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REVIEW: The Hysterectomy Waltz

Author: Merill Joan Gerber

2013, Dzanc

Filed Under: Literary, Humor

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 8
Entertainment..... 9
Depth..... 8

As the title of Merrill Joan Gerber’s new novel suggests, The Hysterectomy Waltz is a satirical, dark comedy in the tradition of Joseph Heller.  Think Catch-22, but instead of young men trapped by the absurdity of war and the military machine, this is women caught up in the clutches of the gynecological profession, at the mercy of paradoxical medical rules and regulations over which they have no control.  Or rather, one woman, the unnamed protagonist and narrator of the novel.

The story basically takes place in three parts:  the discovery of a tumor on the narrator’s ovary during a visit to her cocky male gynecologist, to whom she has gone thinking she may be pregnant again; her stay in the hospital with all its maddening absurdities and bureaucratic blunders and rigid procedures; and finally the post-surgery coming to terms with her new condition, her new conception of herself as a woman (mother, lover, sensual being).

The narrator has three teenage daughters at the time that she goes to her gynecologist to confirm her pregnancy, and hopes this time she’ll have a son.  But her hopes are dashed when the doctor breaks the news to her that she has a tumor and spells out her options in cold-blooded fashion.  Like all of her male doctors before him, pushing and prodding her intimate parts, he is insensitive and has no respect for her privacy.  So Gerber’s protagonist consults a female doctor, Laura, who lives in Beverly Hills.  Thirty years before, Laura had been her best friend, in Brooklyn.  Laura turns out to be only marginally better than the guys.  She’s part of the medical establishment, after all, that seems to be a pretty narcissistic bunch.
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REVIEW: My Planet

Author: Mary Roach

2013, Reader’s Digest

Filed Under: Nonfiction, Humor

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 3
Entertainment..... 4
Depth..... 6

Mary Roach recently released a book that has received rave reviews, has been called both hilarious and informative, and has even earned her a guest spot on The Daily Show.

Mary Roach also has a new book called My Planet, which is a collection of columns she wrote for Reader’s Digest. Despite the promise on the flap copy that Roach will bring to these “essays” the same, “uncanny wit and amazingly analytical eye,” that makes her other books so popular, My Planet, falls far short of being informative, or funny, or even interesting.

Roach’s other books—her well received and well read books—are in-depth and thoroughly researched. Roach’s writing is accessible and witty. Roach’s curiosity is a catalyst for those books, and her subjects are worth being curious about.
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REVIEW: What in God’s Name

AUTHOR: Simon Rich

2012, Reagan Arthur Books

Filed Under: Fantasy, Humor

Find it on Goodreads

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 6
Entertainment..... 7
Depth..... 3

Simon Rich is very funny. Seriously, the last time I pissed myself in mixed company was when I first read one of his New Yorker pieces, “A Conversation at the Grownup Table, as Imagined at the Kids Table.” I’ve read many of his shorter works since, including others published in “Shouts & Murmurs” and all those collected in Ant Farm: And Other Desperate Situations. Rich’s sense of humor is strange and surprising and almost always produces a reaction you might have rather suppressed.

His novel, What in God’s Name, is funny, too. It’s an easy read about a couple of work-obsessed angels, Craig and Eliza, trying to help a couple of hopeless humans, Sam and Laura, finally get together. If they succeed, then God will call off this whole destroying-the-Earth thing he’s decided to do. Basically, the “Boss” is bored with humanity, but he still can’t resist a good bet.

Here’s the thing: What in God’s Name is funny independently of its premise. It’s funny because the writing is funny, because Sam and Laura are so hopeless, and because it is so obvious that Craig and Eliza want to get together, too. The whole “heavenly bureaucracy” angle doesn’t add all that much. In fact, it quickly becomes the most tired part of the book.
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REVIEW: Let’s Pretend This Never Happened

Author: Jenny Lawson

2012, Putnam

Filed Under: Nonfiction, Memoir, Humor

Find it on Goodreads

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 7
Entertainment..... 9
Depth..... 6

Jenny Lawson is an insane person. It’s a wonder her husband hasn’t drowned himself. Of course, when you’re talking about a memoir by someone who has zero historical impact on the world, insane is good, because insane is entertaining.

Here’s the plot of Lawson’s book: she grew up, went to college, got married, had a kid. She and her husband both work from home in Texas. And occasionally she’ll do weird things like buy a giant metal rooster welded together from oil drums. She’s got a thing for taxidermy (note the dead rat Hamlet on the cover). There aren’t any lessons to be learned from her, or deep insight to be gleaned. Luckily, she is very funny. Lines that seem to come out of left field are plentiful, like this:

I just bought a fifty-year-old Cuban alligator dressed as a pirate.


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REVIEW: The Infernals

Author: John Connolly

2011 Atria Books

Filed Under: Young Adult, Humor, Fantasy, Horror

Find it on Goodreads.

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 9
Entertainment..... 10
Depth..... 8

A direct follow-up to Connolly’s wonderful 2009 book, The Gates, Infernals delivers everything you could want from a sequel. It’s another great adventure, and delivers all the wacky characters and narratorial humor that made the first book so exceptional.

After helping to save the world from an invasion from Hell, Samuel Johnson, with his trusty dog Boswell by his side, is trying to get back to a normal life. It doesn’t last long. The leader of the failed invasion, Mrs. Abernathy (formerly the demon Ba’al before he was trapped in the possessed body of Samuel’s elderly neighbor), seethes in Hell. The Great Malevolence–Satan–has fallen into a weepy melancholy following the defeat, leaving the underworld open to a tumultuous civil war.

