How many times have you picked up a book labeled humor or comedy only to find it amiss of any real humor? It’s because comedic fiction is the most difficult type of literature to write and tragicomedy even more difficult. You may have a great sense of humor, always making those around you laugh, but conveying the same humor in writing while solidifying personal tragic events that are inoffensive yet fluid and natural and most of all funny, well that’s a conundrum all its own. Finding modern well-written tragicomedy reminiscent of those written from ancient Greece to Shakespeare is even rarer than your typical humorous fiction, yet Joel Michael Dorr, author of Those Crazy Notions of Otherwise Intelligent People, has flawlessly mastered the art and brings to mind a quote by Stephen King.
A tragedy is a tragedy, and at the bottom, all tragedies are stupid. Give me a choice and I’ll take A Midsummer Night’s Dream over Hamlet every time. Any fool with steady hands and a working set of lungs can build up a house of cards and then blow it down, but it takes a genius to make people laugh.
And make people laugh is exactly what Dorr does with his successful execution of dysphemisms embedded into each of the book’s characters, some drenched more in sarcasm than others, while successfully avoiding gormless personas, breathing a surreal realism into their lives and personal stories as if you truly knew these people.
Protagonist playboy Percy Powers is in the prime of his life, but you’d never know it from the funk he’s been in the last year since his unbelievably smokin’ hot wife suddenly up and left him; a true rossy for sure. To add fuel to fire, he can’t seem to keep his foot out of his mouth long enough to breath and is constantly finding himself spiraling through a nonstop Groundhogs Day of womanizing, procrastination, drinking, sarcasm, and a special needs Tiger that lives in his pool house. Yet he somehow always manages to come out on top. As Jonah Hill once famously put it in the film Superbad, “F*ck me Right?”
“Once again, Percy had turned crap into snake oil…”
Live radio waits for nobody and when Percy shows up substantially late for the morning show’s first day of live webcasting from the studio he finds Paul dying to dish out live on the air the scathing embarrassment he thinks Percy is owed. Percy, however, pulls a fake junior listener evening out promotion from his posterior region to cover his morning-after drunken tardiness and surprisingly, with astounding success.
With Tiger, his best friend and confidant with Down syndrome, in tow, Percy arrives to pick up seven-year-old Sammy, the winner of his complete buncombe contest, who was witness to his dad’s murder and subsequently has stopped talking. However, Sammy’s mom Ilena who is one caboose shy of a train wreck herself has no idea what is going on and didn’t enter Sammy into any contest. After bantering ensues, Ilena finally relishes the fact that this might be good for Sammy and agrees to go. What she discovers is a grown man who unabashedly acts like a bantering pubescent teenage boy, but who is also capable of being quite the chivalrous knight.
While San Diego is the backdrop for Those Crazy Notions, there’s not a lot of environmental buildup as it’s not the real focus of this book and had Dorr spent more time on descriptive detail, the results would have been a substantially deprived connection between the reader and characters. Instead, Dorr delivers simple relevance to specific locations. Modern readers and those familiar with the area will find all of Dorr’s quips easily understood, especially those pertaining to the Military, for example:
Oh maan! “What are you doing here?” He asked. “Don’t tell me one of the navy destroyers docked, so you’re down to make some walkin’-around money?”
However, antediluvian readers who find they relate more to the unplugged PBS Paul type rather than the avant-garde #yGenStylePercy might find some of the dialogue or situations confusing, difficult to relate to, or even offensive.
Those Crazy Notions of Otherwise Intelligent People is undeniably worthy to sit upon the New York Times Bestsellers list. It’s one of those books that hooks from the get-go; filled with a cast of characters that you’ll swear you personally know, whether you love them or hate them. The emotion behind each individual’s story is raw yet candid, and genuinely masked behind the fitting blend of sarcasm and humor; man’s natural defensive shield.
“…she screamed like a coxswain commanding her rowing team to the finish line.”
You’ll laugh at the humor, gasp at the raunch, hell, you’ll probably even choke up a time or two whether you admit it or not. Whatever your reaction, you’ll want to add this book to the top your to-be-read pile. And as for Joel Michael Dorr, he most definitely is an author to keep your eye on!