Elevate Difference


“If the garbage man doesn’t come for a couple weeks, we all die of cholera.”

If you are unfamiliar with Jack Pendarvis, there is really nothing I can say that would adequately prepare you for a foray into his debut novel, Awesome, except perhaps that the “best” modern humor seems to come at you in throngs of grotesque hyperbole. From the concept of fueling a car with ejaculate (instead of oil or alcohol) to the detailed castration of that very member which produced the semen-fuel, Pendarvis sends you to a place where you realize consciously or not that blatant sexuality is no longer the exception, but the norm to which you become desensitized. By the time you find the narrator commanding his true love to masturbate atop a camel in front of friends and family on their wedding day, you don’t really blink an eye. This, incidentally, is the very male-female interaction that propels the plot of our absurdist tale.

Simply put, Awesome is a love story. Pendarvis’ protagonist, a pariah in the shape of a derby-wearing giant named Awesome, narrates his quixotic adventure across the United States to collect treasures in the hopes of wooing his true love, Glorious Jones, back after the aforementioned marital mishap. Awesome simultaneously epitomizes naiveté and genius. While reading, you can embrace your inner schadenfreude in watching him stumble through human social cues while also naturally being the most brilliant traversing the land - your typical MIT student (just ten times larger).

Every Quijote needs his Sancho, and in this case, the secondhand plot line is a result of Awesome’s forte in life: robot building. He single-handedly creates both his companion in his quest and his arch nemesis in one, Jimmy the robot. The story primarily focuses around this trio: Awesome, Glorious Jones, and Jimmy - with Jimmy as a mere “side kick” until ultimately, we find it to be Jimmy that thwarts Awesome’s efforts to efficiently win Glorious because he exceeds robot expectations and adopts human emotions (jealousy and loneliness). This is perhaps, in part, to say that we all serve as the creators of our own worst enemies, one of the many cliché messages ironically interspersed throughout this short novel.

Awesome isn’t a life changing read, but it takes the most typical story lines in literature and presents them with a twist for an intriguing social commentary. At first, I found this novel to be shockingly male-authored. I was quite turned off by the harsh depiction of sex in the male mind, despite how accurate it probably is (think: Heath Ledger’s experiment gone awry in I’m Not There challenging Charlotte Gainsbourg to write down on a napkin the nastiest thing she could think of and compare it to a male’s version). But this was necessary in order to show the contrast of a transformed Awesome post-castration, the point at which he discovers that sexual endeavors are a distraction in his attempt to complete his mission for Glorious. This very incident serves as a feminist overture.

This book is successful because, by the end, Pendarvis has made you joyfully accept that the human condition is an absolutely absurd and redundant one. The very trait that sets humans apart from all other animals, the capacity for rationale, is elucidated as wasteful and our fear of purposelessness is hilarious. And originality, that which humans ideally seek, only truly lies within the grasp of a robotic creation who suffers from the very same thing humans do: loneliness. It ends up being this very touch of humanness that drives his originality. In a whirlwind of circular logic we realize this, in itself, is highly not novel. Knowing the kind of comedian Pendarvis is, though, he probably just wrote his novel with one thing in mind: make it funny. And that, he did.

Written by: Alexandra Tverskaya, June 6th 2008

Mr. Pendarvis,I've just begun "The Mysterious Secret of the Valuable Treasure" and am in the middle of 'The Pipe.' To state the obvious - the entire cinch pin of your writing is the humor in which you deliver your "epic" messages. As much as I appreciate a tale filled with oppression (I'm talking Mayakovsky-style oppression), I'm beginning to believe that true comedy is more difficult to successfully fashion into a cohesive work than a tragedy. I'm currently taking a poetry workshop class whose main focus is on New York School poetry and I have an unhealthy obsession with Frank O'Hara - so you can imagine I was all over the recent New York Times review on his "new" compilation edited by Mark Ford (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/29/books/review/Logan-t.html?_r=1&oref=slogin). Obviously, one of his defining characteristics was exactly what this review honed in on - his capacity for delivering ordinary everyday inanities in a way that was oftentimes described as "unsuccessful." (As a sidenote - I don't know that I personally agree at all with that description, but that's for an entirely different topic of discussion.) Despite the fact that you and Frank O'Hara don't share the same medium (your works being not poems :) ), you seem to have harnessed the capacity for building a truly cohesive piece of comedy in ways that yes, I don't necessarily see him doing as successfully (not to say that I don't still greatly appreciate his works). I was hoping you might impart some of your "wisdom" on how to approach writing in a more humorous manner- or at least explain the psychological process on how you seem to piece everything together so well in the works you've authored to convey your absurd humor that speaks to a very distinct skeptical audience without them finding it cliche in the slightest. I realize this is quite a loaded question - I apologize for that! So - if you do decide to respond :), my email (alexandra.tverskaya@gmail.com) might be a better venue for communication. Best,Alexandra

Of course! It would be my pleasure.

Thank you so much for the positive comments!Mr. Pendarvis,I really appreciate your finding this review and taking the time to respond to it firsthand. I was so pleased that my thoughts were in line with your intentions and that you wanted to confirm that for me. I find that most times when we post things on sites like this they get effectively lost in the hypertextual ether - or at least it seems that way - and I'M grateful for the fact that it was clearly not. I would love to continue a dialogue re: AWESOME (and more) if you would be willing. Thank you again

in a way, that sounds like a more interesting - and funnier - version of The Possibility of an Island, which i recently read and was rather annoyed by. anyway, i like the funny, so perhaps i'll check it out. thanks for the review!

Thank you, Ms. Tverskaya. I did truly mean AWESOME to be a feminist text... that is, a commentary on male narcissism... and I am so glad it worked for you. That shock you felt at first... I was afraid some people might not read beyond it. And that may be the case, still. But you understood my point, and I'm grateful.