Zombie, Spaceship, Wasteland
By Patton Oswalt
Synopsis (via goodreads): Oswalt combines memoir
with uproarious humor, from snow forts to Dungeons & Dragons to
gifts from Grandma that had to be explained. He remembers his teen
summers spent working in a movie Cineplex and his early years doing
stand-up. Readers are also treated to several graphic elements,
including a vampire tale for the rest of us and some greeting cards
with a special touch. Then there’s the book’s centerpiece, which posits
that before all young creative minds have anything to write about, they
will home in on one of three story lines: zombies, spaceships, or
Zombie, Spaceship, Wasteland is a book by the amazing comedian Patton Oswalt. It's part memoir, part creative writing exercise and has a variety of story techniques within, including a graphic novella and an epic poem about Dungeons and Dragons. It's only short, about 190 pages, and it races by but it's a thoroughly enjoyable read and I'm glad I finally got around to taking it off my bookshelf.
Through 17 chapters...or 17 essays...or 17 aspects of Oswaltian genius... Patton Oswalt recounts some of the defining aspects of his young life, the highs and lows of performing comedy, and the general issues and complexities that faced gen X as they grew up. Even the tales which are fiction rather than non-fiction still tie in with the general attitudes he puts down in the stories. So for instance, Punch-Up Notes, which is a creative piece written as notes for a script (Oswalt has worked as a script editor before) is a critique on the rubbish films cycling through the cinemas by writing about an absurd film as though it were simply in the need of a few (perfectly adequate) tune ups, like "page 44 Fat triplets is funnier than fat twins." and "Page 60 Put roller skates on the dad, a sombrero on the mom, and add an incontinent pug".
It is an incredibly easy book to read, Oswalt is a fantastic writer. Much of the book centres around the impact books and writing had on him growing up, and he writes with such love for the craft that it's really, really pleasant. He has a wonderful way with words that I imagine comes from a youth spent reading a wide variety of books and years spent writing comedy, films, television and comics. Unlike my earlier review on comedian Bob Franklin's book Under Stones where I felt like the writing had the potential to be quite good but was a little laboured, Oswalt's writing feels comfortable. He's found his voice and his writing, while funny, is quite profound and beautiful without being too literary-esque.
Although the book is definitely comedic, I was actually surprised how melancholy it seemed at times, especially in the stories We're Playing Snow Fort and Peter Runfola. These two stories are both about aspects of his life growing up, the first about the time he built a snow fort with some friends when he was around 10. He combines his adult voice and the knowledge that hindsight and adult understanding it contains with the youthful innocence of a ten year old. So he starts off by describing how one side of the fort was "50 feet tall" because he couldn't jump over it, and at that age anything he couldn't easily jump over had to be at least 50 feet tall. From there you see things through both sets of eyes, the older boys walking up the path with paper bags pretending to be cyborgs with silver paint around their mouths (i.e huffing paint fumes) or one of his friends' dads sneaking into the house of the married blonde woman across the street. So at the same time that you're reading Oswalt recollect the simple pleasure of building a snow fort with friends you're realising all the less than perfect things going on which would come to effect him later on.
Even if you haven't ever heard of Patton Oswalt, or even if you don't like his stand up I highly recommend this book. It's beautifully written, funny, a little off-beat and really, just a great read. Is there anything better?
My rating: 5/5