Wildbriar's Reviews > Tales of the Madman Underground

Tales of the Madman Underground by John Barnes
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Funny, witty, brash, awkward, touching, sad, bemusing -- quite apart from having the best title ever, Tales of the Madman Underground runs rings around any preconceptions I might have had of what it was going to be. I'm all for snarky heroes, and Karl Shoemaker is probably the most authentic snark I've come across; there's nothing pretentious about him, he's refreshingly honest and probably the most chatty narrator in the world.

It wasn't an easy story. Underneath the running current of self-deprecating humour, there was a sort of bleak feeling to this book, which I think was heavily influenced by the place in which it's set. It sounds like such a horrible little backwater town, grey and stagnant and hopeless; I'm grateful that John Barnes provided such a likeable and upbeat protagonist to help deflect attention from it. The rest of the Madman Underground were so real and absorbing that I ended up liking every single one of them, with the exception of Darla. Sorry, hated her. It was quite something to see that it is in fact possible to write 532 pages and still only cover a few days of a person's life; somehow it seemed so much longer, as if weeks had passed, by the time I got to the end of it.

My biggest -- and possibly only -- problem with this book is that it's so extremely American (which I'm not), and that meant that a few things went over my head and there was the odd time where I didn't have a clue what the characters were talking about. There was kind of a cultural alienation in it that made it a bit of a slog at times. But the rest of the story was so punchy and engaging that it was worth the effort. The only other thing is that I don't think setting it in 1973 helped it at all; in fact, it usually didn't feel like it, and the odd throw-in mention of Nixon or Vietnam jolted me out of the story a bit. I think it would have worked better as a contemporary story.

Despite these little gripes, Tales of the Madman Underground is a story whose characters will stay with me for quite a while, I think. I'm glad to have found it.
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Reading Progress

02/06/2012 page 192
36.0% "This is very...bizarre. But I like it. One of the chattiest narrators I've ever come across :-)"

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