Book Review: ‘Blue Lard,’ by Vladimir Sorokin

Book Review: ‘Blue Lard,’ by Vladimir Sorokin

We’re still in the territory of the almost familiar, an avant-garde armature draped with the synthetic skin of science fiction. But after the blue lard is violently remanded by a cult whose members copulate with Russian soil, all bets are off. One of the cult’s innermost figures, Vil, a giant with genitalia that hang to the floor, is tasked with transporting the blue lard through the “funnel of time” to 1954. (He arrives frozen in a cone of ice.) The group believes Stalin can use the substance to set their nativist plans in motion, despite two previous deliveries that failed to bring about desired results.

Deviant, vaguely demonic, an avatar of terrible charisma — he sometimes reminded me of Robert Coover’s Uncle Sam — Stalin is an exuberant force of nature, vigorous, preening and subject to his all-consuming appetites. He cannibalizes a tortured prisoner with Khrushchev, harangues his cross-dressing sons and eventually injects the blue lard directly into his brain. His gray matter grows to such prodigious size that it swallows the known universe.

Russian literature is rotting, Khrushchev says in a postcoital conversation with Stalin. “Blue Lard” responds to that rot, not by way of condemnation, but with its shocking excess, its aberrant novelty, its alien menagerie and its fierce, metastasizing energy. It is an ablution for readers mired in the lukewarm mud of realism, nothing less than a deep, astringent cleansing. “For me that which is other is new,” Khrushchev says upon seeing the luminous blue lard for the first time. To which Stalin retorts: “That which is new is new. And that which is other, mon cher, is other.”

“Blue Lard” features a world largely bereft of meaning, love, moral concern or many of the other familiar signposts of fiction. In its place is a new vocabulary, a free-floating grammar of debasement and ecstasy. But one need not stumble into the trap of nihilism. Even Sorokin’s most debauched episodes can be understood as camouflaged bids for transcendence. Each is a challenge, an incitement to change. He reminds us of our scandalous freedom.

“The limits … the limits,” Khrushchev mutters to himself throughout the novel. The very idea of temperance or restriction is, to him, a sin. His creator is a kindred spirit. He has abandoned literature, leaving in its wake something thrilling, appalling, overwhelming and, yes, other.

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