It's a little disquieting to reread them now. It isn't pleasant to revisit a piece I remembered as being pretty good only to discover that it's amateurish juvenilia. On the brighter side, there's a couple of pieces I remembered as amateurish juvenilia that turn out to be pretty good. And I suppose it's not so bad to learn that I'm a better writer today than I was nearly two decades ago. It would be much worse to discover the reverse.
In the future I might mention some notable Liberty articles, if only to reel off all the things I wish I did differently. But for now I'll just reprint one brief item that I think holds up -- a fake book review that appeared in the May 1995 edition of the mag. The only part that makes me wince is when I mixed up Airplane! and The Naked Gun. I think the error might have been a deliberate joke, but if so, I can't recall what effect I was straining for.
The piece was titled "O.J.'s Rage." For the record, O.J. Simpson really did write (or at least put his name on) a book called I Want to Tell You. I didn't read a word of it.
O.J. Simpson's I Want to Tell You (Little, Brown & Co., 1995, 842 + xxvi pp., $17.00) was a guaranteed bestseller, thanks to the media spectacle surrounding the Simpson trial. It would have been easy for O.J. to churn out yet another quickie celebrity cash-in paperback of no merit. Instead, he has produced a work that recalls the best of Jorge Luis Borges, Flann O'Brien, and (especially) Italo Calvino -- a book that is at once a novel, an autobiography, and a brooding, powerful meditation on what America once was and could yet become. Multilayered, visionary, and thoroughly readable, this volume heralds the arrival of a startling literary genius.
The hero of I Want to Tell You is Tyrone Martin, an African-American athlete who bears a striking resemblance to Simpson himself. But there are important differences. Unlike O.J., Martin is a failure -- a once-promising talent who burned out early, a victim of Demon Gin. When the novel opens in 1989, Martin has been unemployed for five years. He lives in a welfare hotel in Portland, Oregon, where he drinks, smokes, watches TV -- and, in the middle of the night, writes. Martin becomes obsessed with a pretty waitress named Nicole, but finds himself unable to speak with her. Instead, he mails her chapters from his novel-in-progress about a fictional football player named Homer Simpson. As O.J. explains in his brief preface, Homer Simpson is, in all respects except his first name, O.J. himself; indeed, he insists that all of Martin's "novel" is actually true.
Readers hoping to find new revelations about the death of Nicole Simpson will be disappointed; O.J. wisely keeps mum about the case. He does, however, confess to five other murders, as well as a rape and a botched burglary, and hints that he was involved in the World Trade Center bombing of 1993. He also writes extensively about his experiences on the set of Airplane!, the Zucker-Abraham-Zucker film that established him as a movie star. Most of all, he discusses at great length his surprisingly sophisticated social and political philosophy. While some of his ideas are unusual, to say the least (viz., his proposal that America adopt a "tricameral" legislature), others are nothing short of brilliant. Describing himself as "socially liberal but fiscally conservative," Simpson outlines the most workable scheme yet devised for privatizing Social Security, makes an original case for second-trimester abortion rights, and offers a "constructive critique" of NAFTA -- all in witty, sometimes side-splittingly funny prose.
To Martin's horror, Nicole falls in love, not with him, but with Homer Simpson, the character he has invented. Mad with jealousy, he adds more and more disquieting characteristics to his creation. Homer begins to drink heavily. He habitually beats up his many lovers. He has an affair with his girlfriend's adopted Korean daughter. None of this dissuades Nicole from her love, but it does plant within her a seed of hatred for Martin. Finally, in the penultimate chapter, she breaks into the writer's apartment and kills him. This leads to the book's surreal conclusion, which I shall not reveal here; suffice to say that it is perhaps the most penetrating comment on the human condition I ever have read, as well as the most humane.
In other self-promotional news: I did a column for the Reason site last week about the late Dennis Hopper. And the June Reason is now online, so if you're curious to see my squibs about disco and Jello Biafra, dig in.