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Book Review 

by Sheri Boggs

Ever wonder how a favorite childhood toy might narrate significant moments in your life? Penn Jillette, of the magic-comedy duo Penn & amp; Teller and author of new novel Sock, has endeavored to do just that. The result is not unlike The Velveteen Rabbit -- on crack.

A sock monkey named Dickie narrates Jillette's account of a body-diver for the New York City police who, along with his flamboyant hairdresser buddy Tommy, tracks a serial killer responsible for the death of their close friend. Dickie is the diver's sock monkey and one funny, foul-mouthed sack of nylons. He recalls episodes from the often-tragic life of his diving owner, Clayton -- whom he fondly calls Little Fool -- while chronicling the search for an elusive, seemingly sporadic murderer. The result is a strangely intoxicating, high-speed mystery novel heavy on black comedy, copulation and pop culture.

Chapter One, "Sewn Under a Bad Sign," introduces Dickie, with his "hustler eyes, lumberjack skin, the heart of a woman's legs and grandmother's spoiling love." With similarly playful and dangerous prose, Sock persists for 226 pages and 47 chapters. Not only is the structure high-wire, but the content continually provokes. Nearly every paragraph ends with a song lyric borrowed from everything from rock to country, the quotations usually referencing some more relevant section of the song. (You have to know the music to get the joke.)

Sock is challenging, volatile, crude and yet also endearing. The unlikely crime-partner relationship between Little Fool and Tommy deepens the impact of other sections. The novel skillfully articulates the vigor of Little Fool's love for his parents and the monkey whose "imaginary" friendship seems a constant that keeps Little Fool afloat. And Jillette also manages to expound on morality, relationships, art and God.

I won't spoil anything by revealing that a sock monkey didn't really write Sock. Jillette's novel is stunning (and overdone and, finally, vacant) in just this way. There's brilliance, death, sex and intrigue every way you turn; it's fascinating and delicious. But when you finally stop spinning, you wonder what Sock has really left you with.

Publication date: 08/05/04

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