Smashed, Squashed, Splattered, Chewed, Chunked and Spewed by Lance Carbuncle

Smashed, Squashed, Splattered, Chewed, Chunked and Spewed by Lance Carbuncle

smashed

Who wouldn’t want to pick up a book titled Smashed, Squashed, Splattered, Chewed, Chunked and Spewed? With an eye-catching moniker like that, the reader must know they are in for a wild ride, which is an assumption that plays out correctly. Lance Carbuncle, in his debut novel, aims for the crazy-land target and hits it dead on. There is so much going on in this book that it is at hard times to keep track of the trajectory, and yet, the narrative always circles back to a thirty-five year old basement dweller and his creatively named basset hound, Idjit Galoot.

From dreams of a runaway talking dog to an exploding sombrero, this book is just meanders down wacky lane from start to finish. It is definitely not a good pick for those who are easily offended, as it doesn’t take many chapters to encounter possible necrophilia, poop in freezer bags and enough drinking and pot to keep  college freshman entertained for a month. But, if such adventures don’t turn you off, this book is darkly comedic and entertaining.

I have to admit that Idjit Galoot quickly became a major selling point for me. I don’t think I would have stuck with the book to the end without the odd little basset hound whose existence creates the whole purpose for this ridiculous quest.

While I have friends who might love the crazy wanderings of this verbosely titled book, but in the end, it wasn’t the tale for me. I appreciate dark humor and can giggle at crude jokes as much as the next guy, but it was just too out there for me. I think the point I really got lost was after the hurricane hit south Florida and the follows some bayou-dwelling taxidermists and their hunt for the skunk-apes.

Lance Carbuncle’s first publication, Smashed, Squashed, Splattered, Chewed, Chunked and Spewed, is definitely a niche novel that will win a following among a certain segment of the reading population, but I won’t be the one pushing it on my friends. The over the top vulgar humor and preposterous storyline, while appealing to some, just pushed the tale beyond entertaining for me, earning it a mere:

books shellbooks shell

The Program by Suzanne Young

The Program by Suzanne Young

the program

Yes, another dystopian young adult novel book review from In Search of the End of the Sidewalk. I’m a sucker for them! All of the websites where I buy books or that I look at for book recommendations apparently have me pegged as an angst-ridden teenager because these types of books are always at the top of the “to read” lists and I never just click away to something else.

The Program is the first novel in a series by Suzanne Young, a newer (although not brand new, as she has a couple other books already published) writer who daylights as an English teacher. The book takes place in the not-so-distant future when an overuse of antidepressants is believed to have spawned an epidemic of suicides in the teenage population. There is no proof that the medication was the impetus, but as a generation of adults who were heavily medicated become parents of young adults, the rash of deaths is pushed upward of one in every four teens taking their own lives. As the country goes into panic mode over these cases, The Program is created to keep kids for ending it all.

Once a teenager is flagged for The Program, they are forced into a facility where their memories are taken away, one by one. The idea is that if the kids can’t remember the bad things, they won’t want to terminate themselves. The powers-that-be believe that the suicides are a plague and can spread from student to student, so as soon as one is infected, their friends are closely monitored for signs of negative changes and quickly flagged. This process leaves no room for true emotion or time to grieve over losses, as those difficult emotions are instantly interpreted as infection.

It is in this world that Sloane and her boyfriend James are trying to stick together and make it to their eighteenth birthdays, at which time they will be free of the threat of forced “treatment” through The Program.  As some of the people closed to them succumb to the infection or disappear into the blank-slate world of The Program, their ability to maintain facades of “normality” is challenged more and more frequently.

The premise of this novel is a good one and allows Young to explore some interesting areas of psychology, especially what makes someone themselves. If their memory has been wiped clean, are they still the same person as when they had a lifetime of memories? Or, how can one trust those around them when they have no background? Just because you were told someone was your friend, how do you know they really were? The chances for manipulation and abuse are rampant within these table rasa teens. These would be awesome discussions to have in a book group or classroom full of teenagers who already question who they are and what they want from life.

