Think of the biggest liar you’ve ever known, a truly repulsive human being, and imagine what it would require to feel compassion for him.
In The Locklear Letters (2003), Kun showed that he could take a truly pathetic specimen of a person—in that case, a compulsive writer of astonishingly clueless fan letters to the titular actress—and find the honest spark within him without resorting to fakery or sentimental machinations. In this more ambitious fiction, the central piece of sad-sackery is a more complex creation, and the author makes him a near-epic character. Sam Shoogey likes to regale next-door neighbor and narrator Hamilton (Ham) Ashe with stories that are as wonderfully dramatic as they are probably untrue. The book opens with a real corker that we soon learn Sam tells at every conceivable opportunity: about the time he killed a man in “the war” (unspecified) and then years later got a visit from the fellow soldier whose life he had saved, who promptly borrowed money from him. This gem of hardnosed poetry and heartache understandably enthralls Ham, a lawyer who barely supports his wife and child by working ridiculous hours. It turns out that Sam is not only a fantastic raconteur but also a mystery writer and lover of a woman who needs Ham’s help with a little divorce problem he’s having. Thus begins their odd friendship, which sprawls through this lengthy but breezy text and starts to unravel in strange circumstances before it has a chance to truly blossom. Kun manages to make Ham’s life, with its routines and lassitude, seem just as engaging as Sam’s speedy, high-octane antics; he conveys just as much feeling for moments of quiet familial grace as he does for comic extravaganzas. When Sam’s house of cards begins to collapse, You Poor Monster becomes sadder and grows more resonant as a result.
A refreshingly humane comedy about the lies people tell themselves—and others—just to survive.