Samantha’s #CBR4 review #12: Busy Monsters, by William Giraldi
I have been struggling to write a review of this book for nearly a month now. I think I read about it in the NYT Book Review a while back, and thought it sounded entertaining, and I don’t really read enough contemporary fiction, so I figured I’d give it a shot. And hey! I wasn’t really disappointed. It was quite entertaining, and interesting from a narrative perspective. I don’t really understand why I’m having so much trouble writing about it. I think it’s the synopsis that’s tripping me up. But, here we go anyway. I need to move on from this.
Charlie Homar writes a weekly “memoir” column for a nationally-read publication. You know the kind of thing, clever anecdotes about the writer’s life that may or may not be entirely true? In Charlie’s case, we are left to determine whether truth really is stranger than fiction. It all starts out with Charlie’s plan to kill his fiancee’s crazy and threatening ex-boyfriend, and things get really bizarre when said fiancee, Gillian, decides to run out on Charlie in order to pursue a lifelong dream of finding and capturing a giant squid. What follows are a series of adventures through which Charlie hopes (inexplicably, in some cases) to win back Gillian’s love. He spends time in jail after taking potshots at Gillian’s boat, goes into the Canadian wilderness to find Sasquatch, breaks up an alien abduction scam, and receives advice of varying validity from a motley cast of characters, all while agonizing about his life, love, and manhood. As you might imagine, he also generally makes a mess of everything.
The novel, written by William Giraldi, is interesting in its style: it’s written in first person, and structure-wise, every chapter is essentially one of Charlie’s weekly columns, with each building on the previous episodes. Charlie’s voice is pretentious, verbose, occasionally humorous, and more than a little obnoxious, but somehow still compelling. In thinking about it, it may be that he’s actually a pretty static character: I’m not sure what, if anything, he learns from his experiences (he actually completely dismisses the best advice he receives along the way), but that doesn’t actually make the novel any less entertaining. The ridiculousness of Charlie’s exploits, and his perspective on them, is truly unique. The voice and character of Charlie are so consistent throughout that it will be interesting to see what Giraldi does next, just to see how much it differs from Busy Monsters.
I said that I wasn’t sure if Charlie learned anything as a result of his adventures, but that may not be exactly true. He starts out as a rather unrealistic, starry-eyed romantic, and I suppose that he does eventually come around to tempering that with a bit of practicality here or there. The story is, in many ways, about what it means to be a man, and thanks to some poignant moments relating to Charlie’s parents, I do think that some sense starts to creep in at some point. Still, the overblown romance and floridity (is that a word) of Charlie’s nature are not quashed completely, and whether or not we believe everything he’s told us, we are still rooting for an appropriately sappy ending. Does he give it to us? You’ll just have to read and find out.