Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Book Review : Bradley Sands - Rico Slade Will Fucking Kill You (2011)


Order RICO SLADE WILL FUCKING KILL YOU here


A man wearing a fanny pack should be smiling and enjoying life, not snarling and punching the seat in front of him. A man wearing a fanny pack should be planning out his sightseeing itinerary for the rest of the day, not plotting to bitch slap the action star who peed on his wife.

The cover of RICO SLADE WILL FUCKING KILL YOU kind of reviews the book, really. Whatever you need to know prior to reading it is on that cover. I had never paid much attention to bizarro fiction before, but found out Bradley Sands is a good ambassador for it. If you're not familiar with bizarro, I don't blame you. It's not exactly mainstream stuff. Think of it as a blend of grotesque imagery, absurd humor and fearless surrealism. That blends into histrionic, borderline schizo, warped universes and the opportunity to get deep without forsaking your sense of humor. It's what RICO SLADE WILL FUCKING KILL YOU is about. I can't say it's a smooth ride from cover to cover, but it's a clever novella about Hollywood, the ridiculousness of action movies and the cult of celebrity.

So Rico Slade is not really Rico Slade. He is Chip Johnson, star actor of the Rico Slade action movie franchise. Due to professional pressures and a confrontational relationship with his director, reality starts blurring quite fast and Chip Johnson becomes Rico Slade. At least, in his mind he does. His everyday life starts transforming into dangerous locales and the people close to him, into the familiar figures of his movies. His therapist Harold becomes his trusted Italian-American sidekick Joe Pesci and his lover George turns into Baron Mayhem, Rico Slade's sworn enemy, who is scheming to destroy the Earth. So life goes on as usual in Hollywood, except that Rico Slade is loose in the street, trying to stop the apocalypse from happening the only way he knows how. By leaving a trail of fresh corpses.

RICO SLADE WILL FUCKING KILL YOU comes out of the gate storming, describing a movie scene, through the warped mind of its protagonist. You don't know it's a movie scene until you hit chapter two, though and this is where it gets really clever. Bradley Sands keeps the telegraphic, almost childlike prose he used to describe Rico Slade's badassery, to narrate Chip Johnson's universe. It implies the mental confusion without stressing it constantly. The contrast Bradley Sands creates between two manic universes highlights how normality exists only in the eye of the beholder and it does so in quite hilarious fashion. My favorite running gag was probably how people could never exactly pinpoint who Chip is. Is he Chip Johnson? Is he a bald Chip Johnson lookalike? Is he that guy who looks like that guy who plays Rico Slade? Sands managed to make the lack of precision hilarious.

"You!" Chip says, noticing the surly customer service rep quivering behind the desk. But the employee only hears an unintelligible shout. Chip Johnson doesn't realize that shouting out of a moving car always results in a lack of communication.

That said, I thought the book hit a wall more or less halfway through. It's a common narrative construction to set up multiple story arcs in the first half of a book and just let them unravel in the second half. Lee Child does that quite well. It's what Bradley Sands is doing here too and I don't think its successful. The second half of RICO SLADE WILL FUCKING KILL YOU consist pretty much in following Rico/Chip's carnage through the streets of Hollywood, without the clever irony of the first part. It's delves into purely aesthetic territory as Sands seems to be writing those scenes for the hell of it. They're not bad scenes per se, but for a book that so thoroughly engaged me intellectually through its peculiar approach in the first half, I felt a little let down.

It's easy to judge a book a posteriori and say things like: "It was a great premise, but it could have been so much more." Truth is, I felt this way a little, but RICO SLADE WILL FUCKING KILL YOU delivered what it had to deliver and did it well. It doesn't buy into the sanctimonious approach of the traditional celebrity cult criticism, but Bradley Sands has a rather friendly, mocking approach which was refreshing. You can tell he has a grudging appreciation for the genre. RICO SLADE WILL FUCKING KILL YOU is an oddity, sure, but it's an oddity with a brain, that can think for itself. Maybe it's bloated a little over the size it really should have been, that it could have been wrapped up tighter, but it's original, genuinely funny and shows genuine concern for culture in its own way.

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