Law professor Jay Wexler lives in a strange place. No, not Boston, but his mind. Only a mind that functions a bit differently than the rest of us could produce his latest book, The Adventures of Ed Tuttle, Associate Justice, and other stories, his first work of fiction.
The opening line in my review of Jay’s last book, The Odd Clauses, was “Jay Wexler is a very funny guy.” I meant funny in a conventional sense. His new book, sent to me for review, is anything but conventional. Consider this excerpt from the chapter, Henry Clay Will Solve Our Problems.
December 2010. In Mexico City, a U.S. climate change negotiator argues with his Chinese counterpart.I read this aloud, just to work it through my head. My wife heard me and asked, “what is that supposed to mean?” I wasn’t sure. My son, in the meantime, was rolling on the floor laughing at what he described as surreal humor. Of course, he had earlier leafed through the book and came across this:
CHINESE NEGOTIATOR: We absolutely cannot accept this proposal. The developed world has created this global warming crisis, and you must lead us out of it. The United States must pledge to cut emissions by 50% and provide low-cost technology to developing nations.
U.S. NEGOTIATOR: My country will never agree to such drastic cuts unless yours agrees to the same. China is the greatest emitter of greenhouse gases in the entire world.
A dapper man enters and takes a seat next to the two negotiators.
HENRY CLAY: with booming voice, somewhat out of place in the small conference room Gentlemen, surely we can find some compromise!
CHINESE NEGOTIATOR: I’m a woman.
HENRY CLAY: And I am Henry Clay, the Great Compromiser. I have an idea that will appeal to both of your great nations. Neither of you want to decrease emissions unless the other one decreases emissions, right? So why don’t you both not decrease emissions?
U.S. NEGOTIATOR: I’m cool with that. You?
CHINESE NEGOTIATOR: Umm, it seems wrong, but . . .
HENRY CLAY: Then it’s settled!
HENRY CLAY: Did I mention that I invented the mint julep?
t = rF sin θ and a smidge
He was hooked.
The book is made up of short stories and vignettes that are both surreal and yet, in an inexplicable sort of way, not sufficiently surreal to be sure they couldn’t happen. The title chapter, the story of Supreme Court Association Justice Ed Tuttle’s sex life and aspirations on vacation (how exactly does a Supreme Court justice, vacationing in Jackson, Wyoming, prove to hot chicks and roadies he really is a judge?) takes the reader on a severely alternative view of the big guys, but not all the stories are law related. And even the ones that are use law as a hook rather than their core.
This is not a book that will enlighten anyone on the law. Not even a little bit. But if your sense of humor is anything close to that of a guy who once worked in the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice, perhaps shattering the myth that there is no one in government who can tell a joke, you’re going to love this book.
Trying to get a firm grasp of the book to explain what exactly Jay is doing isn’t easy. Not at all. There’s a perpetual sense that it’s funny, yet it’s nearly impossible to explain why. The “Lunch Beans” story, for example, is what I would imagine Kafka would write if he was studying for a math doctorate. It can be that obtuse, and at the same time, sufficiently absurd as to make you laugh against your will.
It’s not as if Jay didn’t warn me that I was about to enter an odd world, as reflected in his inscription.
Why, I wonder, does Sal the pineapple hate himself? I don’t know. It’s obviously a cry for help, but the options when it comes to pineapples are extremely limited.
As I read The Adventures of Ed Tuttle, I frequently heard a whooshing sound overhead. That was caused by the parts I didn’t get, or at least I wasn’t sure I got. If you’re the sort of person who prefers his humor with a punchline, this isn’t the book for you. This is a book for people who are going to get the allusions and covert references, and who appreciate their humor with a side of absurdity.
This is a book for smart, yet peculiar, people. I’m not at all clear that I’m smart enough to have appreciated the book, even though I thought it funny and enjoyed it. It was often beyond my ability to explain why.
The book reads very quickly, with the chapters short and utterly without discernible connection to each other. It’s as if they reflect Jay’s lucid thoughts following a series of Timothy Leary lectures, feeling no compulsion to proceed in a linear fashion.
And yet, it was a book I wouldn’t miss reading. If Jay Wexler is insane, then this book is the way it spreads. Whether it will have any significant impact on sales of pineapples is doubtful, but read the book and see if you agree with my diagnosis. And if you understand why Sal hates himself, could you please let me know?