Tuesday, July 16, 2013

I've never been able to justify tossing away something millions of people were murdered for

I was going to start this off apologizing for taking so long from the time I got the email about this book to the time I'm actually writing this review. Which granted, it's been a few months but in my world that's lightning speed. So apparently I've decided to start this post by almost apologizing and taking it back at the last second. I'm sorry about that. (Not for taking so long but for taking back my apology. But I ended up making one in the end so I think we're good.)

Back in May I got an email asking me if I wanted to read David Michael Slater's new book Fun & Games. The authors other books are mostly kid's books so I can't say I was familiar with him (and Goodreads didn't even list this book until I was just about done reading it, which I thought was odd) but the email said it was for fans of David Sedaris and Jenny Lawson and it takes place in the '80s. Impossible to turn down such a pitch.

Fun & Games is the story of Jon Schwartz and his more-messed-up-than-it-initially-seems family life. We follow Jon from the evening before he's to be bar mitzvahed until he's in hanging out with Foucauldians in college. His grandparents are Holocaust survivors. His grandfather copes by hiding food everywhere and his grandmother by telling offensive Jewish jokes. His mother writes ad copy and his dad is a famous author who hates religion and values logic to an illogical point. His eldest sister Nadia flunked out of high school but appears to be a manipulative genius and his other sister Olivia sees herself as a virginal sex object.

Really with all of that, you almost don't need a plot. There is one, don't worry. Or rather, there's more events put into motion when Jon's grandmother comes to his Hebrew class and tells some of her jokes. Or rather, Jon tries to stop her from telling her jokes, which gets him in trouble. From there a Rabbi's ankle is broken, Olivia gets into some strange (and illegal given her age) sex things, Nadia goes off to college which is odd for someone who never graduated high school, Jon and his friends learn to shot gun beer (there's a lot of practice involved) and things start to fall more and more apart.

Overall I liked the book. Up to the ending, but I'll get to that in a bit. I found myself laughing at the antics Jon and his friends and family get into, although I don't know that I would say this books is first and foremost a funny one. Which I know, is confusing given the comparison to Lawson & Sedaris, and even my description above. It has it's funny moments, but the book is a lot more serious and a lot darker than it appears at first. I really liked the characters. I do wish the focus had been more on the family instead of the friends, but I could also relate better to his two sister than I could to the pack of adolescent boys, so go figure.

I did LOVE the scenes when Jon was at college taking a Literary Theory class, though that is mostly because of nostalgia. Either every professor teaches the deconstructionalists the same way or we had the same professor because all of the tuff about cat and cap and bat and words being meaningless, I could feel my brain melting. I honestly don't know how I passed Lit Crit (at least the fundamentalists and deconstructionalists and other Russian-ists that made my brain hurt. I was on sturdier ground with Gender Theory) but I know that I am apparently an excellent bullshitter as I managed to do pretty well in the class while never understanding a single thing. I used to come out of class babbling nonsense, which my friend told me was amusing so there's that too. Things Lit Crit gave me.

This book felt like the prequel to one of the "middle class white guy problem" books in the vein of Jonathan Tropper or Matthew Norman. It's like the "before they were middle aged, see what their messed up teen years were like". Considering I've made a Goodreads list for this MCWGP category, I'm not saying this is a bad thing. Well, I guess it could be a bad thing if you don't like that category.

Now. The ending. The book takes a serious left turn in the last few chapters that made me think the author was writing the same story with two entirely different tones, and then accidentally mixed up the endings in the final draft. There are hints that things are a lot darker than they initially seem, even early on. One night early in the book Nadia convinces Olivia that they should learn to make guys get off super fast, before anyone is out of their clothes, to essentially avoid being raped on prom night. And that...that is super messed up. So I guess given that right in the beginning I should have been prepared for the ending. But honestly, each of those hints (there weren't many) felt jarring when it happened. Like it didn't fit with the rest of the story. And then that ending. So I can't tell you the ending without giving away...well the ending (obviously) but it didn't work for me. It didn't fit with the tone, it was so much darker than the rest of the story suggested, no. Want to know what happened? OK

The story, which until this point was fairly light hearted (save for a few of those hints) ends with a beat down, a gang rape, a double homicide and a suicide. And this is how it ends. This is what you're left with. I didn't take too many notes while reading but my comment for this part was "What the holy fuck" because I didn't expect any of this. I felt like I picked up a different book, except all the characters had the same names.
*spoilers ovah*

So, most of the book I enjoyed. It was funny and serious and ridiculous while being just this side of believable. the ending however. No thank you.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Title quote from page 202

Slater, David Michael. Fun & Games. Literary Tales Publishing, Inc. 2013