Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse by Robert Rankin

When you're looking for a light, humorous read, how could The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse escape your notice.

The story follows an adolescent by the name of Jack. He's decided to leave his small factory town home to find his fortune in the big city. The city is Toy City, which is inhabited by toys and nursery rhyme characters. Here he meets up with a teddy bear by the name of Eddie, whose owner, detective and author of a series of hard-boiled detective novels based on his own experiences, real or imagined, Bill Winkie has mysteriously disappeared while investigating the murder of Humpty Dumpty. Soon after Jack and Eddie team up to find what has happened to Bill, Little Boy Blue is found viciously murdered in his mansion.

This book is a strange combination of light-heartedness and dark humor. The descriptions of the victims after death are especially brutal when your mind is seeing the innocent characters whose rhymes we all grew up chanting. The story, itself, is quite entertaining as a traditional who-dun-it. It suffers a bit from political overtones and religious debate, especially towards the purposely chatty climax. This may well be the over-all purpose of the writing but the book as a whole didn't support this being the theme with the exception of a few passages which, at the time, seemed a bit off topic.

Much of the humor of this book felt a bit forced. The continuing quirk of Eddie's inability to "...do corroborative nouns.", which leaves the reader with an endless string of unfinished comparisons as tiring as... All of the food in Toy Town is alliterate to the point of often making no sense. And the word of the day for the writing style of this book is repetitive. Phrases, which are often amusing the first time, are repeated three and four times within a single page.

This is the first encounter I've had with a Robert Rankin book and although I found his style here more than a little annoying, I found the story an enjoyable escape.

Title: The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse
Author: Robert Rankin
Publisher: Orion Publishing Group
ISBN: 9780575074019

Saturday, July 19, 2008

American Sideshow by Marc Hartzman

I've always found myself unusually drawn to the unusual. This includes, to a great degree, circus folk. So, when I saw a single copy of American Sideshow in the theatre section at the bookstore I immediately honed in. This book is a treasure chest of information about sideshow performers throughout America's history that will never leave my personal library.
American Sideshow gives us short vignettes on, easily, more than a hundred different midway "freaks". But don't let the length of these biographies, most about a page long, fool you into thinking the information is insignificant.
Where else would you find personal and professional information on Fanny Mills, The Ohio Big Foot Girl, who was earning $150 a week in the 1880's. That's 100 yrs before I was making $150 a week at my first job and feeling rich!
And look at the story of Isaac W. Sprague, The Original Thin Man. Born in 1841 he was consistantly loosing weight from the age of 12. He ate regularly and well but was wasting away, dumbfounding his doctors. He worked for his father as a shoemaker until his parents death at which time he began working at a grocery. Once this work became too difficult (he was only in his 20's) he was lucky enough to be offered a job with a sideshow. Here he was making $80/wk in the 1860's. He took a wife and had a family. His condition was finally diagnosed as extreme progressive muscular atrophy. Mr. Sprague's story, unfortunately, ends very much the way that is often assumed of many sideshow performers.
The same, gladly, can't be said for Dick Brisben, The Penguin Boy who may well still be alive and kicking, at least at the time this book was written. Born in the 1940's with feet but no legs and hands but basically no arms, Brisben began his career with the sideshows in 1960. He had been on wellfare until Ward Hall invited him to join his show. The Penquin Boy stayed with Hall for 27 years after which he was able to purchase a home in southern California.
This book contains so many amazing stories about people who could easily have lived lives as "burdens" to society and family but instead took what they had and used it to their advantages.
Marc Hartzman as divided this book into 3 sections. It begins with the "Golden Age" which encompasses 1830's-early 1900's. This was the heyday of Barnum & Bailey. It continues on to the "Silver Age" with the introduction of the Ringling Brothers and eventual downfall of the sideshow as it was known. The final section covers the "Modern Age", the new sideshows.
For me, the final section is the only failing in this book. I see the old-time performers as people who found themselves in unusual circumstances entertaining an audience. As for the modern performers, they are people putting themselves in unusual situations to entertain.
I can't recommend this book enough to anyone with even the slightest interest in this subject. I would also reccommend it to creative writers looking for springboard material.

Title: American Sideshow
Author: Marc Hartzman
Publisher: Tarcher/Penguin
ISBN: 1585425303

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Woman's World by Graham Rawle

I'm not usually a fan of "artsy" books. My thought tends to be "if they need an artsy gimmick the writing is probably lacking".
After reading Women's World by Graham Rawle I will not let that keep me away again!
Written entirely with clippings from vintage 1960's women's magazines, the "artsy gimmick" of this book is not only impressive, it is necessary to the voice of Norma (Fontaine) Little who narrates this incredibly original book.
Women's World starts as a humorous character study of Norma who lives with her maid/mother and her brother/...in 1960's Great Britain.
How would one know how to be a lady without the women's magazines guiding her through fashion, hairstyles, poise and etiquette?
Clearly eccentric, Norma rarely leaves the house. But when she ventures out on a long overdue job interview she meets up with a curious man, Mr. Hands, who not only stares at her beauty, as others are want to do, but is bold enough to approach her with a proposition too intriguing for her to pass up.
As Norma prepares for her rendezvous with Mr. Hands, her brother Roy is fresh on the heels of a romance like none he ever thought possible.
Mr Rawle's character study moves smoothly into a mystery that reveals one twist after another as Norma and her brother must come to terms with their relationship.
There is so much more to this story but to say any more would give away too much.
This is the most innovative book I have read and seen. Any aspiring artist or writer can only be inspired by this book. It inspired me to start this blog!

Author: Graham Rawle
Publisher: Counterpoint
ISBN: 159376183x/9781593761837