Sunday, June 30, 2013

Night of the Assholes

Night of the Assholes, Kevin L. Donihe
Read: 1 May to 2 May 2012
3.5 / 5 stars

I've spent most of my life in New Jersey, so I've probably encountered every type of asshole at least twice. Yeah, yeah, you all think you know something about something thanks to the intellectual wasteland of "The Jersey Shore" but that's just scratching the surface. (I mean, I assume. I've never watched the show because I don't feel like explaining to the emergency-room staff that I've punched out my television. Again.) Those are what we sneeringly call "Bennies," the over-privileged, overgrown children who storm the state's shore towns every summer to ooze their particular breed of slimeball all over a state that reached its capacity for flagrant douchebaggery back in the '80s. That's just one flavor of asshole we offer, and they're only available seasonally. Try venturing inland and bearing witness to our impressive array of disgruntled Philly rejects and self-entitled soccer moms who can't believe that a stranger had the audacity to not find it, like, utterly charming when their undisciplined rugrats turn a grocery store into a playground.

To survive in the self-proclaimed armpit of America, I've had to do as the assholes do and adopt a few of their tactics. The difference? I generally try to reserve my powers for solely defensive use, rather than construct my entire personality on a foundation of bitchiness -- of course, lesser days have seen my temper flare up without provocation. For the most part, though, being raised by assholes (do you have a better name for the kind of people who punish their children for the unimaginable transgression of wasting a quarter on a stranger's expired parking meter?) and pursuing a short-lived career in print journalism have taught me that the best weapon in the war against assholes is plastering on a big, unwavering smile and killin' 'em all with a sickeningly sweet kindness that just won't quit.

The few "normal" people swimming against the surging tide of assholes in Night of the Assholes cling to that same arsenal of impregnable politeness, and also any umbrella, pole, stick or anally penetrating weaponry within grabbing range. Because when the assholes spill from the local mall to congregate around the farmhouse in which a small cluster of survivors seek refuge, one cannot simply exchange barbs or blows with the masses of asses: To sink to their level is to become one of them. You can grin and bear it, or you can stake an asshole in the asshole and know that you did your part to make the world a better place. You know, if it mattered.

Is this starting to sound like a variation on the zombie theme? It probably should, as the book openly takes its inspiration from George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead. For people like me -- those weirdos who've had zombie-apocalypse survival strategies and go-bags at the ready for years -- the shuffling undead just aren't that scary anymore. A zombie somehow circumvented the booby traps littering my property? That's nice. Get out of my living room or prepare for a bullet to the forehead and a blade to the neck (thanks for the Nazi sword that not even eBay would consider touching, Uncle Walt). But a legion of assholes? You're not just one among a dwindling herd of brains to them: You're a target, and it's personal. They'll taunt you, pry the layers of boards off your windows, stuff a hot dog down your throat 'til you've choked, or charge your shelter with a fleet of molester vans just to hack away at the civility you're desperately trying to maintain for the sake of your humanity. Or, y'know, they'll just as soon kill you in the most demeaning way possible and rejoice that their laughter is the last thing you'll hear as your life seeps away. Because that's how assholes roll. At least zombies are limited in both methods of attack and motivation. Assholes dedicate their entire being to ruining yours and will keep plotting until they've won.

And, oh my god, are the assholes ever on parade in this book. If the barrage of high-octane jerks in the first 30 pages don't make you hate humanity even more than you usually do during your rush-hour commute home, then you're a better person than I am: The onslaught of persistent telemarketers, pushy salespeople, loudmouth racists, deliberately terrible drivers, stereotypically catty cheerleaders, ineffective mall-security stooges, and the holier-than-thou faux religious zealots had me seething with barely contained rage. Those kinds of people are insufferable on their own and in small doses. But en masse? I can't imagine reacting with anything less than full-on stabby rage. For the few times I had to put this book down in order to distance myself from the growing need to tell everyone to eat me raw and like it, I couldn't leave it alone for more than a few minutes. The story is compelling -- how, or WILL, the non-assholes free themselves? -- and the characters are so fully realized that you just have to root for them. Or root for them to meet with the kind of gruesome death you didn't know you could wish on another person, living or imaginary.

This is my introduction to Donihe's works and it's my second helping of the bizarro genre: Reading Night of the Assholes made me want more of both. The story would be campy and artificial in a lesser writer's hands but Donihe deftly navigates his reader through the seemingly hopeless tale he's spun. And the writing is really quite good! I can't emphasize that enough, as I wasn't really expecting it to be. I am one of those people who gets hyper-involved in a story and can't help putting myself in the characters' shoes, but the way I started getting too irritated at some of the displays of assholery featured in this book was on another level entirely -- and that's a testament to the talent that crafted the story, to make a reader feel what the characters are feeling to the extent that I did. Barbara, the protagonist, struggles with anger issues all through the story, and I wished many, many times that she'd just admit defeat already and beat the bejeezus out of someone -- asshole transformation be damned -- because that's what I wanted to do and I needed some catharsis: Luckily, when the assholes get staked, it is satisfying in ways that should probably shame me.

In the end, I like to think that the moral of this story is exactly what my planned defense plea has always been: It's not enough to placidly tolerate the world's assholes; you must kill them to fix the problem. And anything that can justify well-meaning but extreme measures is okay with me. It just helps that it's a mighty fun read, too.

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