three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
55-Nov-Dec-2011
user_rating: 
0

A-Busy MonstersA senior editor for the literary magazine AGNI, William Giraldi also teaches in the Arts & Sciences Writing Program at Boston University. Busy Monsters is his debut novel.

The Story: Thirty-five-year-old Charles Homar, a widely read memoirist for the New Nation Daily (a thinly veiled New Yorker), is heartbroken when, shortly before their wedding day, his fiancée Gillian runs away with a marine biologist on a three-month expedition to capture a giant squid. To win her back, Charles concocts a series of harebrained schemes involving aliens, Bigfoot, a haunted hotel, and a Navy SEAL. In his editorials, each comprising a chapter of the book, he looks back on his relationship with Gillian while chronicling his current adventures and the kooky characters he meets along the way--all of whom read his column regularly and offer plenty of romantic advice and professional criticism.
Norton. 282 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 9780393079623

Barnes & Noble Review 4 of 5 Stars
"As unpalatable as the fictional Homar would be as a real live person, he's an absolutely delicious character, making a series of hilariously nearsighted (and outright bad) decisions to propel himself through this far-fetched (and downright funny) narrative. ... The voice he has given Charles is singular and arresting; it's flowery but a bit thorny, too--occasionally overwhelming like a heavy perfume--and filled with quirky turns of phrase, unexpected literary and cultural allusions, self-aware asides, and highfalutin word choices that would make Roget swell with pride." Amy Reiter

Onion A.V. Club 4 of 5 Stars
"Homar isn't a particularly sympathetic character, but he's delightful to follow. The book's antics are entertaining, but the real treat is how much fun Giraldi seems to be having with language. It's a contagious passion that makes Busy Monsters a promising debut." Samantha Nelson

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"It boasts lots of gonzo adventure, wacky sex and an endorsement by Harold Bloom that's so pompous I can't tell if it's part of the joke. No matter: William Giraldi's cocky first novel is a romance for real men--real nerdy men willing to fight for a woman's heart." Ron Charles

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Imagine ... that the purpose is this: comedy, satire, farce, language, all drafted to unman the man so that he can get the girl. Not a bad premise for a novel, right? It does, at least, account for the monstrous pastiche of Charles's voice--think Frankenstein's creation: a piece of this, a piece of that, idioms Southern, Victorian, Western, Presbyterian--and it suggests that Busy Monsters has the kind of agenda that gives heft to the picaresque novels from which it is derived." Fiona Maazel

Boston Globe 1 of 5 Stars
"Since this is supposed to be a comic novel, the reader doesn't really feel his pain. Unfortunately, the reader isn't laughing either, primarily because of Charlie's voice, which annoyingly alternates between nonsensical and grandiloquent. ... The ultimate effect of page after page of Homar's pretentious voice and testosterone-fueled antics is one of exhaustion, not laughter." Kevin O'Kelly

Critical Summary

What does it take to be a man and get the girl in the 21st century? Giraldi's exploration of this question gets somewhat lost in the debate over Charles's eccentric narrative style--an "impossibly odd and self-conscious voice, a mixture of 19th-century gentility and modern hipster" (Washington Post). ("I proffered her my hand, a-tremble," Charles says of his first meeting with Gillian.) "A book that's driven almost entirely by the novelty of its voice will polarize its readership," observed the New York Times Book Review, though most critics enjoyed the narrative's eccentricity. Some readers will be charmed by Charles, but others will find him irritating. Those in the first group will be rewarded with Giraldi's madcap plot and deliciously black, politically incorrect sense of humor in this promising debut.

Cited by the Critics

A Feast of Snakes | Harry Crews (1976): In this brutal Southern gothic, twentysomething Joe Lon Mackey, a former high school football star beginning to suspect that his best days are behind him, teeters on the edge of a violent breakdown as partiers overflow rundown, rural Mystic, Georgia, for its annual Rattlesnake Roundup.

Geronimo Rex | Barry Hannah (1972, William Faulkner Prize): In this bizarre coming-of-age story, young Harry Monroe, inspired by Geronimo's historic exploits in the Old West, leaves his dismal Dream of Pines, Louisiana, home for his own adventures.