Abernathy, in an attempt to restore her standing as Hell’s #2 demon, as well as save her own hide by preventing the traitorous demon Abignor from usurping rule, manages to open a small portal to Earth long enough to capture poor Samuel and Boswell. They will be an offering to restore the spirits of The Great Malevolence.


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REVIEW: The Sugar Frosted Nutsack

[The insane and hilarious novel is a C4 Great Read.]

Author: Mark Leyner

2012, Hachette

Filed Under: Literary, Humor

Find it on Goodreads.

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 9
Entertainment..... 9
Depth..... 6

Where to even begin with this book? This novel, if you want to call it that, is brilliant, perplexing, uproarious, and a little bit sad. One thing is certain: this is a superb bit of writing, and example of a writer at the top of his game, whose abilities with the written word put many of his contemporaries to shame. The rest is pretty much up for interpretation. If you want to glean more than just pretty bits of style from this book, come in prepared to to use parts of your brain you probably haven’t exercised in a while.


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REVIEW: Super Sad True Love Story

Author: Gary Shteyngart

2010, Random House

Filed Under: Literary, Humor, Sci-Fi

Find it on Goodreads.

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 8
Entertainment..... 8
Depth..... 8

Set in a near future as absurd as it is familiar, Super Sad True Love Story depicts a narcissistic America, drunk on credit, obsessed with youth, and largely ignorant of its relationship with the rest of the world. The government is run by the monolithic Bipartisan party, and no one much cares what the military does in Venezuela so long as the never ending stream of hypnotic information keeps scrolling across their “äppäräti.” It’s funny the way Russian literature, blight, or accidental death can be funny.

I’d call it dystopian literature except that in many ways Shteyngart’s novel doesn’t go far enough in reimagining our world to qualify. “Äppäräti” are juiced up smart phones, new fashions are obscenely revealing, and everyone loves shopping. Dystopian literature shows us our world is  stranger than we imagined by drawing out similarities with a world that appears unrecognizable on its surface; Super Sad True Love Story pretty much shows us our world exactly like it is, only worse.

For all the elaborate trappings of its near future setting, Super Sad True Love Story is less affecting as satire than (like the title suggests) as a oddly simple love story. Lenny Abramov, an aging, balding book addict with dreams of immortality falls for Eunice Park, a twenty-something Korean-American beauty and a true product of her times, image obsessed, outwardly confident, inwardly self-loathing. That Shteyngart manages to cut compelling characters from these types is a testament to his talents as a writer; that Lenny and Eunice manage to find consolation in each other is a testament to the strangeness of intimacy.
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REVIEW: Scattershot

Author: Richard Goodwin

2011, Seedpod Publishing

Filed Under: Literary, Humor, Short-Run.

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 4
Entertainment..... 3
Depth..... 2

Here’s a pretty good set up for a short story: Wicker, a down-on-his-luck hitchhiker trying to get to Vegas, scores a ride from Edna, a senile retired school teacher looking for the Pacific Ocean. There’s plenty of comic potential in the contrast of characters, but more than that there’s an opportunity to explore the strange ways that people use one another, taking turns lending direction and meaning to each other’s lives, helping and being helped, exploiting and being exploited.

Scattershot is what happens when you stretch that premise into a rambling novel by adding an irrelevant subplot about Edna’s unhappy son, Andrew, and refusing to see her senility as little more than a punch line. She bumbles along, always certain that she’s doing just what she means to be doing, never doubting, never angry, never afraid, ready to follow Wicker wherever he thinks they should go. The problem is, once he loses his bankroll in Vegas, Wicker is just as aimless as she is.

After that, all the aptly named Scattershot has to offer is the impulsive leading the senile with the sad tagging along.
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REVIEW: Zombie Spaceship Wasteland

Author: Patton Oswalt

2011, Scribner

Filed under: Memoir, Humor

Get it at Powell’s

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 7
Entertainment..... 10
Depth..... 9

Anybody familiar with Patton Oswalt’s stand-up comedy career knows the man can spin a good yarn. His act is peppered with seemingly unrehearsed tangents, thoughtful wordplay, and absurdist ramblings that could be cobbled together and written down to form, at the very least, a collection of cracked-out short stories.

Oswalt’s success as a comedian relies on his ability to acutely observe the human condition and his willingness to root around in his own neurotic life, but it’s always a question whether the funnyman’s gift can function within the confines of a page as well as atop the stage in a dimly lit club. Oswalt answers well: the man can write, and his debut book, Zombie Spaceship Wasteland is hopefully the first of many more to come.
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REVIEW: The Universe in Miniature in Miniature

[This hilarious collection of surreal stories is a C4 Great Read.]

Author: Patrick Somerville

2010, Featherproof Books

Filed under: Literary, Humor, Sci-Fi, Short Stories

Get a copy at Powell’s.

C4 Ratings.....out of 10
Language..... 8
Entertainment..... 10
Depth..... 8

I know the pain of reading a book that’s been called “funny” because it offers nothing else, and I know how genuine comedy needs nothing else to captivate. And so I take it very seriously when I say that Patrick Somerville’s story collection, The Universe in Miniature in Miniature, is hilarious.

And while there’s a lot more to this collection, the nature and tone and quality of its humor is what makes it great. Unlike the straining, jesterly comedy of “comic novels” like The Sheriff of Yrnameer, Somerville’s humor doesn’t compromise the writing or the story, but only ever adds to it.
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