Saturday, January 14, 2006

The Shroud of the Thwacker by Chris Elliott

The Shroud of the Thwacker by Chris Elliott (4/5)

The Shroud of the Thwacker is the debut novel from the not-so critically acclaimed Chris Elliot...and, well, it's actually good! I'll admit that I got this book as a present, and probably wouldn't have picked it up on my own. In fact I read it half as a favor to the person who gave it to me, and half out of boredom, but I must admit that I actually enjoyed it.

This book outpaces all of Chris Elliott's other works. That's right, it's better than Cabin Boy! All right, I know what you're thinking, Cabin Boy sucked. How about this: it's better than There's Something About Mary! Not your cup of chai, then I have one more for you: The Shroud of the Thwacker is even better than Get a Life. Yes, you heard me correctly, and I know I might get tarred and feathered for this but Chris Elliott's new book eclipses that flash-in-the-pan 1990's sitcom.

Now that I have your attention I can tell you a little about the book. The set up is this: Chris Elliott (the author) is investigating the notorious Gilded Age murders of the Thwacker. We follow both Chris' investigation in the present as well as that of several "historical" characters (including a pre-presidential [and pre-Spanish American War] Teddy Roosevelt) who were hot on the trail of the infamous serial killer.

The Shroud of the Thwacker is basically a parody of Caleb Carr's Alienist novels, historical fiction, popular history, fictional history, and steals a bit of From Hell. The book is crammed from first to last page with jokes, and if one doesn't strike your fancy the next one probably will. He manages to fit wry literary allusions ("the price of oil had skyrocketed ever since the sinking of the Pequod") next to a running gag about Teddy Roosevelt's flatulence. Elliott's main purpose is to tell jokes, but at a certain points he lets a bit of social commentary slip through. He skewers historians who often wear rose colored glasses when writing about the past (one of my pet peeves) by playing up the most unpleasant aspects of late 19th century New York. Instead of the Statute of Liberty, Elliott instead claims that New York had a statute of Nathan Forrest, the leader of the Ku Klux Klan. There are also giant wooden cell phones, time traveling, Yoko Ono, and other bits of wackiness.

Of course, the plot makes absolutely no sense, but in the end it doesn't really matter (several plot holes are actually made fun of). Chris Elliott manages to write an imaginative, joke filled, crass and clever book. Hey, maybe I've been underestimating this guy. Maybe I'll go out and rent Cabin Boy again. ("Would you like to buy a monkey?") On second thought, maybe not.

No comments: