Review of Bill by Vern Myers Essay
Review of Bill by Vern Myers
To start, I would like you to know that I am writing this book review on an old fashioned manual typewriter, an Olympia Model 9 in fact, that I purchased at a consignment antique store. I think this machine dates back to the early 1970s. It makes a nostalgic clack-clack-clack sound.
 I am not writing this book review in solidarity with author Vern Myers (who refuses to use a computer and composes his work on a 1968 Underwood-Miller, and before that a 1909 Corona 3, the same Ernest Hemingway employed for his early works), no; I am afraid my reason is pedestrian in nature: my girlfriend, Michele, deep-sixed my Sony Vaio laptop into the back end of the toilet, where the water rises after you flush, after what one would call “a heated argument.
”She locked herself in the shitter (which she hates me to call the commode), after having grabbed my laptop, stating that I loved my machine more than her; that she was jealous of the attention I gave to my novel-in-progress. Needless to say, my laptop will not start up. A friend told me to let it dry out. I will probably have to take it to a shop and pray that they can recover my data—most importantly: my unfinished novel, which I have been laboring at for three years now. It’s an opus, this novel of mine, 850 pages and three-fourths done, so I would say it will be 1,000 manuscript pages when finished, or around 250,000 words.
It began as a short story, and then I thought it would be a novella, 80 pages at best, but the thing took on a life of its own. I hear that is what happened to Vern Myers’ 23,000-word masterpiece, Bill. Talking grapes around the New York literati have it that Myers worked on the project for nearly five years and had 600 pages of rambling text, some typewritten, some hand-written, and his editor, Stanley Flint, pulled a Max Perkins (to Myers’ Thomas Wolfe) or Gordon Lish (Raymond Carver) and hacked away, jumbled and tossed like the proverbial salad of sentences, and came up with this current 102 page book.
I read Bill in one sitting, or a single bath soak, an hour and a half’s worth of water: after Michele destroyed my computer and possibly my novel (which, by the way, is titled Lunch on the Grass), I drew a hot bath (I own a claw foot tub, talk about antediluvian delights! ) to calm my nerves, opened a bottle of cognac, and slipped into the water with the ARC of Bill that I had received in the mail from the book editor of the newspaper you are reading this review in. For Vern Myers, 102 pages (23,000 words, the margins generous) is War and Peace. Myers, the past decade, has been known as King of 3,000 Words or Less.
Your typical Myers story is 1,500 to 2,000 words, each with the epic impact of a Shakespearian tragedy and the emotional complexities of a Chekovian triptych of 5-act plays. Some say it is his life-long friend and editor, Flint, who has fine-tuned the 5,000 words of new story Myers sends in to a magnificent 3,000 word slice of American Literature; Flint published many of these in Dapper Magazine, a slick where he was fiction editor for a decade.  Critics are certain to debate over this decades after Myers is gone. Myers was often asked, at readings and lectures and interviews (the few he has granted): “Are you ever going to write a novel?
” and his jovial answer was (with a stiff Long Island Iced Tea in hand): “I’m working on said novel now, something I call Bill: A Life, but the real question is: Will I ever finish it? The second real question being: Will I ever publish it? ” (I know this because I attended a reading of his at the UCSD campus four years ago where such Q&A took place. )
I read Bill: A Novella (what happened to a life? ) with delight in the clawfoot tub, sipping my cognac, trying to forget what Michele did to my Sony Vaio and my novel-in-progress (which I once considered calling Zombie Cheerleaders from Jupiter Attack!), and when I was done, I closed my eyes and considered the life of Bill, quite the epic one, and the moral/social/political/sexual implications of the story and character. I fell asleep; I did not mean to; napping is not a criticism of Myers’ fine novella;
I was simply exhausted from the emotional outrage caused by Michele’s action, her not only leaving me, saying she never wanted to see me again unless I was in a casket at a funeral parlor and even then she would spit on my embalmed body, but destroying my life: for my life, the past few years, is contained on the hard drive (350 gigabytes) of that sunk laptop.
My magnum opus, my Great American Novel, which I think I will change the title from Lunch on the Grass to Gargantuan. I see I have exceeded the 600 words the book editor asked for. Hopefully there will be room among the ads to fit in this complete text; hopefully my words will not be pared to the bone the way some say Stanley Flint has been doing to Vern Myers for years. Bill is about a Hollywood doctor named Bill and his adventures with various movie stars, porn starlets, studio moguls and drug dealers.
He hops from bed to bed, romance to romance, leaving disaster behind him like the Tasmanian Devil in the Warner Brothers cartoons, or the Cat in the Hat paying a visit to unsuspecting latchkey children. Over the course of five years, Bill lives large, has experiences most of us cab only fantasize about; he crams ten lives into those five years and after each event, becomes wiser and older, yet maintains a youthful hop in his feet, always ready to bed the next pretty lady who crosses his path. Sounds like a soap opera, you say?
A scalawag doctor from a trashy romance novel you shriek? Hardly! Bill is the literary event of the year and I expect prize Pulitzer, I demand a Book Critics Circle Award, I foresee the boys in the U. K. foregoing the Booker requirements and claiming Vern Myers a loyal subject to the Queen’s Crown (at heart). There is little doubt that the day will come when Vern Myers receives the Nobel Pri— I thought I heard Michele coming in. No, that was the neighbor. The walls are too thin around here and I am sure the neighbors heard us fighting, the accusations Michele made.
