Author: Noah Nichols, musician and writer
392 pages, paperback and Kindle
This absurdist, surreal, adult black comedic satire starts off with a bang, or more precisely, a violent and ultimately fatal series of head butts and only accelerates from there. In a completely wacky world where the internet suddenly vanishes leaving behind befuddled consumers and, oddly, the ability to text, a memorable mayhem-loving set of characters confront their new reality and come to terms with the gaping hole in their lives left by the missing internet. I don’t recommend this book to the faint of heart, or anyone who gets his or her panties in a twist over, oh, lessee…racism, misogyny, graphic violence, casual murder, profanity or domestic violence. Wait, I may be unfair, or at any rate unbalanced, on the misogyny charge, as male characters also receive the ultimate in male suffering by way of strategic kicks and knee strikes.
But having offered fair warning to the faint of heart and panty-twist-prone, freely admitting I was…horrified (one searches for a more neutral word, and fails, honesty being the key value here) …as I read, and noting that I received this book free in exchange for a fair and honest review, I have to say this mad twisted tale summoned from me solid admiration for craft and artistry. My favorite read this year? Nope. Something I can recommend to anyone I personally hang out with? Probably not, but then I am an old fuddy-duddy and quite comfortably so. But is this a humdinger of a ride, conducted by a skilled and mad writer? Most definitely. Will it find an audience? Is this writer worth reading? Yes and yes, I believe so, with some admitted fear and trepidation for the fate of civilization as we know it.
Without spoiling the experience for future readers by sharing specific moments from the book, allow me to share some observations from my own personal journey through shock and awe.
I’m a quiet reader. Sedate, well-behaved. I don’t snort and laugh out loud, grimace and moan when reading. My husband had to send me into a different room while reading this because I was shrieking, laughing, snorting and going “no, no, no, noooooooo…you can’t do that!” Mostly cries of horror and offense, yes, but any writer that can rip me out of my solemn ways like that gets points, even if I am terribly offended, which I was.
Points must also be given for a timely exploration of our society’s device addiction. To the critics who do not feel this was the most realistic exploration of what would happen if the internet vanished, I can only reply that they are absolutely correct, but I*don’t* think realism is what Mr. Nichols was going for in this work.
I was struck by echoes of Quentin Tarantino movies like “Pulp Fiction,” “Kill Bill” and “Inglourious Basterds;” or Frank Miller’s “Sin City;” or the shoot-‘em-up balletic violence scenes from the Wachowski brothers’ (or are they sisters now? they were brothers when they made it, so how does one manage this courteously and correctly, gah!) “The Matrix;” or even, stretching a bit here–and not wanting to besmirch the more-heart-less-violent Coen brothers–but some of the speeches in Coen brothers’ movies like “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” Words are weirdly twisted, turned inside out, used gloriously (?inglouriously?) wrong, but deftly, with rhythm, with a beat, and not just on the hip hop and rap passages. I found myself reading passages aloud because they had a delightfully dance-y beat to them.
Mr. Nichols also used story structure in an intricate and pleasing way, with short chapter-vignettes, at first seemingly unrelated, introducing a dizzying array of characters all confronting the No Net disaster. Eventually the characters and their stories interlock in interesting and unexpected ways, often with a small jolt of very real and tender human feeling, made all the more moving because of all the violence and offense and mayhem that had preceded such moments.
And the hand-drawn line art work—naïve, but intricate and illuminating, by artist James King. Very odd, to be sure, but of a piece with the writing and structure. I have to give points for the flamboyant and fiery out-there-ness of the writing and the art.
So, how do I grade this thing with stars as I am required? It’s a stumper, folks, so I will think out loud for you so you can make your own decision. I can easily defend a one-star score, just to scare off the many people who will be terrified and spontaneously combust if they attempt to read this. This needs to come with some kind of “don’t let the children or delicate adults read this” warning sticker. But I can also completely agree with the folks who give it five stars for the over-the-top and knowing writing style and moments of completely beautiful heart-felt humanity mixed into the mad stew that is this book. Be a waffle with a three-star review? That feels cowardly and wimpy, and three is kind of my go-to score for something that either lacked punch or had distracting craft flaws in spite of otherwise great story-telling, which doesn’t fit on either score. This book packs a whole platoon of punches! The book is well-edited, engaging, comes with weird original art and wacky but deliberate, knowing and original word choices, is brilliantly structured and tells a clear enough story with cartoon-y but vividly memorable characters. I cannot give that a three. I also cannot give something that upset me so much a five. (Noah, dude, watermelons, really?!?) So…Mr. Nichols, a four it is, but a very well-earned four, star-dusted with shattered fragments of a five, with my apologies as a newly hatched reviewer for not being able to bring myself to overcome my own reading preferences enough to bestow the mighty five star.