Sleep Has No Master by Jon Konrath (Submission)
Genre: Bizarro fiction, short stories, humor, even weirder than his last collection (which is saying something)
Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars
Summary: 27 more short stories and flash-fiction pieces from bizarro fiction writer/gonzo author Jon Konrath, laden with popular culture references and satire galore! In a world where the narrator lives inside a waking dream, grew up in a religious community called Bighikistan and can never tell a story in a linear or fully coherent fashion, it’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s fantasy. Especially when time travel is readily available, breaking the fourth wall is commonplace, Pixar is creating snuff films and The Hunger Games is the product of a rambling mental patient. Yup, just business as usual for a Jon Konrath collection.
I’ve already reviewed another short story anthology from Jon Konrath on another Bizarro Blursday many moons ago (specifically: The Earworm Inception) which was so weird yet so spectacularly written that I couldn’t toss up the chance to review another set of short stories and flash fiction from Mr. Konrath. I was not disappointed. And fans of hyper aware satirical short stories won’t be either. That is a genre now because I said so.
This is one of those books you need to read all the way through, starting with the hilarious multi-page disclaimer full of every warning already known to mankind. Konrath apologizes for “Resemblances to actual persons living, dead, or undead…” makes note to readers that, “This book should not be considered a legitimate historical document,” and that it “Mentions chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer.” Also it may cause “nausea” or “vomiting”, is not a toy and should not be used as fuel and most importantly it, “Does not protect against HIV … Or other sexual transmitted diseases.” Just in case you thought it did.
The chapter/story titles give you a hint of the insanity and depravity to come, with half of them sounding like “Big Bang Theory” episode titles and all of them making you wonder just what could possibly happen in a story with a title like: “Tesla Motors Doesn’t Have a Blowjob Referral Program”. Other noteworthy story titles include: “The Gamecube Junkie Abortionist’s Revenge”, “The George Washington Buttplug” (no relation to The Baby Jesus Butt Plug), “Art Garfunkel is my Copilot”, “Fifty Shades of Napalm” and “With Friends Like These, Who Needs Enemas?” Don’t answer that, it’s rhetorical.
Despite being a short story collection, they all feature the same narrator (at least I’m 90% sure they do) a struggling writer with sleep deprivation problems and his insane group of friends. Specifically: Fat Mike, Alex, Rocky, Odin (who has a grudge against Thor) and Marshall. Although the stories aren’t linear, they are still set in the same world whether it be the past in a community called Bighikistan, the present in New York City or the not so distant future. Or maybe not future, I’m honestly not entirely sure, this collection is a mind-fuck of epic proportions.
In this collection, we are also given a set of works laden with pop-culture and set in a world strangely similar to yet certainly not our own. For example, Bighikistan, is a fictional place full of red-necks who believe in high school demolition derby teams, a reliance on energy drinks and herbal supplements, and “mandatory religious literature condemning science”. We are never told if these stories are taking place in an alternate version of America or if our untrustworthy narrator just sees the world differently thanks to his inability to sleep properly and every story found within is just a dream or paranoid delusion he witnesses while awake. Or a little bit of both. Although this is bizarro, so an explanation might not really be required.
Our nameless narrator (possibly a hyper-exaggerated Jon Konrath, maybe not) lives in an America struggling to rebuild after the fast food wars and the tooth whitener market crashes. On the plus side there are time machines (some of which are in USB adapters) just don’t buy the cheap ones that only allow you to travel forward and backward 10 years in alternate universes only. I’d still buy it, who wouldn’t want to visit their alternate self and see how much better their life could be? Wait…
And of course there’s the satire on our consumerism and fame obsessed America. A world in which Bill Gate’s lifelong dream was to, “Write really shitty software that always crashed” (which he unfortunately achieved), people purchase exercise bikes that beat you in the head with sticks, the franchise Uncle Kenny’s Sex Dungeon can be found inside every Barnes and Noble in the country and even time machines make you watch five minutes of advertisements every two minutes. Then of course there’s the carcinoma fad in which celebrities make cancer cool so everyone is standing out in the sun and watching microwaves so they can have leukemia just like their idol Brad Pitt. Ugh, this is so close to reality it makes me want to stab myself in the leg. With a Kardashian endorsed knife of course.
Children don’t have things much better, in a world where Goofus and Gallant have been replaced with Highlights Extreme (which features BASE jumping and serial-killers) and Pixar is making animated snuff films, although they still have “moralist plots” for the parents. They’re also forced to watch cinema masterpieces such as the 3-D Lion King sequel Godzilla Versus the Lion King with voice over work by Samuel L. Jackson. Okay I take it back, most of these things are awesome and I kind of wish they were real.
That’s not to say just the world is weird, the people who populate it aren’t the most normal citizens in the multi-verse. Retired ex-wrestler Terry Funk teaches an honors calculus course (very poorly), the narrator’s friend Alex’s dad runs a “profitable prepaid colostomy card business” at a kiosk in the mall and Alex himself quit school to deal drugs and raise a pod of dolphins in the pool of his apartment complex. As the narrator makes note of, “Every place I ever leased would give me shit about the most miniscule things, like mixing paper and metal recyclables… Or leaving a severed foot in the front lobby,” yet in this magical world one can raise dolphins in a chlorinated swimming pool!?!
My absolute favorite story (“Fifty Shades of Napalm”) is the one in which the characters break the fourth wall and discuss the spelling of words so that the reader of the story can understand the difference between ball sac and Balzac. Or the inclusion of a scene integral to the plot but so heinous that it would scare publishers away at the same time: enter Vietnam, masturbation and children engulfed in flames. The chapter ends with a plea to us (the readers) to like the book so much that we tell everyone to buy it so, “It becomes as popular as those vampire romance teenage wizard books, but not so popular that someone buys it and edits it into a god damned Julia Roberts movie.” I’m a sucker for meta.
-Satire, humor and the ridiculous dialed all the way up to 11
-Intelligently written and laugh out loud funny- not uproarious, I hate that silly overused review word more than irreverent
-Superbly well written bizarro fiction; well written any fiction
-Great blend of can’t be true and so ridiculous it just has to be true
-The best Hunger Games joke/payoff in the history of ever (in looove)
-Lots of plot happening simultaneously (not a bad thing, just lots to take in)
So what have we learned? Besides to buy Jon Konrath‘s short story collections for your Kindle? With themes touching on consumerism, fame, and pollution we can safely say the world is already a satire of itself. Sometimes you just need some fiction to remind you of that. And most importantly: never trust Microsoft.