Mike Nelson's Death Rat!
US Trade Paperback
Publication Date: 04-15-2003
325 Pages; $14.95
Date Reviewed: 04-22-03
Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 2003
Yes, you'll laugh out loud, and often. When you're not laughing out loud, then you'll have a smirk on your face that will make people think something is wrong with you, if they don't look at the cover of the book you're reading and know something is wrong with you. 'Mike Nelson's Death Rat!' is one of those no-brainer novels that you sit down to read for a moment, just to pass a couple of minutes. An hour later you'll look up with a smug smile on your face and wonder how 70 pages passed so quickly. Nelson -- Michael J, not Mike -- is smooth. Mike, on the other hand is like one of those loud guys at the party who you're laughing both at and with. (No, he's not the guy from 'Sea Hunt'.) The jokes are funny even if they're really stupid, or maybe the jokes just make you stupid. But there's a bit more going on here than just summer silliness, though that would be enough. Here's a tip. Don't let Michael J. Nelson write, say, your self-evaluation for the boss. He's a cruel bastard, as cruel as the humor requires and then just a little bit more. Look what Michael J. Nelson does to his poor characters in 'Mike Nelson's Death Rat!'
'Mike Nelson's Death Rat!' is not actually Michael J. Nelson's 'Death Rat', nor is it Pontius Feeb's 'Death Rat'. It's the story of Pontius Feeb, a writer of breathtaking ineptitude whose every failure provides Mike Nelson with an opportunity to make the reader laugh at Pontius and definitely not with him. Pontius Feeb lives a life that is no laughing matter. Old, single, lonely, fired from his job as a bad writer of bad books and bad magazines articles for boring magazines he takes his inspiration from his hatred of the talentless hacks who haunt the bestseller lists. It's not that these guys are particularly better writers, but they're verifiably better looking. In Michael J. Nelson's vision of the publishing world, looks are everything.
When Feeb authors 'Death Rat', he's told that it's a ripping good read, but that it can't be sold because he looks like a guy who would write boring articles for boring magazines, thank you very much, please don't come again. He hires Jack Ryback, a handsome actor and coworker at Medieval Burger to front for him, but Ryback sells 'Death Rat' not as a novel, but as non-fiction. Feeb's story becomes a non-fiction bestseller, so Feeb and Ryback have to hotfoot it to Holey Minnesota, population 38, to set up a hoax that backs up the outlandish story in the novel.
Nelson (Michael J.) is at his best when he's making fun of Feeb's writing, popular culture, best selling author Gus Bromstad (I'm thinking he's a thinly disguised Garrison Keillor) and pop music in the form of King Leo (a diaphanously disguised Prince). That covers a lot of the novel, so readers are in for a generally good time. Don't drink milk while reading the novel unless you want it to come spraying out of your nose.
But Nelson (Michael J.) doesn't pull his punches. Feeb is truly pathetic. He's a true loser. When he has opportunity to turn life's lemons into lemonade, he screws the pooch, just like most of the folks who read this book either have or will. Romance blooms, but then withers under his inept assault. He doesn't just start dressing nicely and find that he's actually quite studly. Feeb is ground beneath the wheel of the publishing industry, which I might hazard to guess hasn't been so kind to Nelson (Michael J.) either. Well, they should be thankful this time round, because this cheesy paperback is just the kind of thing to help you forget for a few seconds that the world is going to hell faster than ever before. Yes, it's always going to hell faster than ever before, but readers in the past haven't had the good fortune to have 'Mike Nelson's Death Rat!' to help them pass the time. If you even think for a second that you might enjoy a novel like 'Mike Nelson's Death Rat!', then the chances are that you will. And if not, if you buy this novel and don't enjoy it, then just figure that life's played a cruel trick on you. Do you deserve it? Probably not. Will it happen again? Certainly. Life, like humor has a propensity for cruelty. You'd best get used to it.