Busy Monsters, by William Giraldi

Article published on September 12, 2011.

Through his serialised memoirs Charles (Charlie) Homar steps into that other great Homer’s shoes, or sandals, or equally applicable footwear as the case may be, to embrace his own desperate odyssey to find the woman he loves, and was due to marry before the inevitable interruption by giant squid. The odyssey is no less dangerous than it was for hardened Odysseus, with our hero threatened by both well intentioned idiots and no small amount of automatic weapons fire alike. And, yes, the monsters of the wonderfully evocative title. Who may or may not actually appear, but nevertheless manage to drive an esoteric cast of characters nuts in pursuit of these mythical UFO’S, ghosts, and Big….Feet. (or whatever plural works).

The plot? Recounting for our benefit that important first contact with Gillian Lee, his bride-to-be and all around Krakken enthusiast, and subsequent harassment by her deputy sheriff of an ex, Charlie spins a story like a man giddy with the possibilities of love. At least until his Gillian takes off, with neither explanation, nor apology. She is literally shipping out, giving chase to her obsession, the great beast of the deep like a more attractive, and female, Ahab. Armed with a rifle, the hurt and jealous Charlie attempts to sink the boat on which sits Gillian, her fellow giant squid expert, and what Charlie hilariously describes as his henchmen students. Understandably, the attempted sinking of the vessel is reason enough to dispatch Charlie to prison for three months. Released, he crosses a continent, pin-balling from one monster chaser to another, giving pursuit to his own obsession of love for Gillian.
While the blurb name-checks Don Quixote and Kurt Vonnegut, the narrative could just as cosily segue into a parallel Hunter S. Thompson investigation of the American Dream, all without causing the reader to batter an eyelid. Aside from the epic ether binges, its not a stretch to imagine Charles Homar sharing the battered red convertible of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Both books display a shared love, and unique use of language. Both books are likely to induce helpless episodes of giggling (read in private to avoid having to explain the offending passage with the potential to sound insane out of context). Both novels display a shared interest in the glorious fringes of society. Those members of American culture with the social dial spinning somewhere between plain kooky and colourfully offbeat. But only Busy Monsters has it all done in the name of love.

Don’t be fooled by either the title, or the cynical, arrogant and perpetually exasperated personality of Charlie Homar, this is a story plugged deeply by a strong case of lovesickness. As surreal as events get, and when the sirens of the original odyssey appear here as expensive, Harvard educated Asiatic sex slaves to a strutting bodybuilder, they get extremely weird, there’s an equally strong impulse towards romance and passion. William Giraldi even allows several of the more wacky characters to share in the genuine heartfelt desire, giving them their own needs and urges as reason behind their lunacy. For a book so often maddening with its affected style, the simple earnestness is daring and gives you something to care for, beyond the easy laughs allowed for by the author’s way with words.

Still, his is a style which does takes some getting used to, especially with early lines of dialogue such as, ‘…..I am neither bogus nor brash, just a citizen out doing his duty. Look into my eyes, miss. What do you see there? That’s right: I was a Templar Knight a few lives ago. Let’s meet the earth.’

Thankfully, whenever there is a worrying spiral into caricature, the book maintains enough self-awareness to have characters point out how unlikely the various episodes are. Any questions of realism are merrily deflated by the characters themselves doubting the legitimacy of Charlie’s claims to verisimilitude. There is a running commentary kept up about Charlie’s progress, with the occasional interjection from his editor, even notes and letters of complaint from his ‘readers’ directly addressed by Charlie.

The downside is in how everyone, literally every character, apparently reads Charlie’s memoirs. Characters without even the most tenuous of connections to him seemingly have taken out a subscription for his magazine. Presumably the editor, oft mentioned, never seen, is enjoying his millions in a swank mansion, such is the widespread audience for the memoirs. The circulation is impressive, but it quickly becomes distracting and hard to believe given how articulate the book can be in dispelling cherished myths.

It might be the author winking at his readers every time yet another quirky member of the cast intervenes in Charles Homar’s life, but the effect is to make the book more dynamic, and very much tongue in cheek. Charlie Homar, writer of memoirs, journalist, cynic and romantic, is a creation with plenty more potential. But if William Giraldi decides to leave him where he is by books end, then at least he’s written a memorable debut novel.

Read an extract from Busy Monsters on our sister site Bookhugger.co.uk

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