Jim Knipfel. The Buzzing.
Vintage, 2003. 259 pp. $12.00.
Roscoe Baragon, the hero of this wonderfully zany and grim novel,
is a reporter. He cannot take news seriously--he realizes that the usual
catastrophes don't really interest him. All reporters repeat the
same items about terrifying serial killings, child abuse, leaked
Washington copy on health care, government projects for the public good.
Baragon expresses himself in what he calls the Kook Beat--those events
that are so bizarre, they must be true: "Now there was only a
great, empty, echoed buzzing where the story used to be." And he
begins to speculate that seemingly unrelated things are possibly linked:
an unusual earthquake in Alaska; the disappearance of poor, wounded
roomers from halfway hotels; the corporation of SVA, which owns these
hotels. He lists the bizarre events that are occurring. Baragon thinks:
"conspiracies, moreover, also help make the normal redundancies of
life a little more bearable." At the same time, he believes that
his referential mania is somehow more real than other paranoias. And as
the novel moves to its end, we wonder--as does Baragon--whether there
are secret patterns or only the lunatic ramblings of Kooks. The Buzzing
then becomes an antiparody of conspiracy theories, or a very accurate
rendering of a true conspiracy. Is Baragon mad? Is the world mad? The
last page leaves us unsure. Baragon leaves the paper, trying to calm
himself as he sings a "sweet Malaysian tune ... He knew full well
it wouldn't help. Still, he figured, it was worth a shot."
What is it? Baragon puzzles over his account. Where will he go? Perhaps
he will go to the library and read Pynchon, who, by the way, offers a
blurb for this novel, citing Knipfel's "cheerfully undeluded
American voice." The Buzzing is either undeluded or deluded or