‘Processed Cheese’ by Stephen Wright – “Well, reality is not as real as it used to be.”

 

‘Processed Cheese’ by Stephen Wright (2020) – 392 pages

Who would want to read a novel entitled “Processed Cheese” except for one or a dozen random mice? I would. There is no modern writer whose novels I await with more happy anticipation than Stephen Wright.

One could read ‘Processed Cheese’ solely for its demented humor. One could also read ‘Processed Cheese’ for its devastatingly deep insights into today’s over-cluttered money-crazed world. ‘Processed Cheese’ is a mad look into the United States in free fall.

The main subject of ‘Processed Cheese’ is money, what it can buy, and what it does to people who have it. MisterMenu is a multi-billionaire who lives with his wife in a penthouse apartment fifty-two stories above the street. He keeps huge canvas bags of his money around him, because they make him feel good. One afternoon his wife MissusMenu gets angry with him for screwing around with one of his several female friends, and she tosses one of the bags of money out of the window.

The bag of money falls on this flat-broke guy Graveyard who is out looking for a job. As soon as he recovers from the impact, Graveyard takes the bag of money home to his small apartment and to his girlfriend Ambience, who works in a toll booth.

Graveyard and Ambience go on a buying spree. At first, it’s just small stuff.

They liked snacks. All things salt and sugary. They had SnookerChips. They had BangoNuts. They had CheesySubs. They had ToastedPepperWhackers. And FruityPatooties. And LoopyCrisps. And FudgieWudgiePugies. Their favorite. A cookie inside a cookie.”

But soon Graveyard and Ambience move on to buying bigger things. Of course they buy a brand new giant 103″ HootchieCootchie flat screen TV. Soon their small apartment is crowded with deluxe packages of new merchandise from boutique shops. Stephen Wright has a lot of fun with all these product names. Ultimately they buy a brand new car, “The HomoDebonaire 3000. Top of the line. Runs on sunshine and fresh breezes. It’s greenly green.” Wright does make fun of how advertisers use people’s environmental concerns to sell their products.

Graveyard also buys guns including a MadderRose114 with moonscape sites and an insect-shell finish. Also a HyperSniperM98 bolt action with a CosmicHiBeam scope and adjustable check piece, of course. He gets his ammo at the BulletBoutique.

Graveyard’s attitude toward his cell phone is quite similar to mine.

Graveyard had a what-me-worry? relationship with his cell phone. He would never have even bought the damn thing if he hadn’t been told repeatedly by friends and utter strangers he absolutely had to own one of the irritating devices in order to participate fully in the modern carnival. He didn’t care. He could be in or out.”

Of course MisterMenu wants his big bag of money back.

At first it all seemed cartoonish. It felt like Stephen Wright is sacrificing empathy for his characters and coherence in his story for humor. It took me awhile to come to the conclusion that this comic strip of a novel is a brilliant study of our modern so-called society.

I trust Stephen Wright. I have read all of Stephen Wright’s novels. I trust he will ultimately provide a supremely meaningful narrative. And he does here.

But some essential ingredient had gone missing from his life, something lighter than air that had helped elevate the leaden chain of days you drag behind you like an anchor.”

Many of Wright’s riffs on various facets of contemporary society hit home for me. Of course there’s all that fun about buying stuff. Then there are set pieces about Graveyard and Ambience visiting a garish casino, visiting their relatives who still live out in the boondocks, internet dating sites, etc. Stephen Wright is a perceptive observer of the way things are today.

Yes, ‘Processed Cheese’ is a cartoon, but isn’t much of modern life cartoonish?

 

Grade:    A

 

 

8 responses to this post.

  1. This sounds great! I love the names of the products. I’ve not heard of Stephen Wright before…I must check whether his work is available here.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    • Hi Kim,
      If I were recommending a Stephen Wright novel for someone who hasn’t read him before, I would recommend ‘Processed Cheese’ because it captures what is going on on in the United States right now so screamingly funny and so well.
      My first Stephen Wright novel was ‘Going Native’, but I have read every one of his with pleasure. I suppose the writer Stephen Wright is most similar to is Don DeLillo.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply

      • Sadly, it doesn’t look like it has been published in Australia and is only available in hardcover in the UK. There’s no ebook. Maybe I will just have to be patient

        Like

        Reply

  2. This satire reminds me of that infamous Booker Prize book Vernon God Little.
    That cover is just brilliant!

    Like

    Reply

  3. I’ve been hearing about this one and I think it sounds fantastic – one to check out for sure

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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