jarett Kobek, is not about Jesus, Christianity or even religion more generally. And neither is it about Donald J. Trump. Shift perspective slightly though, and the novel takes in all of the above. And then some… There’s the unholy trinity of politics, media and celebrity, and literary fiction (…most Serious Novels are so fucking boring they have zero hope of competing with smartphones…), the super-rich and film studies (…Wonder Woman …<was> a story about how a woman could be like a man in her ability to simulate genocide…). It’s also an examination of contemporary America, and how it feeds on ‘…tsunamis of Mohammedian blood’, and yet defenestrates anyone who dare call someone Raghead on Twitter.

In what is signature Kobek style, personal account and extempore rant are spliced with something resembling fictional narrative. And these threads, which start off running parallel, and then dovetail, effectively merge by the end. In keeping with the target, (the myths of) American virtue and exceptionalism, the protagonists are equally off-the-scale – there’s Celia, Regnant Queen of Fairy Land, an immortal being and a time-traveller, and HRH – an outer-circle member of the Saudi royal family – a man who divides his time between wealth management, philanthropy and sado-masochistic sex with Ivy League-educated prostitutes.

As might be apparent, Kobek is neither shy nor a diplomat. For Kobek, all is war. And his grist is to make his reader see through a membrane – the one that separates their ordered and cosy life from a maelstrom. All those secular commandments: faith in humanity, in science, in democracy, art and literature. Truth, Justice and the American Way. Only Americans Burn In Hell is an obliteration of every sacred pillar. The same totems exist in other countries, but Kobek sees America as the endpoint of this dissonance – where the endeavour to obfuscate reality with fantasy has reached its zenith. And for that, well… On picking up the novel, I’d assumed the title was to be taken ironically. Now I’m not so sure.

And where does Kobek’s rejection of the Stars and Stripes lead?:

“So, what the fuck, reader, why not? …you might as well embrace the most discredited idea in Western life. You might as well ride dirty with Jesus. … It’s not like anything else is working.”

The final scene in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, depicting an unhinged Slim Pickens ‘riding the bomb’, is a fitting metaphor for Kobek – laughing all the way to annihilation. Compared to his previous novels though, the humour is darker, some riffs and tangents ‘heavy’. For the author, the election of Trump seems to have been one insult too far. And despite seeming not to care about the story, of playing fast and loose with his own narrative, that’s a façade – Kobek is a genius, masquerading as a slob. From Batman fanboys to Instagram to Literary Death Match to sex –the honesty, accuracy and comic genius on display, stops the reader dead.

Any Cop?: Novels won’t save you, Kobek writes. That’s true, though this one just might.

 

Tamim Sadikali

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