– Out of Whack –
“It should be pointed out that real life-panties don’t quite tear the way they do in the movies. ” – Seth Trexler
Out of Whack is the fictional autobiography of Seth Trexler, an aspiring horror writer turned comic, romantically challenged, big-hearted goofball. Along with Travis Darrow, his best friend since age 10, we follow Seth as he progresses through high school and into college. Along the way Seth gets drunk for the first time (which leads to meeting the woman of his dreams in a less than smooth manner), loses his virginity in hilarious fashion (see the quote that starts this review), and pursues a career in sketch comedy (despite having a paralyzing fear of public speaking).
Throughout it all Seth and his companions display the irreverent, self-depreciating humor for which Strand’s characters have come to be known, and the plot strikes the perfect balance between Animal House style madness and sneakily subtle self-reflection on serious topics such as love, friendship, and having the courage to follow your dreams.
And in one of the touches that are hallmarks of Strand’s books, the presentation of the book itself is a bit, well, wacky. The table of contents includes “chapter” listings such as: The first twenty pages (1-20), The next twenty pages (21-40), Perfect bowling score (300), Amount in my bank account ($1.57), and Page one-hundred-and-sixteen (243). Out of Whack also comes complete with a faux, ready-made book report provided by the fictional Seth for any students who may have purchased his book to use for that purpose, as well as an “Out of Whack Activity Page” (Because I care so much about you, the reader, I hereby give you this mostly-blank page to use for whatever you want. Enjoy!) conveniently located between chapters twenty-nine and thirty.
Out of Whack is a coming of age story as only Jeff Strand could tell.
– Elrod McBugle on the Loose –
“I don’t try to cause turmoil and wreak havoc and produce mayhem and blow things up. It just happens.” – Elrod McBugle
When he manages to get sent to the principal’s office in his very first hour of junior high it’s abundantly clear that Elrod McBugle has a unique talent for getting into trouble. Be it selling the results of a science experiment gone awry to his classmates as bubblegum (with hilariously disastrous consequences), starting a riot at the school talent show (Elrod + teacher + kiss = mayhem), enlisting the Assistant Principal in the cover-up of the faux kidnapping of Elrod’s teddy bear (long story), or setting out to prove his math teacher is an axe murderer (well, there is an axe involved), there’s no denying that Elrod’s first year of junior high is one for the ages.
As with Out of Whack, Elrod McBugle on the Loose has a unique presentation. Each chapter ends in a goofy 3 question quiz based (more or less) on the events of the preceding chapter because, as Elord puts it, “I figure if I had to be tested on this stuff as I lived it, you might as well be tested on it as you read it. It’s only fair.”
Though technically a young adult novel, Elrod’s painfully accurate takes on those awkward first steps into the “next level” of education will have adults nodding their heads in wry remembrance. From start to finish – and all quizzes in between – Elrod McBugle on the Loose is a literally laugh-out-loud funny trip back to junior high.
– Andrew Mayhem Series –
“Sometimes you wake up in the morning and you just know it’s going to be the kind of day where you end up tied to a chair in a filthy garage while a pair of tooth-deprived lunatics torment you with a chainsaw.” – Andrew Mayhem
Unfortunately for him, that quote describes a not atypical day in the life of the aptly named Andrew Mayhem. Andrew’s biggest problem is that he’s not half as smart as he is a smart-ass. Add that to poor impulse control and a profound lack of appreciation for long term consequences and you have a character prime for some serious misadventures.
When we first meet Andrew in Graverobbers Wanted (No Experience Necessary), his misadventure takes the form of Andrew and best friend Roger agreeing to dig up a grave to retrieve a key the deceased was inadvertently buried with. Or so the beautiful, mysterious woman who offers them big money for the job claims. Let’s just say that while there is a body in the grave, not only is it not quite dead, it’s armed and highly pissed off. And that’s the high point of the book for Andrew, who ends up investigating a duo of murderous hand puppets who make snuff films (I assure you it really does make sense), playing a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with the killer, and having his children kidnapped by the killer as a setup for their final showdown.
Andrew’s further misadventures continue in Single White Psychopath Seeks Same (where Andrew ends up being forced to pose as a serial killer in order to infiltrate a group of people playing Saw-esque games with their victims at a remote murder-lodge in Alaska), and Casket for Sale (Only Used Once) (in which a Mayhem family camping trip goes horribly awry, complete with a mad scientist conducting hideous experiments at his hideout deep in the woods).
Make no mistake about it, though they contain a heaping helping of Strand’s signature dark humor the Andrew Mayhem series is also most definitely horror. People get tortured and killed in horrible ways, and on more than one occasion Andrew is placed in the position of having to make some truly disturbing choices. It’s a testament to Strand’s ability as a writer that he’s able to present seriously stomach turning gross outs while still maintaining a strong thread of dark humor.
Coming Tomorrow: A review of Kutter.