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#TuesdayBookBlog FAT THE OTHER F WORD by Dan Radlauer A coming of age story, recommended to lovers of sitcoms and anybody looking for an inspiring story #RBRT

Hi all:

I bring you a review on behalf of Rosie’s Book Review Team. This one is a YA novel about a topic that affects many but one I haven’t read many books about. It made me think about the nature of comedy.

Freedom of speech and comedy have always had a complex relationship, as many people insist that any topic can be the subject of comedy while others don’t agree. Who decides what is offensive and what is not? Although as outside observers we might think that some people are easily offended (when we don’t agree with their point of view and their annoyance at something somebody else had said or done), we all (or most of us) have something (or someone) that we would be likely to get upset by if it became the butt of a joke. How do we judge what is appropriate? Books are being banned again and such issues seem to be more relevant than ever.

And without further ado…

Fat: the Other F Word by Dan Radlauer

FAT: the other “F” word: a novel by Dan Radlauer

In “FAT: The Other ‘F’ Word,” Quincy Collins lives in two vastly different worlds. One where he’s a very heavy and awkward freshman at Beverly Hills High School, the other where he’s a Hollywood character actor in commercials and Indie films playing the comic relief or the despicable bully. Guess which world he likes better?

At the start of this Y.A. novel, Quincy gets his big break with a major role as “The Fat Brother” in a hot new Network Sitcom, only to find that wanting and having are two very different things.

First, “size discrimination activists” challenge the integrity of the character he’s portraying. Then his health struggles begin to undermine both his character on the show, and his self-assigned brand as “The Fat Kid Actor.” His dream gig becomes a nightmare, and he starts to question the role he’s playing on TV, as well as in real life.

“FAT: The Other ‘F’ Word” shows a unique person in a unique setting. It explores Hollywood, adolescence, and our culture’s attitudes towards different sized people. Quincy narrates the story with discovery, irony, pain and compassion as he learns that he can’t base his identity on the size of his body.

 https://www.amazon.com/Dan-Radlauer-ebook/dp/B09LQCDBX7/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/FAT-other-word-novel-Radlauer-ebook/dp/B09LQCDBX7/

https://www.amazon.es/gp/product/B09LQCDBX7/

Author and musician Dan Radlauer

About the author:

Dan Radlauer is an award winning composer and producer living and working in Los Angeles. After starting his career writing music for literally thousands of television and radio commercials, he started focusing on TV and Film work around 2001. His years doing “ad music” has given him a musical palette that spans from Head Banging Rock and EDM to full orchestral scores as well as world, Jazz and organic acoustics genres. Dan also is a busy music educator and mentor to aspiring young musicians as well as a consultant to various music educational organizations.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dan_Radlauer

https://radmusic.net/

My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (author, check here if you are interested in getting your book reviewed) and thank her and the author for this opportunity.

This is the author’s first novel, and from the information he includes in the author’s note, it seems that he was inspired by some tragic family history to write about the topic, and it is evident that he feels a personal connection to it.

The main details of the plot are well summarised in the book’s description. Quincy Collins is a 14-year-old boy who lives in Los Angeles, in Bel Air (in the least fancy part of Bel-Air, as he explains), and who is an actor, although most of his experience comes from acting in commercials and always playing the overweight kid. He does not mind playing the part; he meets the same heavy boy actors at most auditions, and his best friend, Cole, is one of them. He is very aware of his size, as would be expected from a teenager, and his defense mechanism is humour. He is forever making fat jokes and enjoys the fact that people find him funny and laugh with him, rather than at him behind his back. He gets lucky (he also seems to be a good actor with a particular talent for comedy) and he is cast as one of the main characters in a sitcom. The writer of the show, Paul, is also a large man, and fat jokes are a big part of Quincy’s character in the series, despite the controversy, this creates with the network executives, who are worried about a possible backlash. Things get complicated when Quincy’s health starts to suffer, and he has to make some difficult decisions that affect his size. To make matters worse the protests by pressure groups insisting that making fun of fat people is not funny and calling the jokes in the programme “hate speech” start making Quincy reconsider his attitude towards the series and wonder what is acceptable and what is offensive. Is a fat joke acceptable if a heavy person tells it? Or is it offensive regardless of the size of the comedian telling it?

