Kurt Baumeister (KGB) vs. Kurt Baumeister’s Doppelganger (2.0)
Kurt Baumeister’s debut novel, a satirical spy thriller entitled Pax Americana (Stalking Horse Press), was released into the wild on March 15. Baumeister took a brief break from his whirlwind world tour to sit down with his double, Kurt Baumeister 2.0, aka The Creature, aka Baumeister’s Monster, aka The Baumonster, aka simply (and, finally, thank fucking god) 2.0. A wide-ranging, revealing, and at times shockingly adversarial discourse followed. Described by onlookers as something between the ravings of a preternaturally linguistic chimp with dual-personality disorder and a peyote-addled William F. Buckley sparring semi-verbally with a lobotomized Gore Vidal, a third, unnamed transcription agent was able to pen these notes prior to apprehension by the Trump Administration. Details of his or her stay at Guantanamo Bay may or may not be forthcoming. Baumeister and his double remain at large.
KGB: Go on, ask me what the worst thing I’ve ever been called is.
2.0: Fine. What’s the worst thing you’ve ever been called?
KGB: Well, I don’t know about worst exactly, but one of the strangest was when someone called me a doppelganger.
KGB: Right. Like, “You’re a goddam doppelganger, Kurt.”
2.0: That’s…what that? Some D&D thingy, like a unicorn?
KGB: The dictionary definition is “an apparition or double of a living person.”
2.0: You are kinda pale. But it’s hard to believe someone actually came out and called you a ghost.
KGB: They were drunk. I think they were implying I wasn’t a real person in some fundamental moral or ethical way.
2.0: What if it was some sort of Germanic slur? Like, because of your name? Y’know, Kurt Baumeister.
KGB: I do have a pretty Germanic name, but a xenophobic slur? That’s reading a lot into one word.
2.0: But if he voted for Trump?
KGB: I don’t think she did.
2.0: Still, you never know, right?
KGB: If you say so.
2.0: Obviously, it scarred you.
KGB: A little maybe. Mostly, it just struck me as completely bizarre. Still does. But…
2.0: [raises an eyebrow] But, what? What’s the but?
KGB: The but is that finally, after all these years, I think it’s working to my benefit.
KGB: Well, I’m being interviewed by my actual doppelganger, right here, right now, right?
2.0: Oh, I see what you did there. Very clever, Dr. Baumeister, very clever indeed. What if you’re my doppelganger, though? Have you considered that possibility?
KGB: Not at all.
2.0: You should. This could be a Catch-22 situation.
KGB: What could be a Catch-22?
2.0: This. Us. You know, like a conundrum: As in, am I the doppelganger, or are you?
KGB: That’s not what a Catch-22 is. This is more a Chicken-and-Egg type thing.
2.0: It’s confusing, whatever it is.
KGB: Like a conundrum?
2.0: [purses lips] Enough small talk. Tell me about this debut novel of yours, this so-called Pax Americana.
KGB: Nice segue.
KGB: I was being facetious.
2.0: Just answer the fucking question.
KGB: Well, Pax Americana is not so-called at all. It’s a real, live, honest-to-goodness novel. I guess it’s a literary thriller of sorts. More specifically, a satirical spy novel.
2.0: So, it’s funny?
KGB: God, I hope so. But I think it’s serious, too; or, at least, it makes some serious points.
2.0: Such as?
KGB: Basically, it’s about American excess, the way we allow Christianity, capitalism, and militarism to run amok, imperil the higher ideals that we, at least in our secular “sacred” texts (the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence), aspire to. Freedom, liberty, peace: those sorts of things.
2.0: So, what, you’re like some pacifist-atheist-communist?
KGB: I’m agnostic with respect to religion. I suppose that’s the one of those I come closest to. Of course, I do feel that America’s become too militaristic. And I feel capitalism doesn’t work everywhere every time. Basically, any -ism doesn’t always work.
KGB: Healthcare. Education. Prisons. Even the military. Really, anything that’s supposed to serve a public good. Capitalism’s great advantage is that it streamlines interactions, focuses people on the profit motive. But if you’re pursuing ends that aren’t only served by profit—health, the acquisition of knowledge, the dispensation of justice—capitalism can do more harm than good. It can make you focus on profit when you should be focusing on another goal entirely.
