Sunday, November 25, 2007

You Just Can't Find Good Help These Days: A Review of Bad Attitude by Leopold McGinnis

by Wred Fright

Friday was no ordinary Friday in the United States. It was "Black Friday," the day after Thanksgiving and the kickoff to the holiday shopping season. Hordes of shoppers descended upon the shopping malls, strip malls, and malls disguised as the small town squares filled with shops that the malls killed off. Take it from one who once worked retail that day (at a K-Mart that no longer exists--damn you Wal-Mart!), though they'll tell you it's named Black Friday because of the traditional colors of accounting ink (red for debt, black for profit), don't you believe them; it's Black Friday because it's a horrible day to work retail. Instead, it's a much better day to stay home, buy nothing, and read the novel Bad Attitude by Leopold McGinnis. Ha! Ha! Of course unless your local public library stocks it or you can borrow a friend's copy, then you have to buy a copy of Bad Attitude. In the end consumerism gets us all, eh? Of course, we all have to consume to survive. It's only when consuming becomes something akin to a religion, done mindlessly of the economic and environmental consequences that it becomes a problem. And the problems of consumerism are what Bad Attitude deals with, using the perspective of those on the "front lines" of the consumer war: the workers of retail.

Bad Attitude tells the story of Jesse Durnell, a sales associate at Electronics Pit, a store that sells stereos, televisions, and any other electronic device guaranteed to make your life complete. However, unlike most of the other workers at the Pit, who either tolerate their jobs or even actively try to succeed in them, Jesse has a bad attitude about the whole enterprise and spends most of his time avoiding work, sabotaging the coercive tactics of management, and waiting for the consumer apocalypse, which he believes is forthcoming. As a former sales associate, I can testify that McGinnis has the experience encapsulated in the novel in all its absurdity, humiliation, and economic necessity (for the individual and society), and he's added an explosive ending which will warm the hearts of disgruntled sales associates everywhere.

Having enjoyed McGinnis's previous novels, I've been looking forward to reading Bad Attitude ever since he told me about it, and, unlike most of the products Electronics Pit sells, the novel doesn't disappoint. It tells a good yarn and critiques consumerism from an interesting angle. For a short book (only about a hundred pages), it has a large significance, particularly in this shopping season where peace on earth and goodwill to men (and women presumably as well) too often get trampled in the rush to find a good parking space. And, in the spirit of all the widgets that the characters in the novel sell, I must point out that the novel is very nicely designed. I particularly like the cover illustration in stark green and black of a grumpy sales associate. So the book makes a great stocking stuffer. Act now! Limited quantities! Batteries not included! Warranty sold separately! One day only! What a sales event! The more you buy, the more you save! Consume!

Though Wred Fright has never met Leopold McGinnis personally, he has corresponded with him often, and they've even engaged in joint-promotion for their novels, being both indie-lit types with no marketing budgets--in fact an ad for Fright's novel The Pornographic Flabbergasted Emus appears in the back of Bad Attitude. However, Fright has no financial interest in the publication of Bad Attitude. He wrote the review for the simple reason that he thinks McGinnis is a great writer and more readers should be aware of his work. He also wishes you a cool yule!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Ohio Is A Strange Place: A Review Of Crossing Decembers: A Novel by John Booth

by Wred Fright

Recently, a friend wrote me to let me know that he had enjoyed reading my novel The Pornographic Flabbergasted Emus because it had reminded him of his college days. I could relate because I recently read Crossing Decembers; A Novel by John Booth. Booth's novel centers around Bowling Green, Ohio, specifically Bowling Green State University, during the early 1990s, a time when I also attended college there, and Booth gives the reader a good feel for what that place and time felt like. He gets all the details right, among them, the loneliness of the campus on a break; the way the wind swept across the Great Plains and slammed into anyone crossing campus, even to the extent of bowling some over; the intense, though often short-lived student friendships and love affairs that could sprout almost overnight; and even the names of the businesses that made their living catering to the college population such as Pisanello's Pizza. Booth's eye for detail can result in a time trip for the reader, at least this one, but there's more to the novel than that. At first, the slim volume, about 110 pages in length, seems as if it will be an ode to a lost love, the college sweetheart who got away, which is pleasant enough, but unlikely to interest anyone not from their era and locale.

Then the novel gets strange. On its trip down memory lane, it makes a wrong turn into the Twilight Zone. Fortunately, that's a right turn for the reader. What otherwise would have been a sweet paean to Booth's alma mater, and the natural surroundings of Northwest Ohio in general, becomes a literary mindfuck when the narrator finds himself not just caught up in his memories but actually caught up in the past. Or is he? Is it time travel? Is the narrator mad? Has he just imagined a possible life with his college sweetheart but without his wife and daughter? Just as the reader has to question herself or himself as to what actually is going on in the story, the narrator must make some major decisions himself as he embarks on a quest to rewrite the past, present, and future. The novel's short but lingers in a haunting manner.

I don't know if Booth tried to publish the novel with a larger publisher, but if he did I can imagine a typical literary agent either not understanding it ("Make it more like Harry Potter" "Don't make it so confusing") or wanting it set in a more bustling geographic area than Northwest Ohio ("Why not New York? There are trains there." "Make the characters go to Harvard. People like to read about the Ivy League."). If so, let's give thanks he resisted watering down his vision and didn't turn it into another generic thriller, and let's give thanks something like Lulu exists to make the book available in print for $9.99 or electronically for $1.56. It's also available electronically for free through Wowio but advertising's included (maybe for Pisanello's Pizza?). Just about anybody from Northwest Ohio will enjoy the novel for its geographic setting alone, but its well-written weirdness should similarly appeal to readers much farther afield as well.

John Booth can be found online at FieldsEdge.Com and Cornfield Meet. Wred Fright can be found at WredFright.Com. Yes, Wred went to college with John, but probably wouldn't even recognize him on the street now, so you can rest assured dear reader that this review is more or less unbiased. Go Falcons!