If you know Alexei Sayle, you know him as one of the loonies in the early '80s shaggy dog English sitcom The Young Ones. And don't worry, if you haven't seen it, today's erstwhile comedy writers who try to craft sitcoms that will stave off the Internet have seen the program. But whether or not you've seen this cauldron of anarchy -- punker, hippie, businessman, etc., squatting together in Thatcherite angst -- you wouldn't necessarily have pegged Sayle, one of its stalwarts, as a writer of books. And not just a writer of books, a writer of fiction books, and good ones.
Overtaken , his novel from last year, is a prime example. Yes, it's funny. But more than that, it's real. And sad. It's a revenge fantasy in a very contemporary northern England setting, but with a twist. The world-weary lead character is a pitch-perfect everyman -- a culturally minded working-man leader. The book combines fantasy and reality, plot and magic, and bubbles along very nicely. There are circuses and freaks, theater folk and angry teens, and lots and lots to do with traffic, traffic jams, and urban development.
But at the end, there's something said about the pain and healing of living as an intelligent, involved, human being -- someone who has to face the horrible realization that tragedy can leap out and grab anyone from behind the bushes, whether those bushes are on the side of the motorway (as they call highways in the U.K.) or on the side of a squalid country struggling between the second and the third world. And the best thing: even though Sayle may not be a Tolstoy, he doesn't scrimp when it comes to dealing with some 'real' issues. Without making it feel like a bleeding PhD thesis. Worth a look -- even though it's not remotely available in the good old U Ess of A.
'Til next time... Ken Krimstein
Purchase thru Amazon Mr. Krimstein is a writer, cartoonist, father, and grump who lives in New York City. So there.