Unless you’ve been living under a rock or inside a “panic room” for the last, oh, I dunno, decade and a half, you’re familiar at least in passing with the comedy/magic duo of Penn & Teller, who do a stage show in Las Vegas. They also have a program on Showtime entitled Penn & Teller: Bullshit!, have made appearances on “The Simpsons” and “The Late Show with David Letterman,” and on top of serving as Visiting Scholars at MIT, they have even lectured at Oxford University and the Smithsonian Institution.
So, needless to be said, they’re eclectic guys, and Penn Jillette, the speaking half of Penn & Teller, has penned (forgive the pun) his first novel entitled “Sock.” A thin volume that’s surprisingly dense, it’s a murder mystery told from the perspective of a police diver’s sock monkey named Dickie. The diver, who Dickie calls the “Little Fool,” discovers the body of one of his ex-girlfriends while working, and this sets off a chain of events that results in several close encounters… of various kinds.
Penn has always been adamantly Atheist, and this mode of thinking is by no means excluded from the novel–on the contrary, nearly every character in the book, with one notable exception, seems to share nearly all of Penn’s beliefs (i.e., there is no God, everyone’s at least a little bit gay, and so on). Maybe that’s a byproduct of this being Penn’s first novel; after all, the experts always say to “write what you know.” But that’s a relatively minor quibble. The book is written in the same snarky, opinionated way that Penn talks while Teller performs cringe-inducing, injury-seems-eminent illusions to the side. In fact, could Penn’s actual sock monkey talk–he does say he has one, and it really wouldn’t surprise me in the least if it actually can talk–I’m pretty sure it’d sound like this.
Something that I found genuinely surprising about the book is the amount of philosophical ground it covers. You wouldn’t exactly expect a murder mystery told by a sock monkey to be a fount of deep philosophical thought, but that’s part of what you get. The rambling, existentialist monologue that is liberally and literally peppered with pop culture references is dense enough to make even the most casual reader stop and reflect on his own philosophies, if only for a moment. It’s not as problematic as it sounds, as the mystery climaxes in such a way that ties the whole package neatly closed.
I won’t lead you astray here–the book is by no means light and fluffy (the black cover should be your first hint). An emotionally exhilarating and exhausting book, Sock is one of those literary jewels that you’ll struggle to explain to your friends. Just loan it to them once you’re done reading it. They’ll appreciate you (and the book) much more afterwards.