Heroes Like Us
Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
OUTSIZED PENISES BELONGING to well-meaning but clueless anti-heroes with dreams of greatness have struck again. Dirk Diggler's literary counterpart is the equally ludicrously named Klaus Uhltzscht, whose claim to fame in this best-selling German novel is that he helped tear down the Berlin Wall with a little help from his giant member. Germany united, Communism defeated, the balance of power forever altered--all thanks to one confident (un)zip of the fly. Thomas Brussig's second novel, told in the form of an interview with a New York Times reporter (secured by Klaus's, ahem, instumentality in the fall of the Wall) is periodically hysterical and sufficiently entertaining to warrant a casual read.
The book's fundamental fault, however, is that it often sounds like failed Nabokov: "Another of my mother's truly meritorious attributes was her knack for entering rooms. She was, without exaggeration, a queen among room enterers." There is an inherent anxiety in Brussig's style, an eagerness to convince you of every detail's perverse poeticism that very quickly gets tiresome. The novel's interview-monologue structure only exacerbates that point. In telling his life story, the details of which are engaging only on their own terms (a distant, Stasi-employed father, a mother obsessed with hygiene, an adolescence marked by too many wet dreams, a tenure with Stasi performing mindless espionage assignments, and the "accident" that led to the monumental growth of his "pecker," as the translator puts it), Klaus maintains an aggressive tone littered with rhetorical questions, exclamation marks, and mock tabloid headlines.
A short passage in which Klaus compares his name to his mother's typifies the annoying tone of the book: "Fine for her to talk! She has a wonderful first name. Hers--and I say this without a hint of sarcasm--is the most wonderful name any woman could wish for: Lucie... If I were her, I'd have a whole drawerful of T-shirts emblazoned with 'Hurray, my name is Lucie!' But Klaus...Your name is Oscar--like to swap? Oh well, forget it." There might well be an intentional connection between Brussig's bombastic style and the bombastic ideologies of the former Eastern Bloc (best exemplified in high-school Marxism textbooks), but that connection is tenuous and ultimately inconsequential.
Ultimately, Heroes Like Us can be summarized in a tabloid headline of the kind Brussig delights in using: GIANT DICK RIDS EUROPE OF COMMUNISM. Witty for a moment. Not for 262 pages.