William Giraldi’s debut novel is unrepentantly over the top. Meant to represent a collection of memoirs by the book’s narrator, it’s a highly unreliable account of a man’s attempt to win back his fiancée, which leads him across the country on an odyssey that includes encounters with Bigfoot, a haunted hotel, UFOs, and a truly bizarre cast.
Protagonist Charles Homar is a 35-year-old memoirist for New Nation Weekly, a publication that sounds a lot like The New Yorker. He never met a $10 word he didn’t want to use. He delivers lines like “I suspect you’ve bamboozled my onetime gal with Bronze Age confabulations.” He’s a lover of wordplay like “Upon us: the perfect example of how quickly fond leads to fondle,” and is constantly delivering literary references such as tallying “Tom Sawyer the fence” in a housework to-do list.
Each chapter is meant to be one of Homar’s published memoirs, chronicling his relationship with Gillian. He starts with how he decided to murder Gillian’s jealous ex-boyfriend, explains how he met and wooed her, then falls into panic and despair when she leaves him months before their wedding day to cruise the oceans with a giant-squid hunter in search of the beast that’s been her obsession since childhood.
The memoirs are serially published, and wherever Homar goes, he finds that the people he interacts with are caught up with the story so far. That’s a clever mechanic on Giraldi’s part. Not only does it mean plot points never have to be repeated to new characters, it also allows them to constantly offer advice and criticism not only on Homar’s actions, but on his writing style. The whole piece is a critique on the veracity of memoirs in general. Characters point out logical inconsistencies that suggest Homar has been making things up. They also comment, rightly so, that many of his characters not only sound the same, but that nobody talks that way at all. Homar is criticized for the number of stereotypes in his works, including a butch lesbian who wants to box and a biracial girl named Mocha. Homar insists he’s only reporting on the facts, but when police want to use his memoir as a confession of attempted murder, he changes his tune and says they’re fiction.
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.