Posts Tagged ‘Dark Humor’

The Egyptologist by Arthur Phillips

October 5, 2011

The only book that I can compare The Egyptologist to would be one of my other all-time favorites, The Prestige. Both of these books are supremely well-executed exercises in the unreliable narrator. As with The Prestige, The Egyptologist consists entirely of either journal entries or letters written to and from the main characters of the novel. This lack of knowledge given to the reader ends up making the entire novel a crazy thrill-ride where you, the reader, are called upon to make your own judgments about what is really happening. There is no simple point in the book where some omniscient narrator tells you what happened. There are at least two people constantly telling you different versions of the same story, and you are left wondering who to believe.

Ralph Trilipush is an aspiring archaeologist with a sordid, mysterious past. Ralph is the discoverer of what appears to be ancient Egyptian pornography: The Admonitions of Atum-hadu. Atum-hadu is thought to be a pharaoh that never existed, but Ralph isn’t so sure that he wasn’t a real king. So Ralph sets out to Egypt to uncover the tomb of Atum-hadu. Meanwhile, back in Boston where Ralph’s fiancee and creditors are waiting for him, Harry Ferrell, a private detective who came on to this case through an entirely different case, is starting to suspect Trilipush of foul play, and voices his concerns to involved parties, which starts a chain of events leading to a mind-blowing conclusion.

The Egyptologist is truly everything one could want in a novel. Great characters, interesting plot and great writing. Throughout the entire book, Phillips maintains a darkly comic tone to all these events, especially in the journals of Ralph Trilipush. But once the reader reaches the final climax of the book, the last 40 pages are some of the spookiest, most disturbing that I have ever read.

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Diary by Chuck Palahniuk

August 17, 2011

Diary takes place in the form of a “Coma Diary” by Misty Tracy Wilmot, Her husband Peter, who had been slowly losing his mind is found comatose in the garage after a failed suicide attempt. After her husband dies, she starts getting calls from people whose houses Peter had remodeled; they call to say that they are missing a specific room of their house. So now Misty has to deal with them as well as her snobby mother-in-law, her creepy daughter, and the strange events goings-on of the so-called, “sophisticated,” island her husband dragged her to.

Palahniuk’s method of jumping from present to the past keeps us drawn in and engaged. The small fish shaped island by the name of Waytansea, in which all of this takes place is now infested with tourists and the natives will do anything to drive them away, but at the same time need the money they bring with them. How does all of this tie in? In the darkest way Chuck Palahniuk can imagine with his own twist of humor this book wraps up very nicely with an amazing anti-climactic climax.

Another great book from one of my favorite authors. It is entertaining and has some completely surprising plot twists. This book is intense and not for the light-hearted.

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Check out Chuck’s website The Cult.

The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint by Brady Udall

August 3, 2011

If they gave prizes for the best first line of a first novel, Brady Udall would have no competition:  “If I could tell you only one thing about my life it would be this: when I was seven years old the mailman ran over my head.”

Pronounced dead by paramedics, Edgar is taken to the local hospital where he is revived by a doctor who, henceforth, assumes a rather unusual custody of Edgar’s life. Throughout the course of the novel, Edgar meets a host of characters who have the best and sometimes worst intentions for his well being. Through rehabilitation, torture and attempted suicide Edgar, through the grace of God (though he doesn’t know it), perseveres.

Udall has created a cast of characters that are quirky, flawed, and brilliantly imagined. The story is engaging and triumphant. The writing is superb. An excellent read that truly inspires. Highly Recommended!

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The Executioner Always Chops Twice: Ghastly Blunders on the Scaffold by Geoffrey Abbott

February 23, 2011

If you ever find yourself facing execution, be absolutely certain the executioner is not drunk. Or poorly trained. Or squeamish. Or mad at you. Otherwise, you might be in for an even worse day than you expected. Abbott’s book chronicles several centuries of execution methods and the unpleasant results that occur when things go wrong.

If you can stomach the horrific nature of the subject, this small book is written in a lively and witty manner. Organized into chapters by execution method, each incident covered gives a short background on the person(s) involved, what they did, and what went wrong when their time came. Abbott also reports some of the famous last words of the condemned, newspaper and other contemporary accounts, and interesting bits of trivia.

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Down and Out in Paris and London – George Orwell

February 17, 2011

Have you ever washed dishes? I’m not talking about washing up after dinner. I mean a dishwasher job at a restaurant. Well, I have. Of the numerous degrading and humiliating experiences I’ve endured in my lifetime, it has to be in the top five. Some of my degrading and humiliating experiences were so rotten that I am sure I have blocked them out so I can go on with my life. One can say that there is something noble in an honest day’s work, however, when I look back on those days I don’t recall ever feeling noble or anything else for that matter. I do remember vacillating between misery and just feeling numb, so I guess I felt something. You are constantly derided and chastised by your fellow co-workers. You are constantly covered with a vomitous, gelatinous substance. You are covered in water. Water that gets into your shoes and makes your jeans feel great in 90-degree weather. Your hands become infused with bleach and when you collapse into bed at night you will constantly be awakened by the bleach fumes when your hands go anywhere near your face. That was my experience, a middle-class, middle-brow, know-nothing from the suburbs.  I cannot imagine what it was like for George Orwell A.K.A.  Eric Blair. Mr. Blair received a King’s scholarship to Eton. One of the top preparatory schools in the world then and now. Blair was raised upper middle class in England at the height of the power and reach of the British Empire. He could have gone on to Oxford or Cambridge and who knows where from there but I am certain he would not have been washing dishes unless he wanted to, which apparently he did. Orwell/Blair took this burden upon himself. He decided that he wanted to see how it was to be truly poor and destitute. He became a vagabond and at one-point was washing dishes in a grimy bistro in Paris. He slept outside covered in newspapers, begged for food and eventually became quite sickly. Well, I don’t want to give away too much. The book is excellent. If life’s got you down, read this. You will be greatly appreciative of your station when you finish the final page.

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Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger

February 14, 2011

When  J.D. Salinger died last year, I, like everyone else who cared, started to reminisce about Catcher in the Rye, his most prominent work. As an adult I can look at Catcher in the Rye from a somewhat wiser perspective. When I first read it, some 31 years ago I was thirteen, perhaps the perfect age. The emotional connection was visceral and sort of all encompassing. I then wanted to read everything by Salinger. The first one I attempted and never finished until about 1o years later was Nine Stories. As far as I can recall, I made it to the the third story. Ten years later I finished the book because I supposed I needed closure. At the time I was still in the throes of adolescence and I was not impressed. Now at 43 I have finally arrived. Understanding these stories and appreciating them for the works of art that they are gives me insight into my own character. In one way or another I can relate to all of these stories. The stories are warm, melancholy, literate and down to earth. The conversations sound like something you hear everyday from strangers and the people you love. Perhaps that is the feeling I get from these stories. I feel as though I am greeting an old friend from long ago. The warmth is there, the familiarity is there and yet somehow it is strikingly sad and distant. The sadness in these stories is not tragic, rather they evoke a certain world weariness that feels comfortable because it’s so real.

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Nation by Terry Pratchett

January 25, 2011

In a parallel reality to Victorian England, a plague wipes out most of the country’s population–including the first one-hundred-thirty-nine people in line for the throne. The remnants of the British government must locate the next closest heir and his daughter, Ermintrude, both of whom are abroad.

At the same time, a giant tidal wave destroys a particular island nation. Only young Mao has survived, because he was off on an island undergoing his test to become a man. He has left his boy soul on the island, so he arrives back at the Nation—not a boy, not a man, soulless—to bury the bodies of everyone he has ever known. The wave also wrecks the ship carrying Ermintrude back to England. The princess alone survives the wreck and leaves her old identity behind, changing her name to Daphne.  Together, Mao and Daphne try to fathom the tragedy and rebuild their lives as other survivors begin to arrive on the island.

