Jarrett Kobek explains what’s wrong with the world in this cathartic, darkly comic novel.
It's impossible to place the novels of Turkish-American writer Jarett Kobek in any kind of category: they seem written in complete opposition to contemporary literary fiction. His anarchic style, which eschews story arcs and character development, has strong overtones of Kurt Vonnegut, and even Charles Bukowski. Kobek’s books are part razor sharp diatribe against the capitalist system, part riff on modern mass media and technology and part biting satire on just about everything. All this is loosely held together with mercurial plots and zany characters, picking their way through the debris of modern life.
Only Americans Burn in Hell begins by introducing the reader to the work of Elizabethan hack writer, Richard Johnson, and his 1599 Arthurian romance, Tom a Lincoln. That work features an island inhabited entirely by women called Fairy Land, with its reigning queen, Celia. Jarett takes some of the characters from Tom a Lincoln and revives them as supranatural beings who live for centuries, ending up in modern day California. Only Americans Burn in Hell spins madly out of control as a myriad of different elements are thrown in: a rich Saudi, a cult film-maker, Guns and Roses concerts, rants about Donald Trump and a blistering, thoroughgoing attack on the publishing industry. Indeed, the book is a major j'accuse against the liberal media, seen as nothing more than a money making machine for its amoral corporate masters. Kobek does a great job of following the money, explaining who pays for liberal opinion and reportage. (There are paradoxes aplenty in this: tax dodging, anti-union Jeff Bezos owns the left-leaning Washington Post, while the liberal entertainment industry created Donald Trump.)
Kobek's book won't be for everyone. It's acerbic and often full of profanity. One thing is sure: you won't read it in a state of torpor. It will keep you eyes pinned open in shock to the very end.
Only Americans Burn in Hell, by Jarett Kobek. Published by Serpent's Tail. $29.99
Review by Chris Saliba
North Melbourne Books