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Review-a-Day
Esquire
Wednesday, November 23rd, 2005


 

The Mysterious Secret of the Valuable Treasure: Stories

by Jack Pendarvis

Irony! Sex! Comics!

A review by Anna Godbersen

To begin at the beginning, the first story in Jack Pendarvis's hilarious collection bears the title "Sex Devil." This is the tale of an unfortunate fellow with a cleft palate and the name Randy, who becomes suave and avenges himself against his childhood enemies; the story is in the form of an unsigned, but hopeful, pitch to a comic-book publisher for a comic book about Randy, a.k.a. Sex Devil. It is, as you can easily imagine, a real crowd-pleaser of a story. But Pendarvis has more "up his sleeve" here than merely pleasing crowds. (He is, among other things, a wicked user of quotation marks.) Yes, there is a whole story here satirizing book catalogues and the people who write them (of A Good Family: "I think there's some incest in there. That makes the title ironic!"), but there is also a heavy sense of the banality and absurdity of our times. Pendarvis's characters are wayward, easily-riled fellows; they are amateur historians, writer's-conference attendees, would-be naturalists. They think in sentences like "You don't know expletive my father-in-law snarled animalistically," and they experience that kind of thing, too.

Any funny story collection runs the risk of being merely funny; The Mysterious Secret of the Valuable Treasure suffers this affliction in parts, although it also manages to achieve a brutal poignancy. (See "The Golden Pineapples," in which two squirrels so remind the recently laid-off Mitch of his workplace betrayers that he makes all his "terrifying, gory threats" to them, instead of his former colleagues, those "people whose fingers he would have liked to smash in car doors.") And, anyway, when Pendarvis is merely funny, he is still really, really funny.


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