The lost sex tapes of an aging Charlie Chaplin occupy the secret center stage in this wild, neo-futuristic page-turner. Set mostly in Desolate City (D.C.), Texas, we meet Bornfeldt “Born” Chaplin, who surely must be related to The Tramp. Yet, his last name is merely a coincidence. The Tramp’s grandson turns out to be a former punk rocker (somewhat similar to Bucky Wunderlick) named Caspar Fixx.
Hobson, author of Deep Ellum, revels in pulling all the strands of this novel together and then letting them run loose and then pulling them back together again.
Hobson mixes in a framing device similar to Nabokov’s Lolita, a character named “Brandon Hobson,” and various other postmodern features that feel less like narrative tricks and more like comfortable gears for a writer at the top of his game. This is American fiction at its Ray-banned, smoke-blowing, cameras-are-rolling coolest.
Throughout the novel there are several nods to David Foster Wallace and Infinite Jest: a lengthy filmography, scatological word play (Yushityu vs. Mishityu), and at the center of it all a riveting, cult film pursued by many. But, Hobson’s furious delight in naming characters, throwing them into surreal scenarios, and then expanding on the social problems of the day is less Wallace and DeLillo and more reminiscent of Pynchon in his heyday.
Another thing that separates Desolation from many other serious literary novels published these days is that it is actually fun to read. Just as one could picture Thomas Pynchon smirking when he wrote about erections, muted horns, Pig Bodine, and Doc Sportello, it’s easy to imagine Hobson taking utmost delight in creating Bleaker Street, naming a list of workshops available at a porn addiction conference, rolling a J, and listening to records with good old Dick Swaggert, professor of film studies at Thom Yorke College.
In the end, the question surrounding the hypothetical Chaplin sex tapes is one we must ask ourselves practically everyday now, a question about The Entertainment itself. With unfettered, instant access to pretty much every known human depravity, when a new spectacle or vice is revealed, when intense suffering can be passively consumed on a mobile screen, we must ask each other: Would you watch?