Best known as a pissed-off chronicler of American suburbia, Eric Bogosian (the author of the plays Talk Radio, Suburbia and creator of such Obie-award-winning solo performances and Drinking in America and Pounding Nails in the Floor with my Forehead) arrives here with his first novel of fiction, The Mall, a fuming trip through events surrounding a mass murder in a Northeastern mall.
Populated by typical Bogosian characters, foremost among them Mal, a wigged-out, middle-aged speed freak turned cop killer, the book follows several mall inhabitants aimlessly trapped in the resulting media and police circus. Among these characters: a group of sarcastic teenagers on acid, a horny housewife looking to cheat on her husband, a Haitian security guard turned Rambo-like hero, and a voyeuristic businessman arrested for peeping into a dressing room and left handcuffed in an empty patrol car when the bloody ruckus erupts.
A quick, disturbing read fueled by acceleration and destruction, The Mall seems only to scratch the surface of character development—most notably in the existential angst of teenaged Jeff and the drug-fried killer, two sides of the same dispirited American coin. The 248-page book is full of action, while interesting relationships (the one-night stand between the tripping teen-with-dreadlocks and the horny housewife, for example) go by like random hot flashes.
At his best, Bogosian maintains a hellish intensity exploring the psychology of unhappy modern characters. He is particularly effective when describing the frightening mental state of the killer. The teen dialogue is a little stilted—maybe after generations of writing youths, Bogosian is losing touch a little with his material. But like a poor man’s DeLillo, he excels at the meticulous details of fast food and television culture, specters that dominate his merciless vision. Bogosian sees very little that is lovely or meaningful in his suburban or urban wastelands—which means this brisk book, while eventful, can feel one-dimensional. It’s almost like a quick horror novel where the villain is everywhere.