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by Imad Rahman

Pub Date: April 1st, 2004
ISBN: 0-374-17401-6
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Hilarious debut collection of linked stories, in which a Pakistani-American actor heads for Ohio and enters an absurdist comedy like no other.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar specializes in bad guys on TV crime reenactments, though he’s not getting a lot of work because he plays them too soulful. One day, “trying to get my mind off drinking by pouring hot coffee on my arm,” he gets an envelope in the mail from ex-girlfriend Eileen containing what most men would consider a bad combination: a one-way bus ticket to visit her in Ohio and a letter saying, “Good news. I’m through with big dicks and henceforth thinking constantly of you.” Within two pages, Kareem is out the door. Many authors would struggle fruitlessly to keep up with this opening scene, but neophyte Rahman seems to barely break a sweat as he keeps tossing one obscenely funny scenario after another at the reader. The stories drop down into Kareem’s random, often-drunk life at odd intervals, spaced out like moments of clarity in a lost weekend. Two episodes after he arrives in Ohio and gets taken by Eileen to dinner with her sister and a cannibal, our hero is working as a repo man for a video store chain, hunting down an errant Forrest Gump tape with his partner Valentina, who speaks only in movie dialogue. Meanwhile, Rahman washes it all in contemporary trash culture, from the tabloid shows Kareem used to work on to the dinner-theater musical version of Apocalypse Now he later appears in. This pop sensibility keeps the book from drifting off into airy absurdity. The writing zips along, fueled by a doomed, what-the-hell humor and a sharp eye for stretching things just the smallest tick past reality.

Blasé drifter, ne’er-do-well actor, and one-time Zima spokesman: Kareem is a Falstaff for strip-mall America.