The Holy Spirit of Life: Essays for John Ashcroft’s Secret Self
Joe Wenderoth
Verse Press, $14 (paper)

Joe Wenderoth is a relentless antagonist to the dominant inanities of culture and politics. There are some who would like to dismiss him at every turn: he is too foul-mouthed, too self-absorbed, too sarcastic, too silly, too reckless. But as soon as one begins to think Wenderoth’s mind is permanently stuck in chakra two, he reels off inspired, compressed vignettes about seemingly minor or preposterous issues (citizens on television’s Mayberry and drinking games such as “The Lumberjack’s Melancholy Pussy”) that reveal desperate humanity in all manners of action. In his new book, The Holy Spirit of Life, Wenderoth imbues these essays with such concerned philosophical purpose (and drama) that the reader is led to believe in their deeper significance, and the tension between his earnest rhetorical choices and somewhat seriocomic tones and content leaves us laughing disturbingly. When he proposes that it is time to make Martin Luther King Jr. white so that the white population can love him, one finds oneself caught between the absurdity of the proposition and the terror that our culture might be so fundamentally racist and irrational that this just might make sense. This is Wenderoth at his best, championing ridiculous possibilities of change that deride this country’s culpabilities and hypocrisies, not to mention pursuing an argument ad absurdum: “Wasn’t it King who insisted that one should be judged without concern for the color of one’s skin? Poetic justice, then, to refashion him white, if only as a demonstration of the irrelevance of skin color.” The book also includes 24 photographs of Wenderoth at various stages in his life, including one on a park bench with a disarming Ronald McDonald, a wedding photo, and a four-part x-ray of his colon. As in his previous book, Letters to Wendy’s (2000), Wenderoth proves himself one of our country’s most daring satirists—no one is more willing to follow issues through to the rawest conclusions, or to show the slick world the other side of its smile.