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Vanity Fair

Two self-published authors show the potential and pitfalls of the form with satirical fictions

You never know what you’ll really get with self-published works. Often, their author/publishers have no one to determine quality or help hone something that may still be too raw or unfinished. This circumstance can be seen in two recent comedic or satiric novels that have “crossed the transom” here at Jester: “A Faithful Proposal” by Alan Beck, and “Hideous Exuberance” by Stephen C. Bird.

“Proposal” aspires to the heights of Vonnegut. It’s a bit clumsy getting there at times but has its moments. Populated with characters named overly obviously for their traits (such as tycoon Brooks McRump and entertainment reporter Suzie Starstruck), Beck’s book sets up a society in which the insurance industry is poised to take over organized religions, merging bits of the major ones together in a grab for more power and influence.

Still, at times, Beck hits his targets dead-on, with characters like the self-aggrandizing Billy Graham-like reverend. Other characters with a role in the mad societal changes in Beck’s future version of the U.S. are caught up in the ride that also takes a detour through a thoroughly broken health care system. Beck’s satire of organized religion ends up working a little better than his take on health care.

All in all, “A Faithful Proposal” is a flawed work, but one that starts with a certain solid basis for a satirical novel. Beck definitely could have benefited from the collaboration of a publisher.

“Hideous Exuberance,” on the other hand, has little to recommend, it’s sad to say. Bird introduces new characters in nearly every chapter, but they quickly blend together in an unending stream of consciousness prose. It’s unclear whether it’s intentional, but the dialogue from these characters, and even some of the narration, is written in an ungrammatical patois that could be taken by some as denigrating the types of downtrodden people Bird is portraying.

On top of that, the action, such as it is, is an unceasing stream of scatological and sexual acts that reads as though Bird is compulsive in how he has to keep describing more and more of these acts, obliterating any chance at a coherent story even as he does so.

Bird may be aiming for some kind of artistic statement with the style of his writing and the portrayal of his characters, but it’s one that is executed so poorly that it ends up being incoherent.

Largely, most reviews on this site, if not positive and glowing, are at least constructive. “Hideous Exuberance” is one of the rare times where it’s been evident that the work in question is out-and-out awful, and it’s impossible to find any redeeming artistic merit or even potential at all in it. That’s the hazard of vanity publishing, and why these titles normally aren’t reviewed here.




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