Theroux - whose work includes (at least 20 years before this) the novels Three Wogs, Darconville's Cat, and An Adultery - eschews plot for a character-driven narrative, and in Laura Warholic his characters are almost all grotesque, repulsive, three-quarters-mad and obsessive, but oddly entrancing at the same time. Laura Warholic is an ugly, 36-year-old stick-like creature with a permanent unpleasant smell who is addicted to sex and rock culture - a chapter is titled 'Exile in Guyville' after Liz Phair's influential 1993 album - and the other main character is Eugene Eyestones, an older down-at-heel journalist fascinated by Laura, and who writes a brilliant but list-obsessed and sometimes overlong, sometimes highly politically incorrect column called 'The Sexual Intellectual' for Quink magazine.
Quink is edited by the concupiscent (but probably impotent) monster Minot Warholic, Laura's estranged husband who calls her a whore and is obsessed about the money he says she owes him. The female 'sex-weasels' Muscrat and Squishy live with him and accompany him most of the time. Various unsavory characters linked to the magazine hang out in such places as Welfare's, a bar in the Boston area in Massachusetts, where the book is set and the magazine based.
Eugene and Laura live in dumps in Cambridge, Laura living rent free in return for regular sexual services to the insane landlord Micepockets, who - a menacing priapic cripple - is another monster. During a two-month road tour of the States with Laura, Eugene (who has an annoying habit of 'correcting' her grammar) finds out how truly incompatible they are, and yet both remain together, locked in a fascinated love-hate bond. To kiss her repels him because of her permanent halitosis, and he won't have sex with her as she refuses to take an Aids test, so she just masturbates herself to sleep.
There are many lengthy digressions, often rants, which are often in the form of lists, such as the 'Sex Questions' chapter that is a list of miscellaneous sexual oddities that Eugene collects in a notebook, and which resemble the lists compiled in David Markson's Reader's Block mentioned somewhere below.
This is an extreme example of Theroux's crazy polysyllabic style, and is the second sentence of the chapter 'The Sewing Circle', referring to a local bar in the novel:
'It was packed sardine-tight with amazons, cowboy girls, berdaches, women in lumber-jackets, dime bull-dykes, inertinites, female mastodons, kickboxing bansheettes, tribadists, succobovaients, gynoids, sex sufists, dandle queers, sexual variety artists, female infonauts, exchromonians, tinjinkers, bold she-males, old boy actresses, lumber-mothers, algogenesolagniasts, gregomulcts, mammathigmomaniacs, asylum-seekers, nerdoïdes, two-fisted falsettists, ambiguas, half-and-half figures, neurasthenic seek-sorrows and various other big-boned women anesthetical to the lacquers of glamour and lineaments of grace.'
Laura Warholic is a brilliant, hugely digressive, tragic novel which is a biting satire on contemporary American society, and keeps making me think of a 21st century Lionel Britton.
(The photo on the dust jacket cover is of Evelyn Nesbit, and information about her is here. A short piece on YouTube puts together a number of photos of her, with Scott Joplin as background music, here.