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John Belushi Is Dead

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture Posted by Joshua Chaplinsky

John Belushi Is Dead

"John Belushi is Dead" by Kathy Charles
Joshua Chaplinsky
Throw on some My Chemical Romance and grab those razor blades- it's time to get dark!

I think I just accidentally read a YA novel and I'm a little pissed about it.

Granted, there were no inter-Universal Monster romances, but I should have seen the signs- the atypical mass market meets trade product dimensions, the MTV Books imprint, the cover blurb from Stephanie Kuehnert (although to be fair, I had no idea who she was until I looked it up)- so I've got no one to blame but myself.

I considered bailing, but fuck it- I'm gonna write a review anyway. The publicist was pushing for it, and I can't be held responsible if they misjudged their target audience. If Belushi actually is a YA novel in disguise, it's gonna have to grow up, and fast. And if it isn't...

John Belushi Is Dead is the story of Hilda and Benji, two angsty alterna-teens on a whirlwind summer tour of LA's hottest celebrity death spots. On one such excursion, the aforementioned duo meet an elderly recluse, name of Hank. Hank is a man with secrets, possibly of the terrible variety, and Hilda makes her first friend since bonding over a moribund cat with Benji. But before you can say Harold and Maude, the May-December friendship is threatened by a handsome young screenwriter who proceeds to ingratiate himself into their lives. This is all uncharted territory for Hilda, and as she attempts to make sense of the situation she begins to- wait for it- realize there's a whole lot more to life than just death.

I'm a sucker for a good mystery, but the phase of emotional development inhabited by these characters leaves me with precious little to relate to. Don't get me wrong, I was angsty in high school too, but then I did a little thing called "growing up." Future Me would have hated Angsty Me, and rightly so. Current Me might have shared a commonality with the character of Hank, if his voice wasn't obviously that of someone much younger. In fact, the entire story is infused with a jejune worldview that ensures the alienation of anyone over a certain age. If you're a sixteen year old girl who's mad at daddy, you can disappear into these pages and get dark. For everyone else, not even allusions to Fatty Arbuckle raping a girl to death with a Coke bottle can elevate this to the level of an adult read.

Morbid little tidbits such as the alleged Arbuckling of that poor girl are definitely the book's selling point. The laundry list of Tinsel Town casualties referenced in the accompanying press release attest to that. Even the book's title, changed from the innocuous Hollywood Ending, pushes the celebrity death angle. Death is the new sex, and somebody's publicist knows it. And while I appreciate the research that went into the writing, the integration of said information is none too subtle. The references are more whistle and sledgehammer than wink and nod. This isn't Steve Erickson's Zeroville, where film is the blood that runs through the veins of the story (I know, I know- it is completely unfair to compare anything to Erickson,) this is a slit wrist gushing trivia all over your nice white floor.

And as for the mystery, there really isn't much of one. There is information withheld from us, and eventually we get it. The reveal serves the emotional needs of the narrative, but this isn't much of a detective story. It is worth noting that Charles doesn't sacrifice character development for plot twists. Now if only I cared about the characters. 

What else can I say? This was a complete mismatch, a blind date gone wrong. If the reading was a protracted evening of benign conversation and forced smiles, the review is most definitely the awkward end of the night, complete with insincere professions of "nice times had."

Alright, maybe I'm being a little more direct than that. Either way, both parties involved know there won't be second date.

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