This angry and resolutely self-indulgent novel is represented as the "fictional memoir" of a Russian e'migre' named Edward Limonov, which happens also to be the name of the Russian e'migre' who is the author of "It's Me, Eddie." Like Frederick Exley, in other words, Limonov has made a fiction out of his own life and has declined to tell the reader where the one begins and the other ends; unlike Exley, though, he has failed to make a work of genuine imagination, much less art, from this delicate blend.
"It's Me, Eddie" is described in its advance publicity as "absolutely one of a kind: a profoundly irreverent novel about the American way of life written from the vantage point of a Russian in exile," and it comes with the endorsement of the noted scholar of Slavic languages and literature, Simon Karlinsky: "Edward Limonov's novel breaks every rule of Russian literary decorum, whether prerevolutionary, Soviet or e'migre'. His is the sensibility of a Soviet Henry Miller combined with a Soviet punk rocker, if such a thing were conceivable."
The novel's early readers, in other words, seem to have mistaken its irreverent rule-shattering for literary distinction and intellectual depth. Their excitement at finding a novel by a Russian writer that is overloaded with foul language and explicit sexual activity seems to have blinded them to the emptiness of the book as a whole. "It's Me, Eddie" may be a novelty, but that is just about the most that can be said of it.
Except for one thing: As a statement of the physical and emotional condition of the Russian e'migre' community in New York City, "It's Me, Eddie" has the ring of truth. It describes a group of people who were notable and noted in the Soviet Union, but who in the United States have found only anonymity and neglect: ". . . the Western world had not justified the hopes placed in it by the Jews and non-Jews who had left Russia; in many ways it had turned out to be even worse than the Soviet world." Eddie sees himself as their spokesman, their revenge against America:
"Who was I over there in Russia ? What's the difference, what would it change? I hate the past, as I always have, in the name of the present. Well, I was a poet, if you must know, a poet was I, an unofficial, underground poet. That's over forever, and now I am one of yours, I am scum, I'm the one to whom you feed shchi and rotten cheap California wine--$3.59 a gallon--and yet I scorn you. Not all of you, but many. Because you lead dull lives, sell yourselves into the slavery of work, because of your vulgar plaid pants, because you make money and have never seen the world . . ."
We have here no Solzhenitsyn, fleeing the tyranny of the Communist state and yearning for the rebirth of the old aristocracy. Eddie is a poet and a dreamer; having fled to the United States in the belief that "writers breathe freer there," and having been met with a singularly indifferent reception, he turns against his host nation with a zealot's fury that Lenin would envy. When he meets up with an American member of something called the Workers Party, she expresses surprise at finding "a Russian with such leftist views." He replies that "everyone who comes over from Russia moves to the left here, without fail, especially the young people"--an empty generalization, but one that is convenient to the sophomoric politics of this book.
The young woman to whom this remark is addressed is one of many people with whom Eddie engages, or attempts to engage, in sexual relations. These people come in all sexes, races and convictions, but what they share in common is that they are inadequate replacements for Eddie's beloved wife, Elena, who has abandoned him for a life of dissipation: ". . . They, our slicked-down, smoothed-out American customers, our gentlemen--America forgive me, but they had swiped, ripped off, forcibly taken from me my dearest possession, my little Russian maiden."
Poor Eddie. His wife considers him "a nobody!" She'd rather paint the town red--or is it red, white and blue?--with the "gray and sleek" fatcats, "millionaires who would wear out but not marry the silly Russian girls." She has succumbed to the evils of capitalism, but Eddie remains pure: "What do I seek? Either a brotherhood of stern men, revolutionaries and terrorists, in love and devotion to whom my soul could rest at last; or I seek a religious sect preaching love, people's love for one another, love at all costs." The truth is that Eddie hasn't the foggiest idea of what he wants, save to rant against the injustices life has dealt him--more imagined than real, it seems--and to pose as a heroic figure. That he most transparently is not is evident on every page of this whining, sniveling, noisome little book.