Saturday, July 14, 2012

Broken Piano For President

Hi, welcome to Broken Piano for President. Turn down the lights and fix yourself a stiff drink. Better yet, pour yourself a couple of cocktails and fix yourself a hangover
- The Narrator

           Bizarro, like retro-futurism, is a hit-or-miss field. When it's done right, you have a unique book that almost no major publishing house would ever touch, as the lit-fic that skirts the edges of bizarro is hard enough to market as it is. When it's done wrong, you have someone's book about zombie tentacle rape with grotesque descriptions for no other reason than to push the entire book further out past the boundaries of acceptable taste. For some reason, I've had a lot more luck with bizarro than retro-futurism, possibly because it's harder to classify, or possibly because it's less constrained by the genre it's set in, and can spread its wings a little. 

         In either case, I love the bizarro genre a little too much, and so when I randomly found a link to Broken Piano for President out of the blue, I was intrigued. And then I read the plot description, and I was even more intrigued. Sadly, at the time, I was too stressed and had to spend all my money on food, not books, but eventually, when I had a moment, I picked up the e-book version* of Broken Piano and sat down to read it. And it blew me away.
        Broken Piano for President is the story of Deshler Dean. Dean is a musician with a band called Lothario Speedwagon, a group with lofty (and fairly dubious) ambitions of being the next Butthole Surfers, a task which they continue to fail at. Dean wakes up in an expensive sportscar with a broken screwdriver and a blonde woman who may be unconscious, or possibly dead. He doesn't remember how he got there, and he's not sure of much of anything save that he will get picked up by the cops for this, and he has a massive hangover. His band; comprised of himself, a meth-head drummer who never seems to run out of income, and a sugar-addicted bassist with a nebulous job description; are always on the verge of breaking up. And to complicate things, Dean isn't sure how much time has gone by between getting drunk and waking up in the car. This kind of thing happens to him a lot.

And then things get weird.

         I would tell you exactly how and why, but uncovering all of the various twists, turns, and factions Dean gets mixed up in is most of the fun. Books don't usually blow me away. There have only been a few, ever, that have completely knocked me on my ass, and only a handful more that have made me get emotionally invested in them**. Watching the pieces click together in Broken Piano for President is actually surprising, and many of the twists are set up chapters in advance, but only truly revealed when they bring in a plot element or a particular verbal tic unique to a character. One of the most major twists in the plot doesn't fully get revealed until the end, letting you believe for a long time that you know exactly what was going on and then pulling the rug out from underneath you. The most I can tell you is this: Fast-food corporations. It's about fast food corporations.

        The rest of the book is a dizzying combination of thriller and satire as Dean has to pretend he knows what's going on and at the same time fill in the blanks to figure out how he got there. The plot is the real gem of the book here, and really carries the book as much as anything else. The dialogue pulls a similar duty, giving each character a distinct voice so that they can be recalled later and woven into the plot. Wensink is clearly very good at plotting, and the time he took to put together the various elements and how they hang together shows in every chapter. 

         The descriptions also pull their weight in the novel. I've heard before about how fantasy authors overload their books with descriptions of food. Personally, I never really saw it. However, Wensink's descriptions of the various fast-food monstrosities make me crave junk food. A lot of junk food. I know it's supposed to be satire, but his descriptive powers do him too much justice, and the food actually sounds pretty good***. Similarly, the description of Juan Pandemic, the meth-addict drummer for Lothario Speedwagon, is pretty nauseating. Especially the scenes where he has a cold, or the ones where he has to be disguised. Wensink knows his way around a sentence, hell, he's had intimate knowledge of sentences, and this makes Broken Piano for President easily one of the best books I've read all year.

           However, it isn't without its flaws. In creating a world that gets as cartoonishly nasty as Broken Piano's does, all the characters have to be pretty loathsome, and by the end, even the heroes rank up there with the worst of them. Dean's more or less allowed to get away with what he does because he's a blank slate, but the behavior of his bandmates, friends, and colleagues is all pretty nasty. I understand that this is necessary in a satire, and he pulls enough sympathy out of them to not make it a total loss, but I just don't like having to watch terrible people for hours on end.

           But is the book good? Yes. I highly recommend it. I'm actually a little envious, because Broken Piano for President is the kind of book I'd want to write if I could get off my ass and actually stay on target for once. It's nine bucks, you're supporting a publisher who genuinely enjoys unique voices in fiction. Buy this book. Get this book for a friend and get them to read it first if you're unsure. Do whatever you have to. I wish I could tell you more, but if I spoil any part of the experience for you (Aside from posting half the first chapter up there as I did), you won't be as surprised and amused as you could be. Go in blind, and tell him I sent you.

 Next Week: I return to a book I should have owned a long time ago with Fool On The Hill.          

*Because when money's tight, the option that means you don't have to pay shipping wins. 
**Stephen King's monster of a novel It ranks among those due to the fact that I was afraid of bathrooms and sewers until the monster was freaking dead at the end of the book
***I ran into a similar problem when working on my friend's play, also a fast food satire. He declared that if I went to Wendy's and ordered a Baconator after the whole thing was over, he would kill me myself. 

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