Some guys don't know when to quit. There are some fairly funny things going on in Christopher John Farley's debut novel, "My Favorite War," but it's hard to share in the fun when a writer is so all-fired determined to come off as superior to everyone else. Farley's mouthpiece, Thurgood Brinkman, is a young black reporter who -- despite his Ivy League background -- is stuck in a go-nowhere job at the newspaper National Now! (read: USA Today, where Farley once worked), reporting on whatever idiocy his editor (white, middle-aged, female) decides is currently "hot." After suffering through a series of personal and professional snafus (losing his apartment, getting his girlfriend pregnant), he lands a gig as assistant to a columnist (black, female) he idolizes and lusts after, as she covers the Gulf War.
Farley, who's a pop-music critic at Time, has an estimable gift for one-liners. One of Thurgood's classmates gains fame writing a memoir called "If You're Listening to Prozac, You've Taken Too Much"; the columnist he reveres, his fantasy of a truth-telling sista come to life, is named Sojourner Truth Zapader. And Farley's antennae are attuned to the polyglot jokes in the cultural stew of modern life.
But he can also seem like an arrogant, racist twerp. Here he is on one of Thurgood's white editors: "She's never had kids. . . but her body, her face, her soul seem to be one big stretch mark. . . Listen, I think of myself as a feminist. . . but, man, I just can't help thinking what a nightmare it would be to wake up and see her horrible visage. . . on the adjacent pillow." And here he is on yet another white woman editor: "[She] was one of those white liberals who like to hire black people so they can tell themselves. . . that black people weren't good enough for the job. . . And I'd bet money that in exactly the same innermost chamber of her white woman's heart, you'd also find a repressed desire to suck a black dick just once before she died."
Since the book is told in the first person and Thurgood's dialogue is presented without quotation marks, it's safe to assume Farley shares some of his hero's received notions and recycled complaints of media racism. Thurgood says he's appalled to find out that a black woman he's dating is a rabid Jew hater. But then Farley floats the old canard about how the media seizes on black anti-Semitism to divide minorities. (Naive me, I thought it was the racists and anti-Semites themselves who did that). "If you're black," Farley says, "you know what real racism is." (I've got a notion that if you're Jewish and of a certain age, you do, too.) "Blacks don't own the means of production, they don't hire and fire." But if you're a staff writer at Time and your first novel is being given a big push by a house as distinguished as Farrar, Straus and Giroux, you've got little business complaining about who controls the means of production.