2.0: But you said it was funny.
KGB: What, the book?
KGB: I said I hoped it was.
2.0: [frowns] Well, this doesn’t sound very…um…
KGB: OK, look, it’s about a near future in which Christianity and capitalism have gone haywire, completely taken over America. The hero, antihero really, is a young agent with the Internal Defense Bureau named Tuck Squires. He’s rich, handsome, tall, thin. He’s everything you’d want if you were constructing a secret agent in a meth lab. Ultimately, though, he’s a bit of a bumbler. And he’s an evangelical Christian who’s somehow reconciled his faith with uber-Capitalism. Meaning—
2.0: Meaning he’s a perfect symbol for what America could, or maybe already has, become.
KGB: Right. He’s teamed with a much older former superspy named Ken Clarion. They take off in search of a kidnapped scientist, the developer of a breakthrough personal spirituality program called Symmetra. The kidnapper is an evangelical fast food mogul named Ravelton Parlay, founder of a very large, very Christian chain called Righteous Burger. Heavenly Halfstones with Cheese, Turbo-Cokes, Freedom Fries, Catfish Poppers all of it served up with live, holographic, individualized sermons from Righteous Burger’s celebrity spokescreature, an anthropomorphized lamb named Timmy who wears a cape and Parlay thinks of as a son. Timmy’s catch phrase is “Kingdom Come, yum, yum, yum!”
2.0: OK, that does sound pretty funny.
2.0: In a really dark, twisted fucking way.
KGB: Right, I already said thanks. No need to gush. So, I’m planning on writing two more of these books. The next will most likely be titled Virtual Jerusalem. The third is tentatively called The Gods of Heroes and Villains. I haven’t decided what I’ll call the trilogy, if I’ll even give it a proper trilogy-ish name. Perhaps just Pax Americana.
2.0: So, the other books are already written?
KGB: Yes and no. I don’t have them assembled in their final form but I initially envisioned Pax Americana as a much longer novel. This was a few years ago when I was first submitting it to agents. So, I have hundreds (well over a thousand) pages of material that will figure in the other two books.
2.0: What are you working on now if not the sequel?
KGB: I’ve got another novel I’ve been working on, one totally unrelated to Pax Americana. It’s a first person mythocomic crime fantasy I’ve been calling Loki’s Gambit. The narrator is Loki, which is a lot of fun for me. I’ve always had an easier time writing in first person. For some reason, though, that wasn’t quite right for Pax Americana. The twist with Loki’s Gambit, one of them, is that Loki’s good. The book also has something to do with the current state of politics in the West, the way authoritarianism seems to be gunning for a new moment in the sun. There’s history, Nazi gold, a little magic, a Norn named Sunshine, a dog named Fenris, giant kings who’ve become little people, and a cast of characters drawn largely from Norse mythology. Odin, Thor, etc., etc.
2.0: So, like American Gods?
KGB: Maybe a little, but I hope not too much. It all hinges on the Norse gods having helped Hitler in his plan for world domination. Loki refused to go along and for that he was banished to Midgard (our world). When Hitler killed himself, the rest of the gods lost most of their power and fell to earth. That’s the ground situation. I’m also about halfway done with a poetry collection.
2.0: You enjoy that, working on multiple projects at the same time?
KGB: Yes. I guess I’m a little scatter-brained. It seems to be how I read as well. Not always, but often. When I’m working up my review column, I read several (or more) books at once.
2.0: Your column here at TNB?
KGB: Right. And, just FYI for anyone wondering, the only editorial control I exert at TNB is over my own column, Review Microbrew. This interview, for example, will be edited by one of TNB’s fine editors. And I can only hope they’ll find a way to make both me and my doppelganger sound a little less insane.
2.0: Hey, that’s me you’re talking about.
Kurt Baumeister is not a real doctor. 2.0 is, however, a real doppelgänger.
KURT BAUMEISTER has written for Salon, Electric Literature, The Weeklings, The Nervous Breakdown, The Rumpus, The Good Men Project, and others. An Emerson MFA and Contributing Editor with The Weeklings, his monthly Review Microbrew column is published by The Nervous Breakdown. Pax Americana is his first novel.