Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Arcade of Cruelty: It's the reader that suffers

The Arcade of Cruelty
By Joseph Patrick Larkin

I really don't know what to make of this book, but I suppose that's kind of the point.  The author, Joseph Patrick Larkin, makes a point of presenting himself as kind of an asshole from the very beginning, but still giving himself enough leeway to get by, as if it's all a put-on.  And maybe it is, but it probably doesn't really matter; the idea here seems to be to present himself as a thoroughly awful human being.  

In fact, the whole thing is kind of a weird art project, without any actual author credit, and an introduction that posits that Larkin died in 2007, and the contents of the book have been put together from his remaining possessions.  This means we get a section that presents his junior high and high school yearbooks, defaced to give people horns, upside down crosses, and pentagrams, along with plenty of sexual comments.  Oh, what a riot, even at such a young age.

Unfortunately, it doesn't get much better from there.  Examples of ugly artwork lead to cartoons starring Larkin himself, almost always crudely depicting him from the shoulders up and presenting him as a misogynistic, unhappy jerk.  Occasionally, he gives advice; I guess the joke is that nobody would ask him for it.  Other times, he has a penguin stand-in named Mr. Toppins who seems to be basically the same character.  A typical example:

I did find a lenghty section about 9/11 to be a bit better, since the over-patriotic reaction is ripe for parody, but there's still little that is all that insightful, and nothing that pushes any boundaries that haven't already been pushed.  Here's a typical entry:

And so it goes, never really getting all that funny, but doing its best to offend.  I might have chuckled mildly here and there, but there was nothing that really triggered too much of a reaction either way.  Tellingly, there's a cartoon that parodies Johnny Ryan, but Ryan is much better at both offensiveness and humor (and cartooning, for that matter).  Larkin is definitely trying to make a statement here, and he's put together a nicely-designed tribute to himself, but he's got a way to go before he's going to be able to provoke a reaction beyond indifference.

If you're still interested, you can purchase the book at Larkin's website.  But I wouldn't really recommend it.