Jonathan's Reviews > Shangri-La Trailer Park

Shangri-La Trailer Park by John Zunski
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Jan 31, 2012

really liked it

To be honest, Shangri-La Trailer Park isn't something I'd normally read. Nobody dies, there's no mystery to unravel, and there are certainly no ninja cyborg hamsters. But I was intrigued by the plot synopsis, and the author, John Zunski, was kind enough to answer a bunch of pretentious literary nerd questions and front some swag for a giveaway. He also told me that if I didn't review it, he'd send that big cinnamon bear in the story to talk off my ear and drink all my coffee in the middle of the night. Always protective of my beauty sleep (and caffeinated comestibles), I agreed. Now that I’ve finished it, I'm glad I did.

It’s a dark comedy, a strange mix between Native American spirit journey and white trash train wreck. The main character is a Blackfoot named Maistoinna from Montana trying to hike the Appalachian trail. He has a little “mishap” on the Pennsylvanian leg of trail and ends up dislocating his shoulder. Luckily, a local hiker (and recent ex-con) known to the locals as “Dog Shear Dora” happens along and offers her help. Maistoinna and Dora hit it off like Tom and Jerry, antagonizing each other and bellyaching and generally expressing their intense dislike for each other. But Dora feels some inexplicable attraction to the crass Blackfoot, and she offers to take him to the hospital and put him up in her singlewide at the Heaven’s Lake trailer park. His stay there intersects with a local redneck love triangle… except it involves five people total, so it’s really more of a love pentagon. And like any good story about rednecks and trailer parks and dysfunctional relationships, there’s a lot of satire to be had. There’s also some stereotyping, but as one who comes from a long line of good redneck stock, I didn’t at all mind. Along the way the narrative is peppered with Maistoinna’s dream visions, where a great cinnamon-colored bear—Maistoinna’s spirit totem, or something like that—converses with Maistoinna and offers advice in a suitably mystical and cryptic fashion.

One word of warning I would give any prospective readers, though, is that the novel contains a couple scenes depicting violence against women, mostly within the contents of domestic and sexual relationships. Zunski presents it with a fairly even hand and doesn’t glorify the violence, but he’s also unflinching in his portrayal. I know it seems kind of impossible to do—write a comedic novel while peppering it with domestic abuse—but you have to keep in mind that the abuse isn’t the part that’s supposed to be funny. The funny part mostly comes in when the various dysfunctional personalities get what’s coming to them. Oh, and just about everything Maistoinna says. I especially loved the a-typical curses he used like “bison anus.” But as always, I digress.

The most egregious failing I noted in the book were a few typos and missing quotation marks here and there, but they really weren’t all that noticeable—so then I guess you could say it wasn’t egregious at all. Stylistically, there were a couple things that made my right eye tweak a time or two, but I really think it’s because I’m just a weirdo when it comes to certain stylistic elements. As you might have imagined (given how much I’ve ranted about it in other reviews), point of view (POV) was the one I keyed in on the most. What it all boils down to, I guess, is that I just don’t like the third person omniscient. That’s probably a testament to Zunski’s storytelling ability more than anything, because I really did enjoy the book despite the fact he used the much-loathed “TPO.” Plus, I can see why he chose that POV for his novel, as it has a way of fostering a tone similar to Chuck Pala-whatever-his-name-is that is very conducive to dark comedy. And then there were a couple instances where adjectives ran rampant over a sentence or two, but either Zunski tamed them by the end of the book or I was enjoying the story enough not to notice them anymore.

Like I said, I’m a weirdo.

All told, I found Shangri-La Trailer Park to be quite humorous and entertaining. Except for Maistoinna, the characters are mostly of the stock variety and they deal heavily in white trash stereotypes, but seeing as how the novel is a dark comedy, you can hardly blame Zunski for that. I also appreciated the fact that he avoided making the ending into some stereotypical rom-com Twelfth Night farce in which all the star-crossed lovers are shuffled around and matched up in their cosmically ordained pairings. Major points to him on that. So if I had to give it a rating (and according to the law of the land, I must), I’d say it was three and a half stars.

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