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Cannonball Read: Apathy and Other Small Victories by Paul Neilan

By Alabama Pink | Books | March 25, 2011 |

By Alabama Pink | Books | March 25, 2011 |

One of the goals of the Cannonball Read is to honor AlabamaPink. Today marks the second anniversary of the loss of our Warrior Queen, and so I have chosen to re-post one of the reviews she wrote for the original Cannonball Read. Cheers, Miss Pink.—TU.

Whenever I force The Mister to stop in the middle of reading whatever 19th Century seafaring novel he has in his hands so that I can read aloud a passage from my book, it usually means that my aforementioned book is pretty darn humorous. The more often I stop him is directly proportional to the book’s overall hilarity. Now when I can’t get through the passage I’m trying to read because I keep cracking up so bad the words coming out of my mouth sound something like “Ebid sheee. Iah. Ebid. Bwaw!”, well you get the picture.

Apathy and Other Small Victories did inspire a hysterical laughing fit at one particular scene, but not at every page’s turn. Still, it was otherwise amusing in a very above average sort of way. Shane, the protagonist, is an apathetic JV alcoholic, whose magic carpet is the Greyhound bus, whisking him from one dead-eyed town to the next in search of nothing really, other than a dive bar with $5 pitchers. Shane also has an unfortunate periodontal situation and an obsession with stealing salt shakers. On his latest stopover during the Great Greyhound Magic Bus Tour to Nowhere, Shane finds himself in a weird bunch of business. There’s the hellacious temp job at a giant insurance company that he avoids by sleeping on the toilet half the day. His job was set up for him by Gwen, a corporate cheerleader at the insurance company, who has delusions of being his girlfriend. Then there’s the unusual rent-subsidizing scheme he’s entered into with his landlord’s wife, if you know what I mean. If things aren’t strange enough, he wakes up one morning in a salt-covered bed to find he’s the prime suspect in a murder. Since the police seem pretty convinced he’s guilty, Shane has to drag himself out of his nihilistic, Miller High Life stupor and uncover who the real killer is.

In order to piece together the truth, Shane wades through the nuts and dolts that populate his tiny sphere of existence including his twitchy rockabilly landlord and his Goth neighbor who flings about Spanish malapropisms and possibly has an unnatural affection for his pet guinea pig. Also on the roster of freaks are his spastic dentist and his dentist’s deaf assistant. Neilan almost breaches the limits of what is an acceptable amount of overly quirky characters in a novel; he’s one crazy homeless dude named Guido who spouts insane but prescient words of wisdom away from a weirdness overload.

In between his spurts of amateur sleuthing, Shane withers the hours away at his corporate job. Anyone who’s toiled (or currently toiling) in those hallowed halls of hell will find Neilan’s insights into the malignancy of corporate culture dead-on. The forced sense of camaraderie on so-called “teams,” the frantic desperation of cubicle décor (Coming from a woman who for the better part of eight years slathered her cube in so much crap it looked like the inside of a socially awkward eight-grader’s locker.), lily-livered managerial techniques and so on. Neilan nails it all and then some; however, he seems to enjoy the subject matter so much that on a few occasions in the book, the rants against corporate hell, while funny, gum up the narrative.

The book as a whole was a hoot and a half; just when I thought it was all getting a little too over-the-top in nonsense, Neilan would reign everything in with a wave of his hand and a “nothing is at it seems” magician’s coo. He is one of those writers who manages to weave 27 absurdly different subjects into the course of two pages, revealing twinklings of Tom Robbins. Neilan commands another type of rare gift, the ability to make you guffaw at things if otherwise said by a stranger at a dinner party would make you stare at your plate in a sense of socially obligated shame. Yeah, he’s good.

The murder mystery portion of the novel gets wrapped up satisfactorily in the end with almost-too-neat bows. But this isn’t one of those books where you read it for the whodunit. It’s more like “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and his good friend “The Office” put on a couple of leather jackets and decided to play “Law & Order.” But I guaran-damn-tee you will never laugh so hard at deafness in your life.


AlabamaPink’s original review can be found here.

For more of her writing, check out her blog, Whoa, Camel!