No Mad by Sam Moffie
No Mad by Sam Moffie is a modern-day picaresque novel of rediscovery of America, as told through the eyes of the recently cuckolded highschool teacher and author Aaron Abrams. It’s also a rediscovery of key moments in Aaron’s past, and a Tom Jones-like novel about his sexual exploits as he travels around the country and researches his book he’s been offered one hundred thousand dollars for. One of the differences between Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones and No Mad is that the former is about a young man who is going about the countryside of England screwing any pretty lady in skirts he meets, while Aaron Abrams is in his forties, and is initially motivated by a feeling that if his soon-to-be ex-wife can have sex with his brother in his swimming pool, he ought to be able to have some fun and get a little revenge, himself.
Think to yourself what sort of novel a writer might turn out like if he was a cross between Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., and John Irving, and you will have a good idea about Sam Moffie’s writing style. In No Mad, Aaron obsesses about his hemorrhoids, the game of Jinx, how much popular culture is changing (largely for the worse), and how to bed the next woman he happens to meet, among other things. To me, there is perhaps too much in the novel written about the first two, but they are parts of Aaron’s character that make him who he is.
The first section of the novel is about how Aaron races home with the great news that he’s been offered one hundred thousand dollars and finds his wife and brother, Serge, who had been also like a best friend to him, having sex. Aaron grabs some of his clothes and other essential things together and puts them in a suitcase, gets his golden retriever, Churchill, to come along with him, and before he leaves, he tosses a bucket of cold water and ice with his wedding ring in it on Serge and his wife from the balcony of his boys’s bedroom. Other than that small act of retribution, he’s satisfied with just leaving, and he and his dog head from Youngstown, Ohio, to Pennsylvania, to meet with his lesbian agent Jane.
While at his agent’s office, Aaron feels a mutual attraction developing between him and Jane’s straight assistant, Elizabeth Hoser. He ends up staying at Elizabeth’s place while there, and having sex with her. He really starts to like her, and has some momentary feelings of guilt whenever he’s considering having sex with other women on his travels, as he doesn’t want to hurt the chances of a long-term relationship developing between himself and Elizabeth; but, that doesn’t stop him from banging any other attractive woman he meets.
The second part of the novel deals with Aaron’s research for the book he’s getting paid the aforementioned Big Bucks to write. It’s called Yearbook, and in a Studs Terkel-like way will focus on the lives of some of the people from his old fraternity, the Beta Theta Pi, at the college he attended, at Wittenburg, Ohio. He plans to go back to his college, get information there about the fraternity itself and how it’s changed and stayed the same since he went to school there, and then track down his old fraternity brothers and see how their lives have turned out since their college days together.
One aspect I really enjoyed about No Mad was Sam Moffie’s use of musical references to define crucial moments in peoples’ lives. Songs have a powerful influence on us and we often think fondly back, or not-so-fondly-back, at certain turning points in our lives whenever a song palys on a CD or on the radio. Many of the songs Moffie mentions are personal favorites of mine, like Jethro Tull’s “Locomotive Breath,” and the Rolling Stones’s “Sympathy for the Devil.” Songs help define one’s personality and character, and active potent memories. Unfortunately for Aaron, the Tull song is about a man’s “woman and his best friend - in bed/ And having fun,” plays in his head at his house when he discovers his brother and wife having sex. That would be enough to ruin the enjoyment of one’s favorite song forever after.
No Mad is an often humorous, always witty book that is about rediscovery and recreating bonds. It’s a rambling, rambunctious journey of life after the breakup of Aaron Abrams’ marriage, and tells us through his experiences that life goes on even after something which would likely seem devastating like discovering one’s wife and brother having intercourse. It is also a joyful tale of the memories that travel and music can awaken in our lives. If you like books about personal growth and the gaining of insights, and ones that are lighthearted and well-written, then you should definitely add No Mad to your reading lists!
Reviewed by Douglas R. Cobb