Ego and Hubris: The Michael Malice Story (Harvey Pekar) 5*

“I was raised as a dog,” Michael begins.  He proceeds to give an account of his life in a Book-of-the-Dead/Judgment Day style, except that he is the judge, and in his judgment he was right and everyone else was weak and jealous and wrong.  I wish I had followed through on starting a book club, because I could gossip about Michael for a month.

First of all, Michael Malice is real.  Michael Malice even appears to be his real name.  I thought it was a snarky pseudonym because the review I first read had excerpted a bit where Michael recounts the suicide of an acquaintance and ends, “Now if you were going to kill yourself, I don’t see why you wouldn’t sleep in.  And for God’s sake, practice your penmanship!  His parents showed me his suicide note, and it was embarassing!”

He’s maniacally self-centered and a brilliant conversationalist.  He’s lazy and has no mercy for the weak — Michael doesn’t play well with others and takes joy in getting people fired.  He’s criticizes everyone’s ethical structure and sees the world in black and white.  I mean to say he’s deeply principled in a Randist sort of way: arrogantly principled, very bright, no empathy whatsoever, with a wisdom deficit the size of the Marianas Trench.  He’s proud and proud of being proud.

Harvey Pekar has edited Michael brilliantly.  Michael says his family doesn’t matter, that he has given up that ghost, but the monologue circles back to them obsessively, and the final sign of his success is that he is suddenly not bothered by his family’s criticisms.  He’s proud of his outsized confidence but mentions a study that showed that when people were asked to estimate their own intelligence, smart individuals tended to get it accurate or slightly underestimate, whereas dumb individuals would overestimate dramatically.  Michael proudly relates trivial instances when he stood his ground (for no particular reason that the reader can discern), but when the only girl he’s ever loved was diagnosed with one-month-to-live cancer, and his college friends ganged up and pressured him to dump her, he dumped her.

The clean line illustrations are a neat, black-and-white counterpoint to Michael’s pseudo-honest autobiography.  The story is filled with Michael’s judgments and just begs for the reader’s judgments of the same facts.  I wish I had a book club!  It’d be the funnest evening of playing amateur psychiatrist.

If you’ve read it, where would you start with your diagnosis on What’s Wrong With Michael Malice?


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