Saturday, April 17, 2004

Tietam Brown, Mick Foley, Read by Daniel Passer, Books On Tape, Inc.

The most surprising thing about Mick Foley’s newest book (yes, that Mick Foley) is how entertaining it is. To see slender volumes at your bookstore in the New! and Exciting! and Staff Picks! section written by musclenecks, one-hit wonders, Grade G celebrities, and third tier songwriters is totally disheartening. I work my ass off polishing my manuscript to a fine sheen only to see a book by The Rock or Jewel or George W. Bush with their shit-eating grins plastered on the cover and it occurs to me to just go and shoot myself. Or alternately, shoot someone famous – and then go ink that tell-all memoir contract.

The story told in Tietam Brown is basically a first person account of a boy, Antietam (Andy) Brown V, shat upon by almost the entire world. His early childhood would almost be over the top if daytime talk shows hadn’t made it a ho-hum commonplace to hear about child molestation and abuse, orphanage violence, and other sordid little issues. Many of the plot twists are absurd, barely explained, or glossed over. Something happens and we’re not told the why’s of it until later — and sometimes it seems less likely that that’s a tactic to build suspense than a making-it-up-as-you-go strategy.

Then there are the characters. The characters are rather on the unbelievable side. Almost every female character is a Madonna hiding a whore or vice versa. Every male character is a sick bastard under the sheen of civilization. Andy is at one point almost adopted by a man and woman known as pillars of the community. Only it turns out the father’s in the Klan. Then it turns out he’s a pedophile too. And it turns out his son killed himself after being molested by his father. And it turns out Andy looks the pedophile Klansman’s dead son.

And then there is the writing in which trite clichés like “pillar of the community” are used straight up without irony. Whether or not that is Foley’s imitation of a teenager’s voice or if his own writing is actually like that would require me to read his other two books, Foley Is Good and Mankind: Have a Nice Day! : A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks, and frankly I just don’t have the heart. I suspect it’s the latter.

And yet, and yet, and yet. The book is oddly enjoyable. I have a weaknesses for vulgar picaresques whether it be Rabelais, Swift, Miller, or in this case Foley. Certainly there are better books, more enjoyable books, books you’d actually want to rush out and buy based on my recommendation. This isn’t one of them, unless you’re a fan of Foley from his time in the WWF as wrestler, Mankind. Or unless you just like spending money on things like Cheetos, Coke, Pop Rocks, and other tasty garbage.

Partly this enjoyment stems from the reader, Daniel Passer, whose pleasant voice is somewhat high pitched and young sounding. The gee-aw-shucks wholesomeness of his voice gives Andy Brown a rather Candide-like innocence. And partly this is due just to the sheer general loopiness of the book. Andy Brown, fresh out of the Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Center (where he was locked up for killing one boy who tried to rape him and mangling another) moves in with his dad, a pussy-obsessed nutjob. His father, Tietam Brown IV, does nude exercises in the living room while pounding Genessee Cream Ales as an intermission between sexual romps upstairs with a succession of women he picks up. And the old man teaches the boy about life.

An example. When Andy falls in love with buxom cheerleader, Terri, he goes to his dad for advice, his only previous sexual encounters being with his molesting foster father and the now dead would be rapists from the orphanage. Tietam settles down, clearly excited at the prospect of imparting his knowledge and lets drop with this novel piece of advice. “Always try to get the woman to lick your ass.” This bit of spare prose had me snorting out coffee through my nose while at work. I won’t explain the reasoning behind this advice, suffice to say that it is logical within the scope of his own life. Andy rightly rejects this approach with his big boobed Christian cheerleader girlfriend, charting a more sweetly innocent and yet seductive relationship. The seduction is all on her side of the fence as she molds and shapes the young Andy to her preferred specifications.

Of course, a life filled with so many tragedies before we even meet him in the book couldn’t possibly run smoothly afterward either. On top of the molestation and rape attempt, Andy also managed to kill his mother during childbirth and cause an auto accident with his first adoptive family, killing everyone in the vehicle but his sister, in the process losing his ear and the use of one of his hands. He is punched in the face by his history teacher, nearly killed by his father, dumped by his girlfriend, framed for attempted murder, locked in a mental institution, and mocked by the football team.

All of this provides a rollicking good time and an okay way to kill a couple hours. I’m not sure I’d necessarily go out of my way to recommend this book to anyone, and that’s about as strongly as I can feel about it.

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