Last Orgy of the Divine Hermit – Part 1


This is, of necessity, part one since I only became aware of the Last Orgy of the Divine Hermit when thumbing through Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, not having actually read the book yet. And frankly the only reason that Ken Kalfus’s shortlist review of the book in the genre of experimental literature caught my eye was the graphic of the Snellen Chart that appeared at the top of the page.

The third paragraph is intriguing:

“‘Last Orgy of the Divine Hermit’ poses as an ethnographic study of the fictional Eastern European nation of Chalazia. Actually, the novel excludes the study, consisting only of an introduction and an epilogue. The introduction is being recited by a patient in a New Jersey optometrist’s office: She’s reading it off an eye chart through a phoropter (the device used to determine lens prescriptions). ‘Is it better like this … or like this? One … or two?’ the optometrist asks, switching lenses. The epilogue dramatizes a tender scene between the author of the study, Mark Leyner, and his loving daughter, Gaby. They visit a Chalazian karaoke bar on a Thursday ‘Father/Daughter Nite,’ where they read endearments off a screen, just as the other fathers and daughters in attendance do. Perhaps none are the real Mark and Gaby.”

Sufficiently gripped by that description, I went straight to Amazon’s preview, delighted to find the sassy opening printed in its entirety. Here is the book’s optometric hook:

Then, after making an entry in the patient’s chart about the lenses being used, the optometrist continues with the examination.

I’ll confess to not having been familiar with Mark Leyner’s work, but apparently what put him on the map was an interview with Charlie Rose in 1996 in which he was joined by David Foster Wallace and Jonathen Franzen. Last Orgy has received critical acclaim, including the short blurb by Kalfus in today’s NY Times Book Review, though the review cited from the Wall Street Journal seems less than a ringing endorsement.

While I’ll reserve final judgement until reading the book in its entirety, here’s an excerpt that helps illustrate why Leyner is an acquired taste, even for fans of satire or dark comedy:

Admittedly biased, I’ve often wondered why more authors don’t find a way to weave optometric themes into their novels (Gladly the Cross-Eyed Bear being a notable exception). Leyner’s use of the phoropter is an interesting lens through which he experiments, though I haven’t seen an explanation online yet for how or why he arrived at that construct. There is a play at hand here in part one which is what is available in the Amazon preview. It whets the appetite for what is to come in part two.

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