Crack Books

No Hope For Gomez! by Graham Parke by Crack Books
July 14, 2010, 5:15 PM
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , , ,

Graham Parke’s novel, No Hope For Gomez!, is an unusual read, and we’d expect nothing less from the 2008 winner of Broken Pencil’s Indie Deathmatch writing competition (his short story, “Amsterdam at Midnight” took the title). Without spoiling the plot too much, here’s the back-cover summary of the action:

“Boy meets girl. Boy stalks girl. Girl already has a stalker. Boy becomes her stalker-stalker.”

A humorous detective novel? Sure, why not? If the neo-noirs can have their cake and eat it too, let’s not deny the comedians a piece of the action. After all, even wiseguys like to laugh.

The book is additionally told entirely in the form of blog entries, and despite the fact that epistolary novels were all the rage back in the 18th century, we’re not sure whether the “blog novel” carries quite the same weight in 2010 (especially when some of the action is clearly happening in “real time,” rather than being described later for the blog). Still, it’s an interesting effort, chronicling the life of Gomez Porter, who enters into a research study and becomes infatuated with the doctor monitoring his progress.

While there are a number of things that don’t seem sufficiently explained, even when readers remind themselves to suspend disbelief (why a doctor would hire a patient to stalk her stalker instead of just calling the police, for instance), the overall story is amusing enough to push forward with the bumbling Gomez, a sometime antiques dealer in search of his true calling in life. The scenes in which he attempts to discover his “knack” (particularly when it comes to painting) can be quite hilarious, demonstrating Parke’s strength at creating self-deprecating dialogue for his characters as well as showing off a penchant for useless trivia.

Equally, the secondary characters often steal the spotlight from Gomez himself, such as when Gomez puts his employee, Hicks, up for auction on eBay. While readers may occasionally wonder where these amusing interludes are going, since they almost never directly relate to the plot, they are humorous enough that we want more of them despite ourselves.

In the end, it seems there is some kind of hope for Gomez (with or without the exclamation mark after his name), and although jokes about his “Swedish” heritage fall flat, he’s a likeable and odd enough character that readers will want more of his antics. After all, if his involvement in the research study has only recently caused him to notice how truly bizarre his day-to-day life is (not to mention all the people in it), there can only be more misadventures awaiting Mr. Porter in the future.

For more information on No Hope For Gomez! or to order a copy, check out Graham Parke’s website at


Birds of America by Lorrie Moore by Crack Books

Birds of America: Stories Birds of America: Stories by Lorrie Moore
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If I ever take it upon myself to do something insane like spending another 30 grand to get an MFA in Creative Writing, I’d want Lorrie Moore to be my thesis advisor and writing mentor. Ever since I first read her short story “How to Become A Writer,” I knew we were literary soulmates. Her cheeky tone, her sarcastic and bitterly black humor, her characters stuck in stupid Midwestern towns bearing unironic newspaper headlines like “Normal Man Marries Oblong Woman”… these were all somehow familiar to me, yet so unexpected from a writer who is considered part of the “literary” genre of fiction. Can you really write cuss words in your fiction? Can crazy people really be heros? Yes and yes, says Lorrie Moore. And goddamn if those things won’t take you to the top, too. Fuck the naysayers.

Birds of America is an excellent collection of short fiction by an unconventional writer. They’re all about modern forms of insanity which, really, are signs of sanity in an insane world. At least that’s how I’d describe them. I’m sure the literary types are shaking their snoots and dipping their piggy tails in ink to scribble some nonsense right now about some highfalutin’ themes and messages and other such dreck, but screw ’em.

Who needs an MFA from an accredited university when you’ve already majored in Life at L’Ecole aux Frappes Dures?

Hotel Honolulu by Paul Theroux by Crack Books

Hotel Honolulu Hotel Honolulu by Paul Theroux
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Read mainly during a stint scoring Hawaii Math at one of the country’s top education testing facilities, Paul Theroux’s Hotel Honolulu provided a nice counterpoint to the terribly misguided papers I was reading for 8 hours a day.

I am contractually bound to keep the details of my scoring gigs confidential, so I’ll say no more. Suffice to say that after this particular gig, it was readily apparent to me that Hawaiian students–much like Texan students–are either very poorly educated or simply don’t bother to perform on standardized tests.

But back to Theroux, whom I stumbled upon totally by accident, thanks to a mandate from my husband to find anything and everything Hunter S. Thompson while I was browsing the UT library with my TexPass. By some quirk of the alphabet (plus Library of Congress shelving), Theroux and Thompson were next to one another. “Hotel Honolulu,” I remember thinking to myself, “That sounds intriguing…”

Theroux, a travel writer who also writes fiction (or is it the other way ’round?) pens an autobiographical account of his time in paradise, aka Hawaii, with much humor and compassion. I particularly enjoyed his account of regional variations on Scrabble, where he is miffed that his hotel employees will allow him to play with them (given his status as a writer), and then doubly miffed that he is always the loser in their games–which allow “Whyan” terms. (I was mostly amazed that they had that many U’s in their bag of letters!)

