Jack Pendarvis

Books Reviews Jack Pendarvis
Jack Pendarvis

Man of Letters: Pushcart Prize-winning writer unleashes hilariously absurd short-story collection…

Despite the Hardy Boys-ish title, Jack Pendarvis’s The Mysterious Secret of the Valuable Treasure contains nine hilarious, laugh-out-loud stories, plus a novella. Fans of early T.C. Boyle and, oddly, Samuel Beckett will love these treks into deep chasms of absurdity.

In “Pipe,” a security officer and a paramedic guard a publicity-seeking DJ buried alive for 46 days. They smoke dope and drink away the midnight-to-six shift, speaking into the air hole, never getting an answer from below. The older guard tells his secrets to the invisible disc jockey, perhaps falls in love with him, and wonders on the puzzlements of life. His wayward sidekick brags about his women, his transvestites and his ability to live beyond the law (though he still lives with his grandmother). The pair’s interactions recall Endgame or Waiting for Godot, and the guards’ ultimate non-knowledge of what occurred over a month and a half offers a primer in Existentialism.

“Sex Devil,” “Dear People Magazine, Keep Up the Great Cyclops Coverage” and “Our Spring Catalog” are epistolary. In “Sex Devil,” the narrator (either a teenage boy or a grown man who needs to back away from the bong) pitches a comic-book publisher. In his bizarre yet heartfelt query letter, he provides a complete history of one Randy White, aka Sex Devil, a tormented cleft-palated youth who will later seek vengeance on Black Friday (a bully in Sex Devil’s school days) and gain the confidence and love of his long-lost high-school love Jennifer. Sex Devil’s amazing powers and knowledge of “jah-kwo-ton” emanated from the school janitor, a kind man who understands Randy’s humiliation. “Dear People Magazine…” contains a series of letters to the editor, each more ludicrous than the last, written by fans of Cyclops, the leading man du jour. “Our Spring Catalog” builds into a rant, written by a disgruntled copy writer at a small independent publisher:

From Eat the Lotus, by Marie Overstreet / retail price $22 241 pages:
I swear to God I’m going to cut my own throat. I just don’t give a shit. Husband and wife reach a crossroads in their relationship against the colorful back drop of blah blah blah. They’re haunted by the suicide of their only son. Pull yourself together you pussies!”

The 90-page title story, narrated by one Willie Dobbs, self-described “laziest man in town,” concerns an unemployed, unhappily married man who decides to write the entire history of South Preston, a town unlinked to a North, East or West Preston. Through his inventive digging around, we learn “trash birds” once attacked people willy-nilly; certain members of the community hold racist views; every police department plays good cop/bad cop; a Sheep Man roamed these parts, etc. And we learn to despise Willie Dobbs’ father-in-law as we root for Willie to discover the “mysterious secret.”

Jack Pendarvis has unleashed a powerful first collection of stories. In “So This Is Writing!” a drunken Southern writer, giving a public reading, blurts out “Thank you, George W. Bush!” for no apparent reason—probably sarcasm. That scene alone sold me.

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