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“When it comes to cruelty I am an artist,” says Michael Malice, the Ayn Rand–obsessed protag of Harvey Pekar’s Ego & Hubris. “It’s too bad there’s no way for me to market this gift of hurtfulness.” No idle boast: Malice (the creator of overheardinnewyork.com), leaves offensive messages on his father’s answering machine (“Jesus called, he wants a blowjob”) drives a teacher to the brink of a nervous breakdown, and gets a co-worker fired—on her birthday. In other sections, he mails a tube of zit cream, anonymously, to an acne-prone boss, then breaks up with a girlfriend when she is diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
This latest entry in Pekar’s American Splendor series, moves from Malice’s Bensonhurst childhood to his stint as a Cato Institute intern to a series of tech-related temp jobs. Blessed—or cursed—with a 160 IQ, Malice loves crushing lesser beings with his superior intellect; failing this, he simply rats them out to their superiors. In grade school he could have been labeled a tattletale; all grown up, he’s just a jerk. Malice is Dostoyevsky’s Underground Man reborn as bilious temp, bad digestion and all.
As contemptible as Malice sounds, the book—and, at least in Pekar’s version, Malice’s life—is a lot of fun. Not so much the face of evil as the face of jackassery, Pekar’s portrait is mesmerizing, the action only stuttering when the hero steps offstage, as during interludes about a long-forgotten country band. His is the fantasy of a life unbridled by pesky thoughts about the feelings of others. For an unabashed misanthrope, few things could be more exhilarating.