Mark Leyner’s GONE WITH THE MIND (2016): A Review
It’s difficult to say how much of Mark Leyner’s Gone with the Mind (2016) is fact and how much is fiction. Although its subtitle marks it as a novel, it’s also a memoir in a postmodern sort of way. But what to make of it?
As a novel, it’s almost pure metafiction. The setting of Gone with the Mind is the food court in a suburban New Jersey shopping mall. There Leyner purportedly gives a reading of the novel, but it turns out not to be the text that the reader has in his or her hands.
So there is a mysterious, fictive version of Gone with the Mind behind the text itself. The Leyner of the text never reads from it. Instead, he talks about the process of creating the book – which, paradoxically, does not exist.
His audience consists of three people: his mother and two food court employees who are on break. Leyner delivers his reading from atop one of the food court tables. It would be difficult to miss the satire of the decline of the lit fic author (in specific) and book publishing (in general) that this situation symbolizes. Nevertheless, Leyner returns periodically to riff on this theme, in case the reader didn’t get it the first time.
The actual story, as presented on the printed page, turns out to be the reading itself. As such, it’s more akin to the non-fiction novel than a memoir. In an exercise in self-parody disguised as a metaphysical and psychoanalytic self-examination, Leyner fictionalizes his own experience.
The Leyner of the text is a raconteur who recounts and over-analyzes episodes from his life. He does this despite his overt denunciation (however tongue-in-cheek) of the literary use of anecdote. This is but one example of the heavy irony in the book. It’s so ironic that Leyner becomes the ultimate unreliable narrator.
Nevertheless, I found myself on the verge of tears many times while reading Gone with the Mind. Sometimes it was because Leyner is so funny. Other times it was due to his pathos. The Imaginary Intern, Leyner’s alter ego, is a vehicle for both modes.
Leyner splits off parts of himself into this paracosm, which he conjures up from a random pattern in the cracks in his bathroom flooring. This episode of apophenia — pattern recognition gone awry — leads to an almost psychotic take on Leyner’s experiences and thoughts. It ends in the book’s finale in a folie a deux with his mother .
The role of the Imaginary Intern in this book shouldn’t surprise readers. After all, its title is more than a hint at the direction that the story will take. As a reference to Gone with the Wind, it’s a parody of the romantic mythologizing of lost causes.
Leyner presents himself — or his fictional self — as such, but it’s unclear how seriously to take this self-portrait. The book’s final pages expose it as an act, as one should expect from an absurdist PoMo (post-PoMo might be more accurate) text.
In the end, though, it’s irrelevant to search for the answer to the question of what kind of text this is. It’s hilarious, sad, inventive, and very difficult to put down, whether or not one can categorize it. Although a dictionary (or its online avatar) is a helpful companion to have at one’s side while reading Gone with the Mind — Leyner’s vocabulary is impressive — metacognition is not required to read and enjoy this metafictional journey.