Score: 94/100 (9.4 out of 10)
Woooooow! Just WOW!
Well, at least that was our feeling regarding the first half of the book until it became almost insufferably, off-the-rails political for no apparent reason other than the author was probably really frustrated during 2016-2021. Do you blame him?
Otherwise, this short-story collection is phenomenal! It's one of the best short-story collections we've ever read. Almost every single story in here has something interesting, exciting, and humorous in it. And what's quite special about this book is that all of these short-stories—despite being adequate stand-alones—are actually a part of the same literary universe. In other words, a lot of the major characters from each story interact with each other in some way—either directly or indirectly. Some are estranged family, some are co-workers, some are former classmates or acquaintances, others are simply strangers who run into each other out of the blue one day.
Every. Single. Solitary. Story... has something special about it and/or a new layer to add on top of the other stories. To narrow it down to one “favorite” would be very difficult, but we have several that stood out to us.
There's a story in here in which an elderly lady is called by an Indian “Microsoft Customer Support” scammer, then has a heart-to-heart with the scammer despite his repeated attempts to disguise his crime. We then learn that this lady is estranged from another character earlier in the book.
There's a story in here which is told from a dog's perspective, and it is beyond adorable! The dog thinks and acts like you'd imagine a dog would think and act, even demonstrating Pavlov-like behavior such as knowing what the opening and closing of a door indicates is going to happen next. The dog also shares such a beautiful, loving bond with their “humans” and a humorous understanding for why they are the way that they are and act the way that they act.
There's a story in here about a young minister who is encouraged to start going to the gym to get “flirted” with by women, only he's so inexperienced (in romance) and dense that he constantly misses opportunities to flirt and start a relationship with women around him who are clearly interested! It is beyond hilarious! The man is dense as a rock.
There's a story in here about a boy who strives to become a man that his mom and dad can be proud of, doing man-of-the-house type things, but he's given the unenviable task of dealing with a timber problem with a seemingly broken chainsaw, causing a snowballing problem that he keeps trying to hide from his mother (who is fully aware).
There's a story in here that we're encouraged to “read four times” with each time revealing more context and information. It involves a man who gets fed up with Trump and politics, so he runs four miles through a storm to and from a voting booth, eventually encountering different drivers—one (a Trump supporter) who treats him with disdain, another who treats him kindly. We then learn in another story that the driver who treated him kindly had a lot more going on in his head than what we originally thought.
There's a story in here in which a woman learns she has the H1-N1 virus (“Swine flu”) so is treated differently by people she thought cared about her—being shunned, told to stay away, urged to sanitize her office and belongings so she doesn't make others sick, and worst of all having to endure the unendurable “Haha” emojis on her Facebook post persecuting her with their crossed eyes. You've just gotta feel that. Then she's led to believe she has a tumor, then cancer on top of the H1-N1 and the tone of the story changes entirely.
There is a reoccurring character in here, Professor Jenn Mansfield, who becomes fascinated with a roadside banner advertisement for “Award-Winning Restrooms”--a seeming satire of both the award industry (heeeey....) in which everyone and everything can be “award-winning” and also a critique of businesses making a big deal out of their restrooms. When you have to go, you have to go!
Probably the story that hit us the hardest (as writers and authors) is when a character in the future (an Amazon self-published author) is confronted by Gestapo/KGB-styled Amazon representatives/agents who literally come to her door to collect from her due to her lagging book sales. They do this gangster-style. They literally seize the last of her books that she spend years upon years working on as collateral. If you're an author on Amazon and that doesn't hit you in the feels, you have no pulse. That's GOLD!
And then by about page 130 or so, the book becomes hyper-political and goes off the rails all of a sudden because the author(s) needed a Texas School Book Depository to vent their thoughts. Ooooook... fine. The book does lose some of its purity. There was a time about 129 pages into the book when the author was dead, the stories were free to breathe and live their own lives. The author's voice then starts to become oppressive. In other words, even when the character Dan (for example) is trying to rationalize the politics he sees via both social and the mainstream media, he is clearly serving as a surrogate and mouthpiece for the author's personal feelings.
