'Busy Monsters': Losing It, With Glorious Prolixity

Still from Force of Evil (1948)

William Giraldi’s ravaging way with the language is so dexterous and sure-handed that his comic romp of a novel fairly detonates.

Busy Monsters

Publisher: W.W. Norton
Length: 224 pages
Author: William Giraldi
Price: $23.95
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2011-08

Charles Homar, William Giraldi’s wholly untrustworthy narrator in this 110-proof jug of moonshine of a novel, isn’t one for half-measures. Though ostensibly an adult of independent means, he moons and glooms like a lovesick teenager at nearly all times. He’s given to flights of rhetorical excess so severe that the state police could likely write him up for it. The lies tumble forth from his mouth and pen in a nearly unstoppable flood. And he’s driven to altercations as though a moth to flame, particularly over the most innocuous of subjects.

Witness him here, in the midst of a dramatic heart-to-heart with his would-be true love, sidetracked by his ever-running interior monologue when she casts off a cutting remark about Food World, the local supermarket where one can find the publication that runs his occasionally fact-based columns:

Despise Food World? With its mom-and-pop owners and chicken rotisseried fresh each evening, and only the choicest meats from Connecticut farms, to say nothing of their customer service, so caring and true?

Charles doesn’t seem to have a lot of friends, which is of little surprise; this is not a man who knows how to turn himself off. (Neither is Giraldi with his writing, but for the reader, that’s a very very good thing.) He’s an overgrown slacker of a guy who channels all the energy he doesn’t put into life into his columns – the ones that had him pegging himself a “memoirist of mediocre fame” – or his relationships, which seem only to have one speed: overdrive obsessed.

The novel starts with Charles having arrived at another in what appears to be a long line of extremely poor decisions. This one involved his thinking that the only way to deal with his fiancée’s jealous ex-lover, a Southern cop with a penchant for elaborately Gothic and self-pitying threats and pleas for attention, was violent vengeance. Any rational-minded person would have let it go, married the woman, and tried to commence living a happy.

To be fair, it’s perfectly understandable why Charles – who seems to have a lot of time on his hands for such obsessive behavior, being only occasionally employed in the creation of overhyped half-truths for his columns – would go so far over the edge for his love, Gillian: “Here was a woman with gumption, sangfroid, with a Virginia voice that might melt wrought iron.” She appears perfectly happy with his schlumpy way of living and for all her beauty and iron-melting voice, is most interested not in vanity or the ways of celebrities, but the dream that one day she will gaze upon a sight never before seen by human eyes: a live specimen of a giant squid.

Giraldi throws Charles a curveball when it turns out that it’s not the state trooper who is the wedge driving this epically-in-love couple apart, but instead that giant squid, or more correctly the chasing of said squid. After Gillian decides that her hopes and desires would be best served by cutting town two months before she’s due to marry Charlie and hop on a research boat headed for deep and hopefully squid-infested waters, his mental state takes a turn for the worse. Before Charlie knows it, he’s aiming an assault rifle at Gillian’s research boat in a poorly-considered attempt at stopping it (“then it became clear to me that the boat would not sink. A rocket launcher or its equivalent would have been ideal”).

This exercise lands Charlie in a cushy Maine state prison. After incarceration, though, instead of being chastened, he instead delves further into his myriad manias. The middle section of the book is really just Giraldi’s excuse to let fly and see how far he can push Charlie’s rattletrap odyssey of discovery and narrative loquaciousness. The closest the reader will get to an answer lies in the book’s roughest stretch, a particularly beside-the-point but nevertheless hilarious sequence where Charlie goes hunting for Bigfoot. Amidst his cross-country ramblings, most of them in a stolen SUV that he despises (being a good “New England Democrat”, as he’s constantly informing people), Charlie continues filing his columns, whose veracity is vigorously disputed by background characters he mostly ignores.

Fortunately, the man always by Charlie’s side is his handy best friend since schoolyard days, a natural born killer by the name of Groot, who, when he’s not jetting off to the Middle East on vaguely described missions for the good of Uncle Sam, is helping kit out Charlie for his various missions. Groot is not only the second greatest character in the novel (Charlie, that mind-bound font of verbal overkill, being the first), but he’s also the most difficult to believe.

Not that it matters, of course. Giraldi’s readers will be swept along in breathless, disbelieving glee, just as Charlie’s b.s.-detecting fans are. After all, if there was no Groot (Special Ops-trained, and possessed of an impressively bookish intellect, to boot), there wouldn’t be anybody whom Charlie could call up and order to “pack your bags. We have business bloody and long overdue in Boston.”


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