I’d listed wholesome hobbies like gardening and Pilates while my real interests were horror films and binge drinking. Lies upon lies, it didn’t end there…”
I first discovered Niels Saunders on my WordPress Reader. He had few blog posts on his site nielssaunders.com and at the time, he was promoting his new book. What really caught my eye was the cover of this gem right here. I know, super vain right? It reminded me a bit of Andy Warhol and as I read the story inside, the cover made even more sense.
This was in the spring, and Niels had just released his second book Grand Theft Octo which sounded hilarious as well, but I wanted to check out Mervyn vs. Dennis first.
This was part of my summer reading list and I shamelessly asked Niels for an ARC, something I don’t normally do. Really, I was just testing to see if he would respond to my poke and he did. Never fear though, I bought the paperback version as I think it is a wonderful design and as it turns out, I enjoyed his writing.
Deep in debt, Mervyn Kirby gets a job he doesn’t want by pretending to be racist. His new boss Dennis Lane thinks he’s found a kindred spirit. When Mervyn confesses he’s not really racist, Dennis thinks it’s just part of the act. Day by day, to Mervyn’s horror, Dennis worms his way into Mervyn’s private life. Despite his fears, Mervyn is torn: his new job pays well but he despises Dennis and everything he stands for. How far will Mervyn go to free himself? How far will Dennis go to become friends? Will they settle their differences or end up killing each other? And why are so many shifty people carrying pineapples around town?
Ah, the pineapples. Love that part of the story and I believe Niels could do a lot with this concept as far as social media is concerned. If only I were his publicists…
What I liked about this Book:
The characters are hilarious. From the self-depreciating author to the near stalker Dennis, and all the co-workers at the video game testing lab. The girlfriend and the banter with sandwiches was great too. By far, my most favorite character was Braithwaite, the elusive and super-star CEO that knows just how to rocket a party. At nearly every turn, Saunders introduces a strange quirk or reveals hilarious humanity with candid dialogue between the troop.
The book also starts with something I am all too familiar with: Check out the dark absurdity in my Letter to a Prospective Employer or The poem The Dreaded Interview in Worked Stiff: Poetry and Prose for the Common.
Niels takes this sentiment a step further and is superb in his presentation. That grumbling voice that holds back a loud shout in the street. Whether you are in America or England, if you are a young man, you are likely underemployed and pissed off.
I saw a 1-Star review on Amazon that cited that they liked the story but were lost with the young male language. Well, that is who this book is about, go figure, and I appreciate it very much. His protagonist Mervyn Kirby (1st person POV) begins dazzling prospective employers with ridiculous fonts and clip-art(!), of all things, on his CV. I will now have to try this. All of his experiences are lies and he has been led into this desperation, did not choose it for himself. The final straw is pretending to be racist and it actually worked! Brilliant, Saunders captures the frustration of our generation in only a few chapters.
The author’s snarky description of setting is great as well:
His office was so normal, it looked like a porn set. His face was so generic, it looked like a disguise.
Such a great line and an economy of words.
There are so many funny quotes in this book. The three nights it took me to read it, my wife was startled on several occasions by my laughing out loud in the darkness of our lair. I have not done this is quite some time and it felt great:
Don’t you dare call me a homophobe. This is the friendliest gay-friendly non-gaybar in town.
Then I saw the fridge. It was one of those monstrous American ones with double doors and its own ice maker…
What? Niels, what kind of fridge do you have? I must have a British fridge because it is boring, scratched up, and makes awful noises in the night.
Besides golfing with Braithwaite, my favorite (that is how you spell it) scene is the party scene. The mayhem, the drugs, the free booze, the music, the girls, and Dennis with his music were the perfect mixture of chaotic debauchery and adventure.
Again, characterization and setting were masterful in this book. Every time I open a page, I am reminded of another funny character with their quirks. Mervyn’s brother is a great example. They are all mixing it up together and a true human side of life is shown throughout the dialogue.
What I Didn’t Like About this Book:
I enjoyed the ending sure enough, and I am not going to spoil anything here because I do think it is worth a read, or I wouldn’t be doing this review. I’m not a fan of how it unfolded, how the author lifted the veil and explained the origin of the story. This was the author’s choice. Since he is Mervyn in a way, I can’t blame him for taking the story in that quite natural direction. I was all caught up, until the author told me to stop being caught up so I could learn how it all went down. It’s a tactic, just not one that I was thrilled with.
This is not for the faint of heart. I know, all us Americans are Puritan prudes on the outside while we wag our finger and oppress in public. Get us behind closed doors, though, and we’re all like Dennis’ sister, whips and chains and naughty games. I am only saying this as a disclaimer to my readers who may not be ready for a sexually charged roller-coaster that includes low-brow humor as an appetizer. There are some surprises which I found funny, but some may not.
What this Does for My Writing:
Saunders rarely lagged and has a penchant for the concept that less means more. He believes in periods, I do not, but should. I read WAY too much Edgar Allen Poe and Faulkner growing up and I spend a great deal of editing time trying to tone it down. Saunders does not have this problem, or if he does, he hides it well behind good editing. I can learn something from his style of writing as he is straight to the funny point, no frills. He does not meander or go far off course even though the book is a decent size (264 pages print).
I feel like I got through this review and didn’t talk enough about Dennis. He reminds me of a more harmless version of The Cable Guy, played by Jim Carey, who worms his way into the life of another through undying friendship that just doesn’t exist. I wanted him to be there, forever pestering, assuming, denying, and demanding of Mervyn.
4 out of 5 Pineapple Stars
This was a fun summer read. I will be buying his other book Grand Theft Octo as well and reviewing later this fall.
I also think Niels could write a great letter…
Where is your pineapple? I’ve got mine right here…