Welcome to America, a country so desensitized that anal sex is too mainstream to be considered a fetish, and whereCover to Warren Ellis's Crooked Little Vein Macroherpetophilia (love of large lizards, namely Godzilla) flourishes. Welcome to America, a country so morally decrepit and corrupt that rich Texas oil families with political aspirations are left to their own devices (namely hunting dolphins and seals and snorting large amounts of cocaine through gas masks), and the President's Chief of Staff spends his free time in posh hotels shooting heroin and releasing his bowels on rich upholstery. Welcome to America. And meet Mike McGill, an overweight, out-of-shape, out-of-work, out-of-whack private detective--a self-described "shit magnet"--who's been charged with restoring America to it's traditional values.

No, this isn't a description of the current state of the world in which we live--though quite disturbingly it's not far off--but the premise to Warren Ellis's wickedly hilarious new novel, Crooked Little Vein, on sale Tuesday. And how would one very disillusioned detective change the course of human events? Simple: with an alternate Constitution of the United States--written on the skin of an alien that Benjamin Franklin killed after one too many anal probings--outlining invisible amendments the Founding Fathers created as a fallback for their great experiment. Find the book, explains the Chief of Staff, read it out loud and presto-changeo we're back to the good ole' Red, White and Blue. Ah yes, that Warren Ellis.

It seems odd to look to a British comic book writer, one who spends most of his days drinking beer and smoking cigarettes in London pubs, for a commentary on the American condition. But what ensues in the 267 pages of Ellis's first novel is just that. McGill's search takes him on a journey through the spectrum of America's depravity, from the obesity of Texas to the recklessness of Las Vegas and finally to the sprawl of Los Angeles. And as Ellis describes prostitutes who inject themselves with industrial-grade silicone and serial killers who boast of their massacres as nonchalantly as if it were a day-job, the hysterically absurd suddenly becomes all too plausible. "I'm not the underground," explains the child-eating maniac. "There's been twelve documentaries, three movies and eight books about me. I'm more popular than any of the designed-by-pedophile pop moppets littering the music television and the gossip columns."

And there's the rub with popular culture and values: when everyone has the power to create, publish and spread content throughout the world via the Internet, who is to decide what is and what is not socially acceptable behavior? The underground becomes the mainstream--think Chris Anderson's The Long Tail on three Halcyon and a mountain of cocaine. Ellis, however, begins the book making the case that the President of the United States would almost be justified in using a book that has the power to stop such reprehensible behavior. McGill, in fact, spends most of the novel welcoming the idea. But wait. If an administration were to believe they had the right and responsibility to be the moral arbiters of society, who is to stop them from say, banning gay marriage and abortion, or putting the kibbosh on stem cell research? Methinks a metaphor may be beginning to surface.

"Is it right that the government should be able to reset peoples' personalities to some two-hundred-year-old notion of 'morality?'" asks Trix, McGill's nymphomaniac sidekick who refers to the President only as "that maniac in the White House." Perhaps that's a question everybody should be asking themselves these days, even those who can't stomach the twisted, masochistic case Ellis puts forth--to be fair, this book should be sold in a brown paper bag to no one under the age of 18. Maybe bestiality with ostriches is messed up, but hey, there could be more crooked things, and people, in this world...

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