She thinks I am sleeping with a doctor, in fact, a vet who saved my cat, Poe, three months ago. Guess how it all started? I noticed a tattered copy of Vern Myers’ first collection of short stories on her desk, Can You Speak the Hell Up and Pass the Sugar, Please? and commented on it; she said she had discovered Myers in college, her roommate was taking his writing class and she happened to read his stuff and became a fan. I told her I too was a writer of fiction and the occasional essay and memoir (and dozens of book reviews) and, well, one thing lead to another…
And so Michele is right. I have been seeing said doctor and it is serious. I would have eventually broken up with Michele, told her the truth, but she beat me to it, and it is always the shits when you are the dumpee, not the dumper. It’s an ego thing, a guy thing, and it makes me think of something Bill says in Bill: “It’s better to end a romance first to avoid a pain in the brain. ” Love ‘em and leave ‘em, Bill, that’s the ticket…only, I think I will ask the doc to marry me. I am serious here. I have never felt this way about any woman…
It’s five hours later since I wrote the above sentence. I had dinner with the doctor and guess what? She broke up with me, says she is getting back together with her ex-husband. I would be very depressed but my laptop has dried and boots up just fine and now I can get back to my novel. Will it be as fantastic as Vern Myers’ Bill? I could only hope so, but only Vern Myers can be Vern Myers, there can be no other. Michele has been calling, she wants to come back; she says she is sorry and loves me and will never let me go. I’ll take her back.
I’ll get my life back on track and finish this book and maybe I can get the literati attention that Myers does. I will tell Michele that there was never anything real with the doctor, it was just a passing thing, no need to get into all that “pain in the brain” stuff. Editor’s Note: A day before going to press with this review, The Village Voice published an interview with a former student, and lover, of Vern Myers, wherein she claims she actually wrote the text for BILL because Myers was too drunk or high to get any writing done.
This accusation comes on the heels of BILL garnering a nomination for the Transamerican Book Award (which reviewer Gerald Bass failed to mention in his rambling); should these accusations be truthful, a fruitful literary scandal of the decade is certain to birth, like a dead baby whale oozing from the foul-smelling womb of a beached momma whale on a sandy, bloody cove near the shores of contemporary American letters. How do you like them apples, eh? Viz! To wit! To arms!  ———————–  I hear you can get that sound to come out of your laptop keyboard.
The virtual clack-clack-clack, methinks, would be rather annoying and just damn rude. Everything has to be a simulacra these days.  Hemingway said of the Corona 3: “It is the only psychiatrist I would ever submit to. ” I once had a t-shirt with that quote on it and a picture of a harried Hemingway. He wrote his second novel, A Farewell to Arms, on the Corona 3. He probably would have done the same with The Sun Also Rises but he sent that one out to a typist to create the manuscript sent to F. Scott Fitzgerald editor Max Perkins at Charles Scribner’s Sons.
 She once said, joking, “The loo is the only psychiatrist I would drop all my emotional crap on. ”  Myers’ first publications were in regional and small literary journals, then moved on to The Kenyon Review, Mid-American Review, and The Paris Review. After he graced the pages of Dapper, and after Flint left the magazine because new ownership wanted to cut the fiction section (“do people actually sit down and read this stuff? ”), Myers started to appear in Playboy, Harper’s, The New Yorker and Granta, getting top dollar and top recognition. All the places that only sent me form rejection slips!
It is easy to not only admire, but also envy the professional career of Vern Myers. As for his personal life, from what I know of all his disastrous relationships and problems with vodka and LSD, there is no room for desiring that.  Have you ever seen some of the antiquarian classic cartoons, uncensored, often used as war propaganda to show between double features at movie theaters in the 1930s and 40s? Bugs Bunny, the transvestite rabbit, foiling bucktooth Japanese soldiers and suicidal Nazis? A prototype of Bugs Bunny—same situations, same voice—was Private Snafu, which you can locate on Youtube for a blast from the past.
I always seem to be drawn to cartoons and comic books whenever I have great stress in my life; it’s a way of escaping the hell. Kids do it, adults do it. Some escape into the fantasy of online porn but I tend to switch on animated superhero TV shows and movies, like Batman and the Justice League, which also happen to be owned by Warner Brothers. In Bill, Bill has a sexual encounter with an actress on the Warner Brothers lot, doing her in the trailer while gong over her lines, and then doing lines of cocaine off her naked ass. I would like to see that animated.
I would like to see Michele’s psychotic tirade animated, then I could really say that my life is like a cartoon.  It was not a “failure” on my part; I just happen to have a long history with the members of this so-called organization and happen to know, FOR A FACT, it is all a ruse, embedded in the beds of supreme nepotism; given the “quality” of the books this award has been handed to in the last five years, the obvious should be, well, obvious. Oh the stories I could relay! The lays, the drugs, the mouths to genitals and feet shackled to bedposts and whips applied to tender, eager flesh! But that’s for another in a different context.