This is a coming-of-age story that focuses mostly on the issue of weight, health, what is acceptable as a comedy subject, discrimination, and self-identity. The main character, who narrates the story in the first person, is likeable, although his life is not one most fourteen years old youths would easily identify with. Some aspects of it would be like a dream come true for many kids his age (avoiding school and working on TV instead; meeting big stars and having a successful career at such a young age; living in a nice house with caring parents, and a younger sister who also loves him…), while others, like his weight and his health problems, would be a nightmare for anybody. Rather than hard-hitting realism, this YA story chooses a character whose life is in the limelight and whose decisions and actions are scrutinised by all and have a much bigger impact than that of most children his age. If we all know about bullying and the way peer pressure has been magnified by social media and the way our lives are always on display, whether we like it or not, imagine what that would be like for a child actor and one whose main issue is always on display. Quincy cannot ignore what is happening around him, and no matter how hard adults try to protect him, he is faced with some tough decisions.

This is not a novel about really good and terribly bad characters. All of the important characters are likeable once we get to know them a bit, and apart from one or two who are battling their own demons, most of them just seem to be supportive, encouraging and trying to do their jobs as well as they can. We might agree or disagree with some of their opinions or points of view, but they don’t have hidden motives or are devious and manipulative.

The writing flows well; the story is set in chronological order and there are no complicated jumps or convoluted extra storylines. Quincy comes across as a very articulate and fairly smart boy, and we see him become more thoughtful and introspective as the novel progresses, gaining new insights and maturing in front of our eyes. As he acknowledges, he is more used to spending time with adults than with children, and he is empathetic and moves on from only thinking about what he wants to do and what he enjoys, to considering other people’s perspectives. The same goes for his attitude towards food. Although sometimes the process Quincy has to go through to improve his health appears, perhaps, too easy and straightforward, there are moments when his struggling to keep up control is powerfully reflected in the novel and rings painfully true.

Other than the issue of weight, which is at the centre of the novel, I don’t think any other warnings as to the content are warranted. There is no violence, no sex, no bad language, and although some diversity issues are brought up, these are not discussed in detail or gone into in any depth (they are mostly used for comparison). People worried about how offensive the fat jokes might be… Well, that is a bit of a personal matter. We don’t see examples of the actual show, so most of the jokes are those Quincy himself makes, and, in my opinion, they are pretty mild (I struggled with weight when I was a child and a teenager, and I can’t let my guard down even now, so my point of view is not truly neutral), but be warned that some of the content might be hurtful, and it might be advisable to check a sample of the book if you have doubts.

I particularly enjoyed learning more about how a sitcom is filmed, and the whole process of creation, from the rewrites of the script to the wardrobe changes, and the interaction with a live audience. It felt as if I was there, and the author’s personal experience in that world shines through.

In summary, this is a solid YA first novel, with a likeable protagonist who has to face some tough decisions and some hard truths. The ending… is very appropriate and hopeful (although I would have preferred it to end with the end, that is a personal thing), and young people who are interested in acting and/or struggle with any self-image issues (not necessarily to do with weight) are likely to enjoy and feel inspired by the book. And adults will also find plenty to think about within its pages.

Thanks to Rosie and her team for their help and support, thanks to the author for his book, thanks to all of you for reading, liking, commenting, and sharing, and remember to stay safe, and keep smiling!

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview A HORSE WALKS INTO A BAR by by David Grossman (Author), Jessica Cohen (Translator) A book for discerning readers who enjoy books about the human condition

Hi all:

I suddenly realised that I had quite a few books that had won or been nominated for big writing awards and decided to try and catch up and see if I could learn something.

A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman

A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman  (Author), Jessica Cohen  (Translator)

WINNER OF THE INTERNATIONAL MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2017

The setting is a comedy club in a small Israeli town. An audience that has come expecting an evening of amusement instead sees a comedian falling apart on stage; an act of disintegration, a man crumbling, as a matter of choice, before their eyes. They could get up and leave, or boo and whistle and drive him from the stage, if they were not so drawn to glimpse his personal hell. Dovaleh G, a veteran stand-up comic – charming, erratic, repellent – exposes a wound he has been living with for years: a fateful and gruesome choice he had to make between the two people who were dearest to him.

A Horse Walks into a Bar is a shocking and breathtaking read. Betrayals between lovers, the treachery of friends, guilt demanding redress. Flaying alive both himself and the people watching him, Dovaleh G provokes both revulsion and empathy from an audience that doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry – and all this in the presence of a former childhood friend who is trying to understand why he’s been summoned to this performance.

https://www.amazon.com/Horse-Walks-into-Bar-ebook/dp/B019CGXMRA/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Horse-Walks-into-Bar-ebook/dp/B019CGXMRA/

Author David Grossman

About the author:

David Grossman was born in Jerusalem. He is the author of numerous works of fiction, nonfiction, and children’s literature. His work has appeared in The New Yorker and has been translated into thirty languages around the world. He is the recipient of many prizes, including the French Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, the Buxtehuder Bulle in Germany, Rome’s Premio per la Pace e l’Azione Umitaria, the Premio Ischia— International Award for Journalism, Israel’s Emet Prize, and the Albatross Prize given by the Günter Grass Foundation.

https://www.amazon.com/David-Grossman/e/B000APK5P0/

A great review shared on Book Likes:

http://thewanderingjew.booklikes.com/post/1574547/when-we-see-each-other-what-do-we-really-see

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Random House UK, Vintage Publishing, Jonathan Cape for providing me with an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

This is the first book I’ve read by David Grossman. I hope it won’t be the last.

