Yes another review. Well, I started reading again, after taking an uncharacteristic diversion in video (catching up on GOT and, dare I say it, the Great British Baking show. Made the wife happy after having ignored her for 6 months while finishing up PHJ.) Anyway, this is the longest review I’ve written on Goodreads, and it speaks to a love/hate I had going with the book. I’ve been plumbing the dark side with my writing lately but there is the dark, and then there is….this. It reminds me of a book I stumbled on (I swear it) in fifth grade: “SuperMan Chu.” I gave up when the bad guy was about to … well, that’s so gross it’ll require a trigger warning when I write that post.
Warning: profanity follows. I’m not exactly the epitome of discretion myself when I speak, and I’ve been known to have characters who explode with the occasional socially awkward expression, but usually my expository writing is clean. But there is really no way to write cleanly of this particular novel. Fair warning.
I read a review that said this was a ‘great’ book. Hellfire, Charlie Sheen liked it! (I discovered that after the fact.) I read it. I have read more sensationalist, exploitative works. I am no literary virgin. But this was on the edge of what I’d call entertaining, in a ‘secret sin’ sort of way.
Frank Sinatra in a Blender is an engaging read, and it certainly has character. It also has very little shame or self-consciousness. In fact, if books had a human expression, this would be a brash, loud, tout from a bawdy house in 19th century Barbary Coast San Francisco, capering in a torn frock coat and showing nicotine-stained teeth. Perhaps even opium stained teeth. It is entertaining but being a torrid, roaring send-up of the pulp/noir detective genre, it is a bit limited in scope, as is its target. No big deal there. We’re not reading this for great insights into character development, social commentary or gender roles. Far from it. The characters are men, strippers, more men, a dancer, a pretty receptionist (natch) who immediately falls for the protag, who is battered, bloodstained, and, of course, reeking of vodka at the time. What 21-year-old blonde babe could resist? You get the idea. Not for the Birkenstock crowd, this. I mean, *not at all.* It is pulp fiction, and it revels in the violence, gore and testosterone-oriented bravado of the genre.
That said, the characters are differentiated, have dimension, their own voices. They do reflect on their fate (more on that) and they stay in character almost to a fault. I liked them, if sometimes they made unbelievable choices (what, he’s out 10 hours and the vicious killers come by his apartment to *steal his business cards?* That’s fuckin’ with someone, alright). But some of their activities get a bit repetitious. McBride establishes his street cred with the protagonist’s consumption of illicit drugs. Clearly, the author has great expertise here. But after the 12th description, the “drug-user procedural” aspect loses its impact and becomes a bit stale. I would have been more interested in the characters doing more reflection about their situation — the horrific pile-up of a car wreck that all of their lives become — and less focus on cataloging the (unbelievable) quantities of drugs and alcohol being taken. The slam bang action — which is as fun to read in a sinful pleasure sort of way, like peeking up the dress of a dancer in our 19th century bawdy-house — is great but the book could have been improved (more horror, more visceral impact) with a bit more introspection on the part of the characters, which I enjoyed when I got it. And the author could have done it, too — because he cheerfully ignores the modern (and in my opinion, far too restrictive) approach to POV.
I will digress a bit here. POV has become a religion. “One POV! Never change it in a book/chapter/scene! Readers get confused!” Balderdash. I don’t get it. I never get confused when POV changes. Maybe I am a POV genius, whatever, ‘head-hopping’ as it is called can be quite fun and McBride takes advantage of that here. You don’t notice it (well *I* don’t) unless you look for it, but if you are one of those souls who cannot stand POV change, get drunk before you read this book.
Ah yes, that is another trope here. Drinking. And shitting. The author is a great fan of power, drink, and shitting. There are a lot of powerful drinks, powerful shits, powerful eating and drinking and their inescapable consequences. It’s kind of fun; when reading books I’m often wondering “When does this protagonist ever have to eat? Or hit the toilet? Doesn’t James Bond ever have to pee??” Well, no problem here, you’ll get a bellyful of human digestion in this book. Yes, a bawdy-house dancer who does [censored].
Censored? Yes. I can’t say what I wanted, as to stay in sync with the book I’m reviewing, there is no sex. Well, unless you consider describing the acts strippers do with poles, tables and kneecaps sex. And one creepy scene near the end, which makes me glad the author avoided the subject for the most part.
Anyway, given its intended purpose (sensationalized violence), a good book, but not great, some flaws, nothing too terrible given the genre which aims for low gratification, and has horrifying action in an embarrassingly fun train-wreck sort of way. I’m going to go read a courtly old tome (Don Quixote) now to clean my brain.