(Reviewed by Guy Savage FEB 25, 2008)
"What of the scientists who spirited away my wiener? Might they have cloned me from the wiener up? Might my adversary be myself? Certainly we have all enjoyed trick endings, such as when Brad Pitt and Edward Norton turn out to be the same person, or Mickey Rourke is hot in the trail of himself, or John Cusack only exists in somebody’s head."
In Awesome, blending genres with a remarkably light and deceptively facile hand, author Jack Pendarvis presents one of the most bizarre literary heroes to date--a giant named Awesome who’s in love with a woman named Glorious Jones.
Just think of Gulliver’s Travels mixed with Pilgrim’s Progress and hijacked by Dr. Ruth, and you’ve probably got an idea of what to expect in the pages of Awesome. This absurdist picaresque tale is a love story of sorts between Awesome and his downstairs neighbor Glorious Jones. On their wedding day, Awesome writes his own vows. Since copulation is a problem due to the fact that Awesome is a giant, as part of the vows, he requests that Glorious masturbate atop a camel in front of the assembled guests while the bridesmaids form a creative collective to assist in achieving Awesome’s orgasm. Naturally, Glorious Jones objects to these demands, and the wedding is off.
But Awesome later regrets his behavior, and hoping to patch things up with his ex-fiancée, he is told by her attorney that he may make amends. But first Awesome must complete a series of tasks set by Glorious. These tasks appear in the form of sealed letters, and Awesome may open only one letter and complete one task at a time. And so Awesome armed with an “enormous, pendant member”—the ejaculate of which can knock out the neighborhood power supply, sets forth to complete his tasks and prove his worthiness to Glorious Jones.
A large portion of this picaresque tale involves Awesome’s sexual capacity. The giant’s ejaculate is multi-purposed and after the giant designs a car that is fueled by the same ejaculate:
"My member is fitted into a Plexiglass tube. My helpers work in two-person teams for six-hour shifts, insuring a regular flow of fresh ejaculate into the reserve tanks. I am capable of driving for seventy-two hours at a time….I have ordinarily produced upwards of fifty gallons of ejaculate, more than enough to fuel the car for 6,200 miles of travel. We stop only to buy homemade jellies from quaint roadside fruit stands or snap photos with our iPhones of billboards containing humorous grammatical errors and/or unintentional double entendres, the latter of which I intend to self-publish in an eight-volume collector’s edition with slipcase."
Whether Awesome is buggering Goliath Brigadoon, encouraging a “communal orgy of pet kissing” or simply guillotining his own “wiener” in front of a crowd of Stockton hippies, this absurdist novel meshes myth and modern society in the most unexpected ways. Even after Awesome is castrated, his ability to act as a sexual guru for the uninitiated allows him to stimulate arousal and amazing orgasms by the power of his breath alone. Awesome is touted as a comic novel, but I found it easier to digest as a magical-realism absurdist picaresque novel for the 21st century. That said, I still found it ridiculous.
- Amazon readers rating: from 3 reviews
Read an excerpt from Awesome at Poets & Writers(back to top)
"The Mysterious Secret of the Valuable Treasure"
(Reviewed by Debbie Lee Wesselmann DEC 12, 2005)
Jack Pendarvis has the kind of wit that ambushes you - and then bludgeons you until you can no longer suppress the laughter. This collection of nine stories and a novella mocks bad writing and moronic thought through a complete submersion in each, with protagonists believing in absurd premises (like the dead-beat husband who imagines himself as a famous historian and the security guard who becomes attached to the air pipe of a buried alive DJ). The subtitle - "Curious stories" - only begins to describe these off-the-wall forays into the hilarity of self-importance.
At first, readers might not be certain of the author's intentions. Is this satire, or just plain bad writing? The first lines of the book, of the story "Sex Devil," could be either: "Gentlemen: I would like to give you my idea for one of your comic books. Well it is not one of your comic books yet, but it soon will be! I call my idea Sex Devil." This "idea" involves a teenage boy named Randy White who has a cleft palate, pretends to know karate, and is picked on by his classmates, who call him "Wandy Wite, Kawate Kiwwah." The letter writer proceeds to elaborate on the details on his superhero - all mildly amusing - until Sex Devil gets sprayed with chemicals in "the genital region" and gains an extra superpower. It becomes clear that this comic book premise is the fantasy of a nerdish teenage boy who doesn't have the slightest clue what makes a good story. When he concludes his proposal of violence, sex, and power with "I hope you will start making the comic book Sex Devil because it deals with issues that young people care about today," the reader knows that he is in tongue-in-cheek territory for the rest of the book.
From the publisher's copywriter who gets increasingly frustrated with the schlock he has to promote to the mock, contributor's notes, Pendarvis skewers his subjects. One of the most developed stories in the collection is "The Pipe" about a DJ buried alive in the desert as a publicity stunt, with a security guard and a paramedic watching over the pipe for signs of distress. The paramedic is more interested in smoking pot and fooling around with women, but the security guard takes his job seriously - to the point of obsession. The story has hints of "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" and "Waiting for Godot;" the security guard's dedication to the pipe is touching, as deranged as it is.
The funniest piece in the collection is the title novella, which satirizes amateur writing. The narrator is the self-described laziest man in South Preston who decides to be a historian: "In fabled times of days of yore, only the 'landed gentry' had time to write and contemplate. In today's modern age, it is the unemployed and the upset who enjoy such luxuries." As he researches the history of probably the blandest place in America, he decides instead to track down a treasure. Peppered with exclamation marks, elaborate dialogue tags, rhetorical questions, clichés, unnecessary adverbs, stilted phrases, and redundancy (see the title), this has to be the funniest send-up of bad writing I've read. Pendarvis manages to (mostly) maintain it for ninety pages as the protagonist fumbles his way through his own life.
Often, Pendarvis does not know when to stop his literary antics. Many of these stories, including the novella, go on for too long, with scenes and new characters that deflate the energy leading up to their introduction. As a result, these stories, although a hoot to read, are not as memorable as they could be. To the author's credit, not a single one of these stories is predictable; their ludicrous twists and turns can be as funny as the writing itself.
One word of warning: Don't read this collection in a public place unless you want people to stare. When Pendarvis sneaks up on you with one of his offbeat lines, you won't be able to stop yourself from laughing.
- Amazon readers rating: from 10 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- The Mysterious Secret of the Valuable Treasure (November 2005)
- Your Body Is Changing (May 2007)
- Awesome (July 2008)
- Shut Up, Ugly
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- Official blog site for Jack Pendervis
- Beatrice.com interview with Jack Pendarvis
- BookSlut interview with Jack Pendarvis
- Samples of Jack Pendarvis stories in McSweeny's, Mississippi Review, more McSweeny's
- Contrary Magazine review of Awesome
- Feminist Review on Awesome
- Memphis Flyer reivew of Awesome
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About the Author:
Jack Pendarvis spent much of his childhood and adult life in Bayou La Batre, Alabama. In 1993, he moved to Atlanta, Georgia to write promos for Turner Broadcasting. He quit in 1999.
His writing has been published in the Believer, McSweeney’s Online Tendency, and 14 Hills, and his stories have been anthologized in Stories from the Blue Moon Café II, The Alumni Grill, and the Pushcart Prize anthology.
He now lives in Atlanta, Georgia.