Attention UBR Readers! Barnacle Brat will be reduced price today (26 Jan 2015) on Goodreads.
"Barnacle Brat" opens upside down in a VW-Bug that has flipped in an accident. The driver and protagonist, Leon Blank, is discussing the situation with his parents (hanging by their seatbelts in the back) and a ventriloquist dummy, Lord Archibald (he prefers "mannequin") in the seat next to him.
From that point on, the reader follows Leon deeper down the rabbit hole into the wonderland his world devolves into as he deals with (or doesn't) the aftermath of that accident, complete with a hodge-podge of crazy characters, some real and some imagined. Long after it becomes clear that all is not quite right in Leon's world or his head, Baldwin does a superb job of keeping the reader guessing where the delusions end and the real world begins.
As with Chuck Palahniuk's "Fight Club," even when the reader knows nothing is quite as it seems, piecing together the truth from Leon's present, out-of-kilter life, flashbacks to his childhood, and brief snippets of the accident (or the version of it that Leon remembers when and if he remembers it at all), will keep the reader engaged and guessing throughout. Plentiful plot twists will keep you turning pages, and trying to tease out the imaginary friends and enemies from those of flesh-and-blood. The superb writing make this a captivating read, and one worth reading more than once, even when repulsed by some of the darker parts of the story.
Dark comedy isn't for everyone, and this is definitely dark. The novel's subtitle should serve as ample warning that this isn't humor for the masses. Another caveat in the "Acknowledgements and a Warning" that "some of my characters use Adult Language; often foul, blasphemous, or sexually charged--on several occasions, all three," hints that it might not appeal to less prurient readers. These hints may not adequately divulge how dark the story does get at times. The violence is graphic, and the sex is dirty. While Baldwin does an impeccable job bringing humor to the bleakest of scenes, make no mistake: they are bleak. Like in the best and darkest of black comedies, he occasionally comes right to the brink of "too far" and then dips one toe over that edge before stepping back and allowing readers to catch their breath. While there is much to recommend this book, be forewarned: it is not for the squeamish.
If you liked "Fight Club" or are a fan of truly dark comedy, you'll want to read "Barnacle Brat" more than once for the sheer fun of parsing out the real from the imaginary. There are many laugh-out-loud moments, interspersed with the many cringe-worthy ones. Baldwin clearly had fun writing this and you may find yourself thinking both: "Eww, I can't believe he went there," and "Excellent--he went there!" at the same time. But, if you like your clowns cute and your humor rated PG, this isn't the book for you.
5 stars! Top Pick.
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Lynne M. Hinkley, the author of Marina Melee, is a marine scientist who has spent a considerable amount of time in the Caribbean studying oceanography. She currently lives in South Carolina, where she teaches, writes and spends time with her family.