For my final entry of 2016, I’ll make my first attempt at my promised adjustment in how I share the books I’ve been reading. No more monthly entries, where I can barely remember the details of the book I read five weeks ago. Back to individual posts for each book. Or occasionally a small group of books.
I began 2016 reading Richard Price’s The White’s, which he wrote under his pen name of Harry Brandt. It was an excellent, gritty, New York cop novel. To close out the year, I stayed in the cop realm, but went a completely different direction in tone. Stephen Dobyns’ Is Fat Bob Dead Yet? was one of the funniest and best reads of the past year.
Fat Bob revolves around, prepare yourselves, a man named Fat Bob. Who just happens to love Fat Bob Harleys; he had a garage full of them in a wide assortment of colors. On a warm, breezy, early March day in New London, CT, Fat Bob runs into a big problem. Literally. He hits a municipal trash truck at high speed, causing grievous and fatal injuries: Fat Bob is sliced in half, decapitated, and otherwise torn asunder. Or at least we think it’s Fat Bob. It’s definitely Fat Bob’s bike.
And thus sets off a delightful romp of a book. The cast of characters is absolutely first-rate. There are bumbling detectives assigned to the case, who are often more interested in passive-aggressively driving each other insane than looking for a solution to the case. There is a witness to the accident, Connor Rapaso, who works for a “family business” that rips off people with telemarketing scams. He is deeply troubled by his new profession, is a terrible liar, and has conflicted feelings about three different women. There is Fat Bob’s ex-wife, who is hoping for his death so she can collect on his life insurance and finally have all the procedures completed that she believes will make her look like a prom queen again. There are hapless hitmen who somehow keep letting their intended victims get the best of them. There’s Fidgit the homeless man, who somehow ends up with the booty that half the characters are looking for.
Dobyns weaves a fantastic tale with these, and a handful of other, tremendous characters. His writing reminds me of Carl Hiaasen’s: it’s profoundly silly, but acknowledges its silliness. The story is told from the perspective of an unnamed narrator, who slips inside the heads of many of the characters to reveal their wants, needs, and flaws. The narrator often breaks the fourth wall by pointing out what the reader may be expecting at this point, or noting the necessity of not sharing every detail of a specific scene in order to move the story forward. Dobyns has a wonderful way with words, and slips in dozens of beautiful turns of phrase.
This was a most excellent way to wrap up my year in books. Oh, for the final record, I read 58 books for the year. There were two books I began but dropped after 100 or so pages, which may have robbed me of hitting the 60 book mark. The 5–6 weeks I devoted to two of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s books were probably as damaging. Still, a fine year on the reading tip.