When I first downloaded this book, I didn’t realize that it was the first in a coming series of books, but it didn’t take long to figure out that the plot wasn’t going to come to a nice, complete ending by the final page. All along, it is setting the scene for future books, which I must admit is a bit of a downside. In theory, I don’t mind series (and I think they are great for reluctant readers who get caught up in with a tale and characters they love!), but when the book obviously feels like a set-up for what comes next, I must admit to being a bit disappointed. In the case of this novel, I think I may have liked it a bit better if it had been longer, but told a complete story, rather than stopping at what is clearly a jumping off point for book number two.

In the end, the series-format is the only thing that turned me off a bit to this slightly-futuristic novel. Suzanne Young’s exploration of self and memory is one that I found intriguing and created enough questions in my mind that I will definitely be downloading book two when it comes out, earning The Program a solid:

books shellbooks shellbooks shellbooks shell

A Venn Diagram Foiled…

Venn diagrams are awesome! I used to make my students create them to compare and sort an array of different things, from vocabulary words to literary character traits to ideas for writing essays. So, as I wandered the grocery store last week, in my mind I thought about how I could make a Venn diagram to describe the similarities and differences between shopping in an American grocery store and shopping in a Chinese one. (I often write blog posts in my head when I am out and about in town. My daily taxi ride home seems to be a hotbed for blog ideas, some of which turn out to be great, but others of which turn out to be mere ramblings about excessive horn honking or women wearing control-top pantyhose with shorts so short I can see the control top. I should get a cute “blog” notebook and carry it around with me everywhere I go so I can record these brilliant insights bring them home and form them into coherent written thoughts!)

But, back to Venn diagrams and the supermarket.

My plan was to draw up a cute little overlapping set of circles (probably in well-coordinated colors like pink and blue so the center was a lovely purple) and fill them with shopping habits. It didn’t take long though, before I ran into a major roadblock with my diagram- my circles never crossed!

Yes, I could overlap with words like “food,” but that’s a 6th graders way out and would never have flown in my classroom, so there is no way it could go here. While there food at each supermarket, the food items are vastly different. For instance, my local Idaho Albertson’s, never have I seen live fish jumping out of their aquariums, flopping on the market floor and never once did I see bottle after bottle, shelf after shelf and aisle after aisle of high priced baijiu liquor displayed in fancy red boxes. But, on the other hand, in China, I’m never forced to choose between twenty-odd types of sandwich bread just to make a PB&J or have to discern the difference between a hundred different boxes of cereal.

I also considered putting grocery carts in my central Venn section, but again, a little more thought pushed them out of the running as well. Grocery carts- It seems easy enough, and yes, they exist in both countries, but Chinese grocery carts are made with some serious maneuverability in mind. Rather than having two set wheels and two free ones, the carts here have all four wheels able to go in any direction, meaning pushing a cart can make you look a bit like Bambi when he walks on ice for the first time. It is easy to get splayed out on the slick floor of the supermarket, holding on to the cart handle for dear (deer!) life.  And, as the cart gets fuller (and heavier) the exaggerated movements it takes to keep the basket on course becomes only more hyperbolic.

Even payment can’t fall into the pretty purple at the heart of my Venn diagram. China, at least western China, is still very much a cash economy. There is no easy swipe of the debit card or quick signature on the credit card slip to have you on your way. Nope. Here, cash is still king. It’s not all a bad thing though. There is an advantage to grocery shopping in cash only. Going into the store, I know exactly how much money is in my wallet and there can be no giving in to the temptation to buy a box of doughnuts or a bag of Cheetos, as funds are limited to what came with me from home. (Although, if I somehow stumbled across a box of doughnuts, I’d probably just dump the million-year shelf-life milk out of my crazy cart and make room for the sugary goodness of chocolate and sprinkles!)

