I first spotted this book on one of the topmost shelves of a local bookstore, and for a moment, I wasn’t sure if this book was categorized as fiction or non-fiction. The title alone stuck with me for a week (I didn’t buy it on my initial trip) and I returned several days later to pick it up. Safe to say, there was more than a little self-loathing accompanying this purchase. I was so, absolutely, insatiably curious as to what the hell this book was about and I was haunted by it until I bought it and shoved it sheepishly in my tote bag the following week.

Me, holding my copy of Kobek's "Only Americans Burn in Hell"

First impressions? This book is crazy. Off-the-walls insane. Amazing, confrontational, horrifying, truthful, angry, ugly—all at the same time.

And it’s fantastic.

As much as this book is fictional, there’s a lot of real stuff woven into the narrative. And I mean real. Like, “holy shit, we’ve been supporting a military-industrial complex our entire lives while being lied to about supporting that complex and now those in power are using that very same complex to justify countless horrors against foreign individuals for no other reason than greed and personal gain” real. It’s sickening. And necessary.

Kobek’s book is a satire on the current events playing out in the twenty-first century United States; that is to say it’s a satire about what’s happening right now. It’s about Trump, global politics, capitalism, Nazis, cumulative shitting-the-living-room-ness, and fairies. You can’t forget about the fairies.

And Kobek doesn’t hold back the punches. He’s swinging freely—and takes care to hit himself in the face a few times too—and lands heavy blows. He writes:

“You can’t make evil disappear by being a reasonably nice person who mouths platitudes at dinner parties. Social media confessions do not alleviate suffering. You can’t talk the world into being a decent place while sacrificing nothing.”1 (pg. 53)

Never before have I been slapped in the face so hard by a book. To be called out in the most frank voice of the author, who says, “You’re a part of the problem too,” and makes no room for argument. Because, in a way, Kobek’s right. Either by complacency or non-action, we’ve contributed to the problem. And it makes for one hell of a book.

As more information about the international scheme of millionaires, billionaires, and the hyper-rich come to light, the ugly faces of the elite turn away to mumble about how the left is going too far and trying to take over. This is not new news, it’s the same news. But Kobek takes it to a new level and really levels the field:

“…it was an open secret that the acquisition of vast wealth was the quickest way for a human to become a supranatural being. It was a documented scientific fact that, after an individual had accumulated vast wealth, then they reached what was called the Cash Horizon. Beyond the Cash Horizon, the wealth-accumulating individual transformed into a supranatural being. In other words: the rich were not human.”2* (pg 26)

Keep in mind: I’m only about a hundred pages in. Not even halfway through. I haven’t gotten into the thick of the book yet, and I’ve already had my general worldview confronted and then smacked about like a misloved Beanie Baby.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this book is as serious as it is crazy, which is to say very. As many times as I’ve had my jaw drop to the floor and stomach clench in anger (and embarrassment?) I’ve also had to read passages about drunk Englishmen from the 1300s being unreasonably horny, rich businessmen taking strange psychedelic drugs and tripping out, and this:

“‘Doin’ the Dookie’ was a lot like Fairy Land. It was both there and not there, invisible to 99.9999 per cent of the world’s population. But Fairy Land hadn’t gone invisible by being lost in an aquarium. Fairy Land had become invisible when the women of Celia’s realm used magic to align the island with an unconquered principle of everyday deception.”3 (pg 28)

Is it good? Yes. It is bad? Also yes.

How, you ask, can it be both? It just is. I’m still not entirely certain what it is. And I’m not sure if I’ll find out.

1 pg 53
2 pg 26
* This was, of course, in reference to the (American) military-industrial complex as well as the necessity of keeping some of the poorest parts of the world intentionally poor and depraved in order to further the gains of capitalistic wealth and fortune.
3 pg 28

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