From Publishers Weekly
Nissenson (The Tree of Life, etc.) creates a Rimbaud-like figure for the 21st century in a bizarre mock biography that supports the notion that art can't be taught although perhaps it can be engineered. Born in 2037, Johnny Baker is an arsogenic metamorph (a test-tube baby whose genes have been illegally tailored to make him an artist). It comes as no surprise when he turns out to be sensitive, open-minded, ambitious and (like his mother, Jeanette, a member of the group of gender activists called Gynarchists) gay. In high school, he has a few flings and becomes obsessed with a religious guru named Sri Billy Lee Mukerjee in fact, he eventually has his breasts augmented in imitation of the guru. He leaves home at 16 to live in New York, shacking up with a sugar daddy he meets through a personals ad, telling his mother he has gone to study art. His surreal, often morbid artwork is interspersed throughout the book, which acts as a sort of extended elegy, since Johnny dies violently at age 19. Nissenson has created a complete and fascinating future world full of details that tease the imagination, such as genetic manipulation, astronomical price inflation ($60-a-liter Evian), virtual reality and the submersion of most of New York City under water. The book consists of reconstructed dialogue, e-mails, fragments of interviews and downloads of information from fictitious Web sites. Although this approach is a pointed reference to the increasingly staccato nature of communication in contemporary society, it gradually loses its dynamism and becomes distracting. But the cumulative effect is a haunting warning against the hazards of pushing technology forward without regard for human integrity. (May 11)Forecast: The time is ripe for a reconsideration of Nissenson's quiet but distinguished career, and this latest offering his strongest since the 1985 National Book Award-nominated Tree of Life may spark reviews with a retrospective slant. QPB, Insightout and Reader's Subscription selection; author tour.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
In the year 2037, a depressive graduate student chucks her doctoral thesis and takes the Planet Train from Chicago to Tokyo. There, in violation of America's Created Equal Act, she is implanted with a male embryo whose DNA has been enhanced with the genes that determine artistic ability. Her son, John Firth Baker, duly exhibits the traits one expects of a budding Basquiat: he is hugely talented, sexually voracious, and alternately obsessed with and cavalier toward his lovers. This fictional portrait of the artist as a young man is distinguished by the intensely imagined world that surrounds him—a world in which transgendered religious gurus preach over the Web, the rich live in hanging-garden apartments high above the canals of a half-submerged Manhattan, and a terrorist women's movement battles a resurgence of polygamy. Nissenson's prose is always exuberant, and although absurdity occasionally threatens to overwhelm the story, the author's genuine curiosity about his characters and their fates engages us to the end.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker