It is not unusual for a novel to make me uncomfortable. I am, after all, cursed with a queasy nature and blessed with an overactive imagination. Give me a character with a monster under the bed and I'm all heart-pounding palm-sweating tension with nervous glances to make sure the windows are latched and the door is locked.
Sacco and Vanzetti Must Die! did not make me double-check-behind-the-shower-curtain uncomfortable -- I felt an entirely different kind of tension. The kind of tension that comes from facing something I simply don't enjoy. And I don't enjoy physical comedy. I have never found humor in the sight gags and slipping on banana peels and pie throwing that characterize the genre. I don't understand how anyone can find Laurel and Hardy amusing. I don't see how one could actively seek out the antics of Abbott and Costello. I can almost tolerate the Marx Brothers.
Yet I was enthralled by the scenes of madness, the pulling the tablecloth from under the dishes, the mayhem, the fact that these characters were deeply connected to one another. If Sacco sneezes, well, Vanzetti must...oh you know. Enter with a newspaper and loaf of bread. Life must, after all, go on.
On the other hand, the book reinforced one foundation of my belief system: I do not believe in anarchy. Often people say they don't believe in things -- say blue nail polish or square dancing, things that quite obviously exist -- but they quite readily believe in things that don't. I am the opposite. I believe that blue nail polish is a fashion statement that could easily be abandoned and that square dancing is not my personal favorite form of exercising.
I do not believe in God and I do not believe in anarchy. I don't think that anarchy is a natural form of nature and what passes for anarchist behavior is really just a sad excuse for misbehavior with a high falutin' sounding excuse. If nature abhors a vacuum, it surely loathes anarchy ten degrees more.
The humor that makes for good physical, good slapstick comedy comes from its seeming anarchist nature. What seems to pure chaos is really an elaborate ballet. The routines work because every player knows his or her part -- even those who are not in on the joke. Such is how it is with real anarchists. They seem to be advocating chaos, but they're really pushing for conformity of a different type. Remember, the marketing scheme came before the Sex Pistols.
[This is, I think, what anarchy has come to mean in popular lore; Mark Binelli notes that some anarchists fell closer to a more that believed society would form its own rules of cooperation. Bombs and distractions are far easier to work with than cooperation, and this, I think, is why the popular culture chose the latter over the former. Also, bombs make better news stories than human cooperation.]
Reading this book made me uncomfortable. I cringed during the story of Carnera, the wrestling giant. The whole escapade with the drugged kangaroo and oversized utensils -- not to mention questionable nutrition value in backstage fare -- spoke of sadness, the kind of sadness that comes when you know that what you have worked your life to achieve is nothing more than fleeting entertainment for a fickle audience. Whatever the next big thing might be, and there is always a next big thing, you are not it.
This is all a weird reaction to a book I liked, I know. In a way, I wanted the characters to grow beyond their roles, and in some ways they did. But like the former child stars you on reality shows that somebody, I don't know who, must watch, I felt like I needed to stick with Sacco and Vanzetti. In real life, Sacco and Vanzetti were executed for anarchy -- or rather behaving in a way that our government didn't deem appropriate as I still do not believe in anarchy and I think it's a lousy excuse for killing people -- I didn't want this to happen to Nic and Bart, two guys I know in real life (though they go by different names and follow different stars).
Did I get my wish? Were Nic and Bart more like Peter Brady than Corey Feldman (yeah, I know, but he'll always be Peter Brady to me)? In a way it doesn't really matter. Because Sacco and Vanzetti exist as much in lore as reality. And these fictional characters know it.