The kicker? Theroux objects to the term “shim,” which the Hawaiians claim is something used in “consruction,” and he has it stricken from the game’s record. Later on, he looks the word up in the dictionary, only to discover it’s a “Howlie” (i.e. white dude) term he should’ve known all along, meaning “a thin often tapered piece of material (as wood, metal, or stone) used to fill in space between things (as for support, leveling, or adjustment of fit).” The “near illiterate” janitorial crew gets his goat once more, proving that book smarts don’t necessarily equal real-world smarts. Touché.

Writing, Publishing & Marketing Your 1st Book (Or 7th) by Bobbie Christensen by Crack Books

Writing, Publishing & Marketing Your 1st Book by Bobbie Christensen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Great book on how to write your first book (or 7th) in just 6 weeks or 20 weekends, along with great advice on how to self-publish and market your own book. The author, Bobbie Christensen, insists that self-publishing is the only way to sell your book, as you are clearly the one person who knows your material best, and I would have to agree.

I’m currently working on a book of my own (entitled Naked Montreal, and available for pre-sale online, if you’re curious), using this method, so I’ll let you know how it turns out!

View all my reviews >>

Crooked Little Vein by Warren Ellis by Crack Books

An oldie, but goodie:

Crooked Little Vein by Warren Ellis, Published 24 July 2007 by William Morrow

Crooked Little Vein: A crooked little review
by Laura Roberts

Warren Ellis’s first novel, Crooked Little Vein, is a quick read, but not one I’d recommend while you’re sitting in the waiting room of a doctor’s office. Maybe it’s just a personal issue, but I find that while normally I can stomach disgusting details, whenever I’m surrounded by needles, blood and urine samples, and the possibility of flesh-eating bacterial infections (plus the ever-so-reassuring wall-mounted hand sanitizer dispensers around every corner), I get a bit queasy. Thus, I’m not sure whether or not this is a compliment, but Warren Ellis nearly made me puke.

Several times.

The thing about good fiction is that you believe it’s real. The thing about Crooked Little Vein is that it’s based on reality. People really DO get together and inject themselves with saline solution for shits and giggles. People really ARE dumb enough to try injecting their butts with silicone from a tube of caulk. (Seriously, kids, don’t try it at home. Or anywhere.) These things happen every day. America, as observed by the British Ellis, is one twisted place.

Japanese "bagel-heads" inject their foreheads with saline solution. Proof that all I say is true.

Now, I don’t want to give away the ending, but I find that it wrapped things up rather neatly. Even happily, which was kind of odd, given the previous whirlwind of degenerates, perverts and assholes. The main character, Mike, is described as a “shit magnet,” and attracts the kinds of situations most people find comical—but only because they didn’t have to live through them. Mike gets his happy ending, and the reader feels relatively content, but is it really as simple as all that?

Not to nitpick, but this is definitely a comic book writer’s ending. Justice is served, the day is saved, the hero rides off into the
sunset. Mike McGill may not be a superhero, but he’s definitely gotten the superhero treatment in the end. And, to be honest, I feel that that is somehow appropriate. Warren Ellis writes comics, after all. Lots of the scenes in the book feel like they could easily be turned into panels in a graphic novel. The violence is there, but you know the good guys will triumph in the end.

First person narrative tends to do that for you.

We trust that things will always end up “right” when we read books, watch TV, go to the movies, flip through comics. There are rules that aren’t violated. You never see the hero die, unless he’s faking it to come back stronger, better, faster. The bad guys never win, except momentarily while the good guys formulate a plan. The world is essentially good and must be saved. Even when it’s populated primarily by perverts.

Crooked Little Vein’s premise is that there’s a way to “reset” the world, to remove the deviants and return America to its Puritan roots. This is as good a premise as any to set things in motion, and to stand in for the neo-conservatives who think that we ought to return to “family values,” even while they hypocritically hump people who aren’t their wives, inject themselves with drugs and break all of the Ten Commandments in a single night. Ask them to name even one of those commandments and they’ll give you a lot more “um”s and “uhhhh”s than a stuttering teenager caught out past curfew. It seems clear that no one on this earth has the right to get holier-than-thou, because none of us are perfect, and yet the worst of us will push their moral majority to the forefront whenever they can, trying to guilt the rest of us into admitting we are wrong.

Puritanism runs deep, and Ellis is not the first to examine it. He may, however, be the only one who’s used the phrase “tantric sex with ostriches” in the pursuit of its crooked source. Read it and weep, people. Read it and weep.

(Originally, and quite inexplicably, posted at Helium)