A humor essay by Simon Rich, author of Spoiled Brats.
In 1939, James Joyce published Finnegans Wake. Literary critics praised the 628 page experimental novel, calling it a "work of genius." Here is page 627, reprinted in its entirety:
…up and tightening down. Yes, you're changing, sonhusband, and you're turning, I can feel you, for a daughterwife from the hills again. Imlamaya. And she is coming. Swimming in my hindmoist. Diveltaking on me tail. Just a whisk brisk sly spry spink spank sprint of a thing theresomere, saultering…okay, that's enough. If you've made it through this many pages of this thing, then I can safely assume that you're a literary critic. Let me first just start off by saying how sorry I am for making you read this book. If it's any consolation, writing it has been an absolute nightmare.
This morning at breakfast, my wife said, "You know that Finnegan book is due today, right?"
I laughed and took a bite of toast.
"That's not due until the 30th!"
"It is the 30th," she said.
I spat out my toast and had what I now understand was a panic attack. Sweat was pouring down my face and it was like I couldn't get enough air. This Finnegan thing was due in nine hours, and I hadn't even started.
I've been in my office ever since, shouting gibbering into this Dictaphone. I'm very exhausted (and I'm sure all you critics are too) so I'll try to make this as brief as possible: I am in serious financial trouble. I won't get into the specifics, but basically, if this book doesn't sell well, the dog track's going to take my house. So here's the deal: If you give this nonsensical book a rave review and call it a "work of genius," I will mail you two (2) homemade Irish sweaters. I'm sorry I can't offer you anything nicer, but like I said, I'm in a real hole here.
I know what you're thinking: We're well respected literary critics. Why would we risk our reputations for a couple of sweaters? If a regular person finishes this book, and reads this page, it'll destroy our credibility.
Trust me on this: No regular people are going to finish this book. Maybe some people will say that they've finished it. But most people won't even get past the first sentence of this thing. I mean, the book is nonsense. Do you remember the end of Chapter 5, when I just listed dog breeds for 50 pages? There is no way any normal person could make it through something like that. And then there was the chapter where I just repeated the word Finnegan over and over again, using more and more exclamation points each time. I still can't believe I even did that. It's like I went crazy for a little while.
Let me tell you some more about the sweaters that I'm offering you. They are tastefully embroidered, guaranteed to last, and hand-stitched from 100% Aran wool. And all you have to do to get some is say, "Finnegans Wake is a work of genius." That's it! Write it down in a journal or newspaper and I will send you your sweaters immediately.
Again — I know what you're thinking: Joyce already scammed us once before, with Ulysses. He wrote 521 pages of nonsense, followed by a brief note to the critics in which he promised us sweaters in exchange for raves. We gave him his raves and we still haven't gotten our sweaters. Why should we listen to him this time?
I can't erase the past. All I can say is, I'm sorry about what happened, and I hope you'll give me this chance to make things right.
OK. That's it. I'm completely in your hands now. I have to start shouting nonsense again because sometimes people skip to the last page of books and I have to make sure the end is as incomprehensible as the beginning so the regular people don't get suspicious. OK. Here it goes. Yikes, I can't believe I'm really doing this...
Ho hang! Hang ho! And the clash of our cries till we spring to be free. Auravoles, they says, never heed of your name...
Simon Rich is the author of The Last Girlfriend on Earth, What in God's Name, Ant Farm, Free-Range Chickens, and Elliot Allagash. His most recent book, Spoiled Brats, is in stores now. His work appears frequently in The New Yorker. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
To learn more about Spoiled Brats, click here.