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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Horror How-To Guides: A Joke That Doesn't Know When to Quit?

Typically, I find myself in the position of being a little too soft critically, for the most part. My usual position is liking something most others don't like; yet, one of the glaring exceptions was Max Brooks' Zombie Survival Guide, which I found to be a crashing bore, and most others seem to praise immeasurably. Loved World War Z, but Brooks' faux-DIY volume was a dreary, bone-dry, needlessly exhaustive affair that felt overlong at a mere 288 pages.

Upon starting Ritch Duncan and Bob Powers' The Werewolf's Guide to Life: A Manual for the Newly Bitten, I fully expected to have a much better time. And in the beginning, I did.

"To all those living with lycanthropy, this one's for you," reads the dedication. "Remember, take it one Moon at a time." And this tongue-in-cheek opening pretty much sets the tone for what is to come: A relatively lively and clever pseudo-guide for newly bitten werewolves and those close to them, with chapter headings like "When It Will Happen and What It Will Feel Like," "Home Is Where You Hang Your Restraints," "Romance and the Modern Lycanthrope" and "So You've Attacked Someone." Admittedly funny stuff--much moreso than Brooks' book.

However, The Werewolf's Guide to Life is kind of like one of those shaggy-dog stories that are really funny at first...then the laughter dies down to a chuckle...then just a polite smile...until you're sitting there just waiting for the person to finish, wondering how long it will go on for. You see, much like The Zombie Survival Guide, the whole thing is a clever joke, but one which doesn't quite know when to stop.

I love the idea behind The Werewolf's Guide to Life. Any book which introduces concepts like the mechanics of werewolf sex, or the best way to smuggle livestock onto your property, is going to get a positive reaction from me. However, it's a great idea that just doesn't translate well into a 236-page book. It would be much better served as a pamphlet or a booklet. Now I know the publishing industry kind of makes such a move both unfeasible and unwise, but that doesn't make the finished product any more readable.

Basically, it's a one-trick pony. The trick certainly has a lot of layers and nuance to it, but as a reader, I just had a hard time sitting through them all. Much like the point in The Zombie Survival where I started climbing the walls trying to get through a detailed explanation of firearms and their varying effects on the living dead, so too did I find myself twitching while reading about the pros and cons of suburbia vs. city life for the modern werewolf. The concept as a whole? Funny. The minutiae of the execution? Not so much.

To make myself clear, The Werewolf's Guide is a lot more entertaining than The Zombie Survival Guide, which is ironic since Max Brooks is the son of the one and only Mel Brooks, and a former SNL writer. Nevertheless, Ritch Duncan & Bob Powers are not exactly slouches--both men are accomplished comedians and comic writers. Duncan has worked as a standup, and also wrote for SNL, as well as shows like The Late, Late Show with Craig Kilborn, and Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn (he was also the author of the 2004-05 blog "What Is Happening to Me?"--the first-person story of a new werewolf that was something of an inspiration for The Werewolf's Guide.) And Powers has experience in the realm of "fake how-to" books, with acclaimed tomes such as Happy Cruelty Day! and the Just Make a Choice! series.

I even had the opportunity to see a presentation on Jaws & Jaws 2 given by Duncan (pictured) at Kevin Geeks Out About Sharks, and it was hilarious. No doubt about it, these guys are funny. But even they can't keep the laughs going with such a thin premise, and it really starts to get tedious after about 100 pages. Interestingly, the most consistently amusing aspect of the book turned out to be the illustrations by New Yorker cartoonist Emily Flake, which were far more funny and ludicrous than the dryly demonstrative illos in The Zombie Survival Guide.

The Werewolf's Guide to Life is the kind of a book that is just cool for being what it is, and you can get a kick out of owning it and proudly displaying it, like a novelty item that makes for good conversation at parties. But I just can't recommend reading it all the way through, unless you actually are a werewolf in need of some guidance. Then, by all means, go to town.


Monster Scholar said...

This looks good, but considering your review I will approach with caution. I've never read Brook's Zombie Survival Guide but like Pride Prejudice, and Zombies, it feels like a postmodern joke that runs it course long before you turn the last page. Cheers.

01tarheel said...

Awesome blog site. Kind of thing I'm looking for.

CRwM said...

I agree with you on the Zombie Survival Guide. I found it a drag. It belongs to this class of "impulse-buy, thumb through once, then put on a bookshelf as a conversation starter" that the horror genre seems plagued with recently.

ZedWord said...

The market for these books can't collapse yet.


B-Sol said...

Jeanette and Mike, those are *very* apt description indeed.

Zed, I anxiously await your sure-to-be-hysteridal tome :-P

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