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Askew Review 15

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(Grove Press) by Robert Chalmers. Fiction, 2002. 360 Pages. Surprise, surprise- I’m reviewing YET ANOTHER book written by an author from the UK.  That said, Who’s Who in Hell doesn’t actually fit the drinking/fucking/fighting/crude humor type of book I usually review (though don’t worry, ya cuntchy [I love that word- it means “cunt that ye are”], the next book I’m reviewing falls right back into that ol’ familiar territory).  This is Robert Chalmers’ first novel, and it’s something he should be proud of. 
      Daniel Linnell is the story’s main character.  We get to watch his funny, tortured, achingly bittersweet love affair unfold with Laura Jardine, an oddball American who is a reformed (well…maybe not so reformed) sex fiend and a skydiving daredevil to boot, and that’s cool in its own right.  We also get to follow his budding career as an obituary writer for an English newspaper, and this part of the book provides some especially good laughs.  In fact, this novel’s title comes from Linnell’s inspired idea of writing a book of his own called Who’s Who in Hell, a look at the certain-to-be-damned among the recently deceased that even includes a few of the not-yet-deceased.  This effort results in its own darkly humorous yet disastrous results for Linnell and it’s one of my favorite parts of this story.  Chalmers also throws in a nice change of pace by sending Daniel and Laura to Kansas to visit Laura’s extremely dysfunctional family.  It’s a good bit of storytelling and it’s also interesting to see what Heartland Americans are like as perceived by someone who’s not from around these parts.  (And when you read the phrase “not from around these parts” in the preceding sentence, try to imagine it being said in a more hillbilly-ish version of Nick Nolte’s voice.  It just feels better that way).
      One of the blurbs on the book’s cover mentions that Robert Chalmers writes like John Irving, deftly balancing comedy and tragedy while telling a very interesting story.  I agree.  While there’s no neatly packaged, feel-good kind of ending to be had here, Chalmers still makes you feel something, albeit a sad something.  When it’s all said and done, Who’s Who in Hell is a book about which I can honestly say that old pathetic phrase “I laughed, I cried, I loved it!” without feeling like too much of goddamn fool.  Cuntchy. –Ben Hunter



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