Pratchett does not conceal the grotesque reality of death.  Nor does he avoid the intense spiritual and emotional questions that accompany the clash of cultures in a post-apocalyptic world.  The characters wrestle with identity, cultural heritage, language, racial prejudice, religion, friendship, love, and grief. The philosophical questions are subtle and inconclusive, deftly woven into the narrative.  And underlying all of it is Terry Pratchett’s quirky sense of humor–especially poignant in this dark context.

Although written for young adults, Nation resonates with a broad audience.  The book is neither long nor difficult to read, but it tackles important questions that are sure to keep you thinking even after you put the book down.

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The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

December 24, 2010

I was surprised by how very much I enjoyed this wonderful debut novel. Revolving around the lives of the current staff of an English language daily published in Rome, the narrative is broken up by snippets from the past that give the reader greater insight into the paper than the characters themselves have. Each chapter is a short story about one of the characters; the way they weave together to tell the story of the paper itself is a delightful surprise.

Each of these vignettes has its own flavor, and while some are happy or redemptive, most highlight the feelings of futility that must haunt many newsrooms as newspapers are overtaken by the realities of the digital age. Regardless, this is an excellent debut novel with characters any reader is sure to remember. The interconnected stories all tie together beautifully. This is a must-read for debut fiction in 2010.

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Skippy Dies by Paul Murray

December 23, 2010

Okay I have to admit to having some trepidation about recommending a 672 page novel, but after the success of Justin Cronin’s The Passage (766 pages), I think readers are willing to invest the time in a lengthy book as long as it is well written and engrossing which Skippy Dies certainly is. Murray is quite a talented writer and is sure to be a presence in the world of contemporary fiction. Skippy Dies was long listed for the Booker Prize, shortlisted for Irish Novel of the Year and Costa Novel of the Year, and to be adapted for the big screen by Neil Jordan.

It’s not often that you pick up a novel that tackles such disparate topics as quantum physics, World War I history, Irish folklore, and donuts…lots of donuts. Skippy Dies reminded me of how mind – blowingly obnoxious teenage boys can be and also how crushingly hard it is to be fourteen. It’s not for everyone. If you are easily offended by crass talk and lewd behavior, then this book is not for you. It is a very well told story full of humor and heartbreak that uses all 661 pages to make you laugh, despair, contemplate your existence, and wonder how any of us every survive the trials of adolescence.

Now, a book about the death of a young boy sounds like a bummer–and Skippy’s death is far from the only tragedy depicted–but as in life, the tragedy is balanced with high comedy. The novel is set at Seabrook College, an upscale private preparatory school in Ireland. This, the institution’s 140th year, is a time of transition. The Catholic priests who have been in control for more than a century are beginning to take a back-seat to secular influences. Yes, contemporary scandals in the Catholic Church are touched on within the plot, which may be objectionable to some readers, but it’s not the focus of the story.

Being a product of a parochial education, and many moons ago a teenage boy, I could relate to this book on so many levels and I think most readers will be able to identify with the trials and tribulations of growing up in an uncertain world. Totally worth the read, even though some parts of this novel are heavy, or dark or both at the same time.  Don’t let the length deter you from one of this year’s finest reads.

Find out how Skippy Dies here!

“Mr. Peanut” by Adam Ross

December 8, 2010

In the opening pages of Adam Ross’s “Mr. Peanut” David Pepin, a designer of computer games, is accused of murdering his wife, Alice, after contemplating that very act despite his love for her; and that despite her having ballooned from 165 pounds to 288 then back down again. Can we bear this? Another dissection of the hermetic torture chamber called marriage? Yes we can. Turns out the two detectives assigned to unravel Alice’s demise (while eating peanuts to which she was highly allergic) also know the deep psychological recesses of marriage. One was convicted then exonerated in the murder of his wife. The second detective’s wife voluntarily took to her bed five months ago with absolutely no explanation. “You still don’t get it,” she explains.

At Alice’s death, Pepin is deep into writing a novel “Escher X,” that incorporates the master of deep shadows and dark echoes, M.C. Escher. Load all that and convoluted computer games on the hamster wheel and let her spin. Ross does that in a finely calibrated dissection of love and murder that balances several plot lines while drawing distinct characters. Yes, read beyond the first few chapters.

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