The description probably gives a fair idea of the plot. Yes, we are in Netanya, Israel, and we are spectators of the act of a stand-up comedian, Dovelah Greenstein (or Dov G.). He is 57 years old (as he repeatedly reminds us through the evening), skinny (almost emaciated), and seems to become increasingly desperate as the night goes. He tells jokes, anecdotes, makes comments about the city, the spectators, Jews (yes, the self-deprecation readers of Philip Roth, for example, will be familiar with), says some politically incorrect things, tells a number of jokes (some really funny, some odd, some quite old), and insists on telling us a story about his childhood, despite the audience’s resistance to listening to it.

The beauty (or one of them) of the novel, is the narrator. Yes, I’m back to my obsession with narrators. The story is told in the first-person by Avishai Lazar, a judge who was unceremoniously removed from his post when he started becoming a bit too vocal and opinionated in his verdicts. The two characters were friends as children, and Dov calls Avishai asking him to attend his performance. His request does not only come completely out of the blue (they hadn’t seen each other since they were in their teens), but it is also quite weird. He does not want a chat, or to catch up on old times. He wants the judge to tell him what he sees when he looks at him. He wants him to tell him what other people see, what essence they perceive when they watch him. Avishai, who is a widower and still grieving, is put-off by this and reacts quite rudely, but eventually, agrees.

Although the novel is about Dov’s performance and his story (his need to let it all hang out, to explain his abuse but also his feeling of guilt about a personal tragedy), that is at times light and funny, but mostly sad and even tragic, he is not the character who changes and grows the most during the performance (his is an act of exorcism, a way of getting rid of his demons). For me, the story, sad and depressing as it can be at times (this is not a book for everybody, and I suspect many readers will empathise with quite a few of the spectators who leave the performance before it ends), is ultimately about redemption. Many narrators have told us in the past (The Great Gatsby, Heart of Darkness) that in telling somebody else’s story, they are also telling their own. This is indeed the case here. The judge (at first we don’t know who is narrating the story, but we get more and more details as the performance advances) is very hostile at first and keeps wondering why he is there, and wanting to leave. But at some point, the rawness, the determination, and the sheer courage of the comedian, who keeps going no matter how difficult it gets, break through his protective shell and he starts to question his own actions and his life. If this might be Dev’s last performance, in a way it is a beginning of sorts, especially for the judge.

Readers become the ersatz club audience, and it is very difficult to stop watching something that is so extreme and desperate, but it is also difficult to keep watching (or reading) as it becomes more and more painful. It is as if we were spectators in a therapy session where somebody is baring his soul. We feel as if we are intruding on an intimate moment, but also that perhaps we are providing him with some comfort and support to help him go through the process. Although other than the two main characters we do not get to know the rest in detail, there are familiar types we might recognise, and there is also a woman who knew the comedian when he was a child and, perhaps, plays the part of the therapist (a straight faced one, but the one he needs).

The book is beautifully written and observed. Grossman shows a great understanding of psychology and also of group interactions. Although I am not an expert on stand-up comedy, the dynamics of the performance rang true to me. I cannot compare it to the original, but the translation is impressive (I find it difficult to imagine anybody could do a better job, and if the original is even better, well…).

As I said before, this is not a book for everybody. Although it is quite short, it is also slow and intense (its rhythm is that of the performance, which ebbs and flows). None of the characters (except, perhaps, the woman) are immediately sympathetic, and they are flawed, not confident enough or too confident and dismissive, over-emotional or frozen and unable to feel, and they might not seem to have much in common with the reader, at first sight. This is not a genre book (literary fiction would be the right label, if we had to try and give it one), there is no romance (or not conventional romance), no action, no heroes or heroines, and not much happens (a whole life happens, but not in the usual sense). If you are interested in characters that are real in their humanity (for better and for worse), don’t mind a challenge, and want to explore something beyond the usual, I recommend you this book.

Thanks to NetGalley, to the publisher, and to the author and translator for the book, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click and REVIEW!

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