With three China years under my belt, there are still times that supermarkets here overwhelm me and send me straight out the door with nothing to show for my trip. I can only imagine what a Chinese person on vacation in the US would think if they walked into a Costco where food is sold by the case lot, carts are upgraded for flatbed trolleys and it’s nearly impossible to get out of the store for under $100! Their mental diagram would have no more middle ground than the one planned out in my brain as I swerved and skidded up First Ring Road in my taxi last Friday.

 

 

 

I Yield to None!

While living in another country, it is easy to point out the differences between what your “normal” is and what happens around you on a regular basis. I’ve often joked about the metro system and the spitting in Chengdu, but in reality, they aren’t things that bother me anymore. I’ve pretty much gotten used to them, and sad as it may sound, hardly notice the ubiquitous Chinese fifth-tone anymore. (Okay, there are times where it comes back and smacks me in the face like it is my first day in the Middle Kingdom. For example, I was visiting a local hospital the other day and had to walk past a man smoking in the corridor of the respiratory unit of the pediatric floor and then hop over the phlegm that an old woman just deposited on the hallway tiles. That might have been a bit too much!) But, the point is, the changes around you are obvious, but what are less obvious are the changes in yourself.

Point in case: I now think I ALWAYS have the right of way.

In America, I considered myself a decent driver. As a middle school teacher, I was well-aware of the lack of forethought that goes into anything from about the ages of twelve to sixteen (or longer!), so I was the car always going the “school zone” speed through the school areas, even when classes were not in session. I’ve seen a 7th grader, headphones on, phone in-hand, wander across the street without bothering to look up from the vital text about the new girl in homeroom class. Legal right-of-way or not, I knew to let that kid wander on so he could live to see just how intriguing the new girl was going to be. If I was at a four-way stop and it wasn’t clear who arrived first, I’d gladly wave on the other car. No biggie. (Although it did gall me a little when the driver upon which I mightily bestowed the right of way didn’t bother with even a minimal “thanks” wave.) And when I was the pedestrian, I stuck very closely to the “bigger always wins” rule, letting anything larger than myself automatically take the lead position, willing only to challenge that lost-in-his-own-world 7th grader who veered onto my side of the crosswalk.

Then, I came to China and a switch triggered in my brain. Now, I can pretty much always justify why I have the right of way.

When I am walking, it is easy. I’m a pedestrian, so the drivers should be paying attention and I should be yielded to. I am soft and squishy (I’d be less so if I’d use that treadmill that currently serves as not much more than a nightlight, although I’m not sure fit and toned would make a difference in a large blue truck vs. foreigner fight) and all should avoid hitting the tall, blonde girl. Since crosswalks are rarely found in Chengdu, I cross wherever is most convenient- sometimes that is an intersection, but as often as not it is the middle of the road. I don’t mind standing my ground on the yellow line that marks the halfway point of the road, cars zipping by both fore and aft, but I do expect those fore-cars to slow down or move over as I push my way, Frogger-style to the other side of the street.

But, when I am in a taxi, the rules are reversed. I don’t see any reason why my green VW Jetta should have to move over just because someone decides they are going to cross the road in an undesignated spot. It’s a road for heaven’s sake- cars get priority! And don’t even get me started on why my taxi should be able to zip up the bus lane or weave in front of the car with out-of-province plates. Who do those people think they are?

Each new country seems to create a bit of a new personality to go along with it. Stateside, the zebra-like crosswalks rule the pedestrian world and the yellow and white lines on the pavement create the boundaries of the vehicular world. I buy into that concept whole-heartedly. But, plop me down in the center of the Middle Kingdom and all yielding sense flies out the window. Roads are crossed with impunity and in traffic, my taxi is king.

When you take culture classes, they tell you that a new culture is not right or wrong, but rather just different. That may be true, but sometimes, the different rubs off. I may not be right or wrong, but in China, it may just be me that is different.