Incredibly stupid, absurd, and uncomfortable things start happening, and a lot of the joy of the book is lost. For example, a villain who is clearly Trump in this book kidnaps a woman named Alexis and threatens her life and family in order to have her manipulate the results of the 2016 election all while groping and molesting her. We then get—and we kid you not—a mass shooting at a college campus involving a deranged racist misogynistic Trumper named Davis who is so stupid and ignorant that he doesn't know that “Muslim” is a group of religious people and not a location. He also endlessly stalks and creeps on a female character. Yes, we've seen and know of some really crazy MAGA-hat wearing people who say and do things that boils our blood too, but 100% of the Trumpers in this book are not just evil, they are diabolically, cartoonishly, over-the-top, irredeemably evil. They are mustache-twirling, vaudevillain evil. There's not a single character on that side who we can remotely sympathize with as at least having been fooled or being coaxed into holding their beliefs. It's almost as if they're just evil, and that's the bottom line 'cause the author says so.
The boy Dan eventually comes to the conclusion that as soon as Trump becomes president, he'll start World War III. So, are we going to be fair or what? This was the first administration in modern history to actually not start a war, in fact it led to the end of the 20-year war in Afghanistan and peace with North Korea by meeting with its head of state—unprecedented. It brought at least a temporary calm to the two longest military conflicts in our history (North Korea and Afghanistan) including a long period in which American soldiers were not attacked or killed. It also killed the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and Iran's best general, Qasim Soleimani, nearly starting a war and indirectly getting a Ukrainian passenger plane shot down by the Iranians, but the point remains. It eliminated two huge threats to both us and our allies. Need we remind the world of how insanely evil ISIS/ISIL was and still is, especially as it propagated under previous administrations? They are so evil that seemingly the whole world including our own enemies and uneasy allies went to war with them! Why? Because they were sawing innocent peoples' heads off on camera, massacring Yazidis and practically anyone different from them, and threatening to bring the entire region under the umbrella of Sharia Law in which people were going to face capital and corporal punishment (including amputations without anesthesia) for anything deemed to be an offense!
Meanwhile, North Korea was launching missiles in the direction of Japan and Hawaii and testing nukes for years. Iran was threatening to erase Israel off the face of the earth and from the annals of time while enriching uranium, and Soleimani was butchering any and all dissenters. At least in 2020 under Trump, we could freely protest in the streets and not fear being mowed down by machine gun fire for the most part. Yes, we got tear gassed and hit with rubber bullets and beanbags, or bludgeoned by riot shields and riot batons. That kinda thing tends to happen when you riot and start destroying things and hurting people. That wasn't the case in Iran under Soleimani in which the policy was: You dissent, you die. Soleimani also provided many of the IEDs that killed and maimed our troops in the Middle East. Are we going to be fair or what?
And, most importantly in literary terms, where does this fit in with the feel-good, funny tone set by stories about the cute dog trying to understand humans, the kid trying to cut down a tree, the professor trying to wrap her head around award-winning restrooms, and the minister trying to flirt with women? It is so off-putting by comparison to the rest of the book, and it's a bit of a bummer.
We're so burned out from reading these political rants already, they are so overdone at this point. Can we just get over the orange man already and stop giving him this much air-time and rent-free space in our brains? He is without his favorite megaphone (social media), out of office, depreciating in value by the day (seriously worth about $3 billion down from $4 billion), constantly shooting himself in the foot by doing such things as speaking at a Moonie event on the anniversary of 9/11, will probably be sued for the next 4+ years, and is ruining more Republican chances in elections than helping by being divisive. Just let the idea of the man burn out already. The author says it: he is not a self-made man, he was born rich. He's actually VERY self-destructive. Don't give him any more attention than he deserves, keep him out of the headlines, stop throwing fuel on his fire.
But for the amazing stories throughout this text and with the shear cleverness in which they're written, this book still gets a very high 9.4/10 rating and is highly recommended!
Check it out here!