Alan's Reviews > Wild Thing

Wild Thing by Josh Bazell
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's review
Apr 09, 12

Recommended to Alan by: Previous work
Recommended for: Angry nerds
Read in April, 2012, read count: 1

Josh Bazell's novel Wild Thing, the sequel to his surprisingly entertaining debut Beat the Reaper, wastes no time at all laying its cards on the table. Explicit teen sex on the first page—in the first paragraph—is followed closely by horror movie-style SFX on the third. And the first footnotes of many appear on page 11.

I was actually kind of embarrassed to be seen reading this in public, with its DayGlo® cover and adult themes, but in the end I'm glad I didn't let that stop me. Wild Thing turns out to be a fast-paced, fierce and funny frolic, fairly foul-mouthed as well (featuring more F-words per page than this sentence), that still sees no reason to hide its inner wonk. Bazell cleverly short-circuits the inevitable puns about its title by quoting the Troggs song as an epigraph (just below the quote from Francis Bacon), and the book contains numerous footnotes and asides, an appendix on global climate change, and over 35 pages of annotated sources for the scientific and political tidbits scattered throughout the text. (The most pertinent quote in that section, perhaps, if not the most erudite: "Why are web addresses so fucking ugly?")

Hybrids are all the rage these days, and Wild Thing fits right into the trend. Amid all the graphic violence and sex, Wild Thing also exhibits a magpie interest in topics ranging from evangelistic eschatology (to which Bazell seems... not especially sympathetic) to petroleum formation... you could actually learn a thing or two from this book, with a little extra research to filter out the BS (in other words: don't just take his word for things—this is fiction, after all).

"Lionel Azimuth" (not his real name, of course—c'mon, who on Earth is born with the surname "Azimuth"?) starts out this book as a doctor on a cruise ship, in the context of which Bazell footnotes one of my favorite authors, David Foster Wallace, whose eponymous essay in the collection A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again takes on cruise ships from the perspective of an observant passenger. This is one of many grace notes that endeared Wild Thing to me well beyond its lowbrow surface.

Bazell, or Lionel Azimuth, anyway, should not talk about computers, though. The footnote on p.23 regarding how "Rec Bill" made his reclusive billions is pure bafflegab, going so far as to make me suspicious of the scientific claims this M.D. made in areas I don't know firsthand. But then, this is a book about cryptozoology... scientific rigor is perhaps not the primary criterion by which it should be judged. And the computer science gaffe is an exception, from what I could tell, rather than the rule—most of the scientific assertions (the verifiable ones, anyway) did seem to be accurate, and the bit in that particular footnote doesn't seem to have been part of Bazell's otherwise meticulous research (it's not mentioned in the aforementioned 35+ pages of source documentation).

Funny, sardonic lines from the protagonist and his associates abound... "Like most people raised on American movies, I have poor access to my emotions but can banter like a motherfucker" (footnote, p.51). The wisecracks are another major selling point, even before I found out that Chapter 2 is set in my adopted hometown of Portland, Oregon (before Azimuth is sent to Minnesota, where most of the book's action occurs).

There were some parts of this book (aside from the cover and that one footnote, that is) that bugged me. A dinner-table argument about evil-lution made even me uncomfortable, but then Bazell segued right back into the banter, so it was OK. And it was sad to see occasional phrases like "bored of" (on p.85) in an otherwise perfectly grammatical book, but those were few and far between.

I suppose the biggest problem I had with this novel relates to the reason for this rather unusual phrasing in the indicia, before the book even starts: "Any real people who appear in this book are portrayed fictitiously and are the product of this author's imagination." This becomes directly and very distractingly relevant on p.210, for reasons I can't go into in detail without spoilers, but which ends with a WTF moment bigger than the cryptozooid ol' Lionel has been sent to Minnesota to track down.

But Bazell does recover from this as well, in a way which didn't make me want to throw the book against a wall, so all in all I'm going to have to call this one a win for the series, one which I'm sure will extend into other books.

There are worse possible outcomes.

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