If you could be any celebrity for four to six hours, who would you be? Oh, maybe not the actual celebrity. Nobody wants to deal with Sylvia Plath’s unending ennui or inadvertently gain weight while satisfying Elvis’ late night munchies or risk OD-ing while rocking out as Janis Joplin. But for a few hundred bucks, you can buy and inject a Big Ego—the Hemingway, say, or the ever-popular Marilyn Monroe—and for a few hours you can look, feel, and most importantly, be treated like the celebrity you’ve always deserved to be.
This is the premise of S.G. Browne’s witty new novel, Big Egos. Browne’s unnamed protagonist is a quality controller at an upscale Ego-producing company, EGOS (Engineering Genetics and Organizational Systems), which develops and sells a pricey fluid that changes the client’s DNA, temporarily replacing it with a serum that will instantly transform him into the personality, or Ego, of his choice—conveniently edited to strip away any undesirable characteristics, such as suicidal tendencies or schizophrenia. Wisely sidestepping the stickier scientific points of the Ego-development process, Browne’s story follows our protagonist as he tackles a disturbing new trend in the slightly futuristic, Ego-driven world: black market, off-brand Big Egos that are making people lose their minds—and which are, more importantly, bad for business. The protagonist’s mission is to go to Ego-parties looking for these shoddy facsimiles—readily recognizable because of their sub-par genetic transformations and erratic behavior—and to … take care of the problem.
Much of this edgy and biting novel reads as an homage to Slaughterhouse Five, and in fact, Vonnegut appears as a popular Ego available for purchase (though the entertainment possibilities of becoming a chain-smoking, grizzled—though of course immensely talented—Indianan author are dubious). And like Billy Pilgrim, our increasingly befuddled and Ego-addicted protagonist begins to become unstuck in time, further confusing the boundaries of reality, personality and selfhood. Throughout the story, Browne questions the stability of individual identity and the effect that our celebrity-worshipping, reality-TV-loving culture has on our tenuous notions of self.
Insightful, caustic and irreverent, Big Egos is a sharp, smart and immensely entertaining read.