Article first published as Book Review: 'What the Hell Was That?' by Jeffrey Friedberg on Blogcritics.
November 10, 2015
What the Hell Was That?:
New Story Collection Is Warp-Speed Ahead in Entertainment Value
Prepare yourself for a reading experience like none before—an experience that will leave you truly wondering, “What the hell was that?”
In his new collection, aptly titled, What the Hell Was That?, author Jeffrey Friedberg holds nothing back. We have a story set in the future in which a senior citizen’s inability to control a growing blob coming out of his sink drain with a government-authorized cleaning product might lead to his arrest; we have the story of an insane writer, Burke Hare, who lives in his own imaginary world, but in the real world, this eccentric millionaire also wants a body double—and oddly enough hires a sexy kick-ass girl for the role. And that’s only the start of the murder and mayhem sprinkled across nearly every page, along with a dash of sex—often with a comic twist—and best of all, nearly every page has a laugh-out-loud sentence—which may make this book all the scarier.
By the time you get to the space aliens possessing a character’s human body, you’ll be asking yourself how any author can be so funny, so grotesque, and yet so insightful about our own time and its quirky social problems? “Who is this guy?” you’ll ask. Shame on you. Jeffrey Friedberg should need no introduction to fans of humorous, fast-paced thrillers and sci-fi. He is best known as the creator of Detective Jack Vane, who has stunned readers with the unbelievably complex situations he has gotten himself into over the years in such novels as Red, White, and Dead; Red, White, and Dead Again; and Kill the Media. Jack would feel right at home in the world of Burke Hare in this collection’s title story. There’s also a story of politics and a hitman—right in the Jack Vane mafia friends vein.
But What the Hell Was That? also breaks new ground with sci-fi stories set in the future and in outer space, and perhaps most powerfully in the epic novella “Keepin’ Alive,” which speeds across the millennia of human history from the ice age and the first vegetarians to ancient Persia where we meet “the stud of Babylon” and his good-guy nemesis, and to the future where an ancient witch has a showdown with an adorable puppy to save the planet, and ultimately, we end up with a familiar face on a familiar beach—again: “What the hell was that?” you’ll find yourself asking.
It’s impossible really to describe Friedberg’s writing so here’s just a few paragraphs as a sample—one of the passages from the title story that I enjoyed about the eccentric writer—oh, I forgot to mention he’s a serial killer too—whose mind is getting the best of him:
“One day, while arguing the topic at a private dinner engagement, Hare had connected the changes made to his inner self as being due to social pressures. His public commitments, businesses, philanthropical organizations, and just being The Burke in general, had all taken their toll on him.
“‘Pressure, pressure…too much goddamned social pressure, Jeffrey,’ he’d told Dahmer.
“They’d each had another serving of the marvelous, slow-cooked, sage-rubbed ribs, with peppered ’kraut. And Hare had brought along a wonderful bottle of chilled Louis Roederer Champagne Brut Cristal.
“Good times, he liked to think.
“Sometimes, in blood rages, Hare ranted to himself how much he hated his life. The darkness of writing at 3 a.m., the daylight guilt about not writing, the goddamned critics, the germ-infested public, the fucking book signings, and the smothering demands of business. He loathed it all. He wanted it destroyed. He wanted it gone. He wanted to kill it—it was all just too demeaning even to dignify by his personage actually living amongst it.
“So he’d ultimately retreated to his deepest cave, where nothing—nothing—could sully his inherent worthiness and unbounded principles.
Of course, we all know Jeffrey Dahmer and the crimes he committed are not funny—but Friedberg likes to shock his readers that way—making the absurd seem humorous. He also makes us ask deeper questions about political correctness, the role of government and religion in our lives, and how the media is used to influence us. There isn’t any social institution or public personality too big or too sacred to get a gibe from his pen, and his fearless, flawless comedic timing will only leave you asking, “When the hell is Friedberg’s next book coming out?”
The book is available at Amazon.
— Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. and award-winning author of The Children of Arthur series
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