When does a nice guy no longer deserve to be called nice? Holdefer (Apology for Big Rod, 1997) is so gentle in his satire...

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NICE

Adventures of a sweetly ineffectual latter-day Candide.

His name is Jerry Renfrow, but his narrator, who ought to know, never calls him anything but Mr. Nice Guy, and no wonder. Not only is he unfailingly nice to his wife Barbara, whose adulteries he tolerates with placidly supportive good cheer, and everybody else his path crosses under the Florida sun, but he's made a profession of virtue. Home-Made Services, the business he runs, makes its customers look good by reminding them to mail greeting cards, drafting letters for them to send their loved ones, or orchestrating more elaborate schemes for the truly caring. Mr. Nice Guy's latest venture, on behalf of the Sheik of Surimi, is his most ambitious: arranging a birthday party for the Sheik's daughter Zohra, complete with 20 pure-bred apricot Labrador puppies Home-Made Services has supplied for the occasion. It's this scheme that brings Mr. Nice Guy the sad fate that seems eternally to await the fictional nice. A call to jury duty keeps Mr. Nice Guy, who would never duck such a summons, distracted from the details of the party; his perennially disgruntled employee Garson Carter fumbles the puppies in a most spectacular way; and when the dust clears, Mr. Nice Guy is headed for five years and eight months (with possibly a few months off) in the state penitentiary, where he can expect to meet a lot of new friends who'll provide even sterner challenges to his sobriquet. By this time, of course, the joke has worn pretty thin, and it doesn't help when the hapless hero's adventures soar far outside the orbit of the plot, like a satellite heading off for parts unknown.

When does a nice guy no longer deserve to be called nice? Holdefer (Apology for Big Rod, 1997) is so gentle in his satire that he treats such questions with both gravity and weightlessness.

Pub Date: April 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-57962-038-8

Page Count: 254

Publisher: Permanent Press

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2001

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A not-very-illuminating updating of Chaucer’s Tales.

THE CANTERBURY TALES

A RETELLING

Continuing his apparent mission to refract the whole of English culture and history through his personal lens, Ackroyd (Thames: The Biography, 2008, etc.) offers an all-prose rendering of Chaucer’s mixed-media masterpiece.

While Burton Raffel’s modern English version of The Canterbury Tales (2008) was unabridged, Ackroyd omits both “The Tale of Melibee” and “The Parson’s Tale” on the undoubtedly correct assumption that these “standard narratives of pious exposition” hold little interest for contemporary readers. Dialing down the piety, the author dials up the raunch, freely tossing about the F-bomb and Anglo-Saxon words for various body parts that Chaucer prudently described in Latin. Since “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” and “The Miller’s Tale,” for example, are both decidedly earthy in Middle English, the interpolated obscenities seem unnecessary as well as jarringly anachronistic. And it’s anyone’s guess why Ackroyd feels obliged redundantly to include the original titles (“Here bigynneth the Squieres Tales,” etc.) directly underneath the new ones (“The Squires Tale,” etc.); these one-line blasts of antique spelling and diction remind us what we’re missing without adding anything in the way of comprehension. The author’s other peculiar choice is to occasionally interject first-person comments by the narrator where none exist in the original, such as, “He asked me about myself then—where I had come from, where I had been—but I quickly turned the conversation to another course.” There seems to be no reason for these arbitrary elaborations, which muffle the impact of those rare times in the original when Chaucer directly addresses the reader. Such quibbles would perhaps be unfair if Ackroyd were retelling some obscure gem of Old English, but they loom larger with Chaucer because there are many modern versions of The Canterbury Tales. Raffel’s rendering captured a lot more of the poetry, while doing as good a job as Ackroyd with the vigorous prose.

A not-very-illuminating updating of Chaucer’s Tales.

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-670-02122-2

Page Count: 436

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2009

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Rich, creamy art and playful paneling make for a fun read.

THE GIGANTIC BEARD THAT WAS EVIL

Cartoonist Collins’ debut graphic novel is a long, smooth fable of a man whose unkempt facial hair ravages the tidy city of Here.

Here sits on an island, surrounded by the sea, separated from the far-off land of There. And whereas Here is all row houses and trimmed trees and clean cheeks, There is a dark, disordered place that would mix your insides with your outsides, your befores with your nows with your nexts—unpleasant business brilliantly depicted in panels breaking across a single body as it succumbs to chaos. So the people of Here live quiet, fastidious lives, their backs to the sea, and neighbor Dave delights in doodling it all from his window as he listens to the Bangles’ “Eternal Flame” on repeat. But an irregular report at his inscrutable office job triggers the single hair that has always curved from Dave’s upper lip to be suddenly joined by a burst of follicles. Try as Dave might, his unruly beard won’t stop pouring from his face in a tangled flood—and soon it threatens the very fabric of life in Here. Collins’ illustrations are lush, rounded affairs with voluptuous shading across oblong planes. Expressions pop, from the severe upturn where a sympathetic psychiatrist’s brows meet to the befuddlement of a schoolgirl as the beard’s hypnotic powers take hold. With its archetypical conflict and deliberate dissection of language, the story seems aimed at delivering a moral, but the tale ultimately throws its aesthetics into abstraction rather than didacticism. The result rings a little hollow but goes down smooth.

Rich, creamy art and playful paneling make for a fun read.

Pub Date: Oct. 7, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-250-05039-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: Aug. 24, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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