(The following review of Nine Kinds of Naked was originally published on Reality Sandwich. The review was written by Stephen C. Thomas.)
If there’s one thing Tony Vigorito knows, it’s that the infinite complexity of the universe is reducible to an elegantly simple word: Now.
If there are two things he knows (and I’d wager this the case), the second is that somehow that word is also the funniest damn thing anyone has ever heard. The eternal moment, it seems, is also a never-ending cosmic giggle. Go figure.
Such is the world of Vigorito’s latest novel, Nine Kinds of Naked, a rambunctious, time-bending romp that traces the improbably intersecting paths of a sixth century serf-turned-archetypal-deity, a grandiloquent ex-con street prophet, a stripper birthed in a tornado, and an apostate preacher slumming it undercover for the CIA. Yes, this is zany American fiction writ cartoonishly huge in the vein of Tom Robbins and Kurt Vonnegut, authors whose influences loom large in Vigorito’s writing. (One can only assume he has imagined the scent of distilled jitterbugs and pondered the term granfalloon a time or two.)Written as a present-day parable on our brinksmanship existence, Vigorito’s novel offers a magical antidote to the ennui of the post-modern era.
But what lifts Nine Kinds of Naked from the echoes of its literary forebears (and makes it a delight to read) is its unflinching wisdom. Written as a present-day parable on our brinksmanship existence, Vigorito’s novel offers a magical antidote to the ennui of the post-modern era. The key to psychic freedom, he insists, lies in the experience of synchronicity. A concept first described by psychologist Carl Jung, synchronicity identifies a profound thread of interconnectedness between seemingly unrelated events, the recognition of which can be akin to a spiritual awakening. This is the catalyst for transformation our blocked-up consciousness is pining for, suggests Vigorito, a divine emollient for the energetically constipated.
Tossed with a dash of Zen Buddhism’s all-is-one aesthetic, the epiphany-inducing power of meaningful coincidence plays throughout his novel like a mantra. (“Synchronicity on the sultry soothe of your day,” repeats the time-hopping trickster Billy Pronto, his name a clear nod to Vonnegut’s own intrepid traveler, Billy Pilgrim.) Vigorito revels in the uncanny crisscrosses of time and space, weaving far-flung narrative escapades and looping plot threads into a Day-Glo tapestry of synchronistic collisions. This is the miraculous means by which a prisoner named Diablo stirs up a whirlwind (by flicking a playing card against his cell walls) that, twenty-five years later, he finds hovering off the New Orleans coast transformed into a supernatural vortex. This ubiquitous twister, Diablo discovers, has also coincidentally blustered its way through the lives of a cast of characters that invariably—and meaningfully—make his acquaintance.
A world containing phenomena as astounding as tornadoes should never be underestimated for its ability to startle one’s expectations.Of course, none of this should seem surprising. As an early passage in the book explains, “A world containing phenomena as astounding as tornadoes should never be underestimated for its ability to startle one’s expectations.” But there is also a lesson to be learned amidst all the surreal whimsy, and it is didactically spelled out in the telling. In preaching its lighthearted blend of mystical morality, Nine Kinds of Naked is prone to wear thin at points on readers already acquainted with more refined forms of these ideas. Indeed, Vigorito seems well aware of this possibility and calls it out himself, playfully mocking his characters’ incessant excursions into “bubblegum spirituality.” The underlying message, however, is although this may read like some Universalist bumper sticker, it’s exactly how things are. Retracing these deep thought lines is worthwhile mental exercise for anyone, and for those neophytes just beginning their grand intellectual road trip, it’s capable of inspiring quite the revelation.
And to be sure, none of it would work if it weren’t for the delicious absurdity of it all. There’s a profound comfort in knowing that, while the universe is composed solely of divine love, it also relishes a good practical joke at our expense. Could it be, in truth, that falling victim to the hijinks of Fate is like cozying up next to the Godhead? I suspect the ludicrous troupe of Nine Kinds of Naked would answer affirmatively. When you’ve been stripped down to your naughty bits by an errant cyclone, maybe you’ll know enlightenment too.