JoeyPinkney.com Book Review
A Strange, Sickly Beauty
4 out of 5 Stars
Poetic in its approach and casual in its execution, Jon Dambacher’s sophomore effort “A Strange, Sickly Beauty” gives the gruesome gist of a lowly lobster being boiled alive within the first few paragraphs. What happens after that is a kaleidoscope of imagery and reflection used to make the reader analyze his or her own thoughts on love, life and religion.
Somewhere in the trauma of being turned into a meal, that protagonistic lobster transcends time and space, transforming into a sentient being. Reading “A Strange, Sickly Beauty” is like experiencing your country through the eyes of a foreigner. As the lobster becomes cognizant of his new life, he begins to explore the intersection of Sunset and Western in Los Angeles, CA, with curious eyes. Lobster has conversations with three homeless creatures: a manatee, a fish and a turtle.
Lobster initiates his journey to enlightenment by striking up a conversation with a homeless homosexual manatee who is fairly content at minding his business while stationed with his various belongings at the side of a building. The manatee speaks of a love lost and tells Lobster about the pitfalls of falling in love. Although somewhat graphic and violent, the manatee’s story was also interesting in the way he defined love when asked by Lobster.
The hyper-religious bluefin fish’s dialogue contains 80% Scripture, 5% profanity and 15% actual communication. Although Lobster’s conversation with this zealous “Christian” may be misconstrued as mockery, their dialogue has room for much introspection and discussion. Some of the most fundamental questions are often overlooked by everyday people, and Lobster asks the basics right off the bat. What is love? What is sin? What is God? You may know, but this story may spark you to expand that thought to a more refined level .
The idyllic mantra of the homeless turtle telling his tale of loss and liberty will divide readers into two camps: those who understand and those who yearn for worldly possessions. There is no right nor wrong; you either agree or disagree. Scraping scraps from a scripted life, these encounters are fiercely intense, piercing the assumed comforts of living in present-day societies where your worth is based on how well you “fit in” and “go with the flow”.
One thing that I did not like about this book was the consistent use of “&” for the word “and”. I understand that writers have their styles of expression and that some of them veer off the “beaten path”. It was awkward reading a sentence that began with “&”. After a while, the pages seemed sprinkled with &s, and that became distracting. I also thought some of the dialogue and narration was too dense and wordy. I think that this is a Catch 22 for Jon Dambacher. On one hand, he wants to keep the readers engaged and entertained. One the other hand, he wants to provoke thought. To balance education and entertainment, Dambacher had to ebb and flow between the two, sometimes at the cost of one or the other.
Deceptively cartoonish, “A Strange, Sickly Beauty” can be thought provoking to the open minded. Sifting through the shifting dialects of the various characters, a challenge is revealed. The challenge is to question your own time-hardened beliefs. The power in “A Strange, Sickly Beauty” comes from the Lobsters’s ability to make you think as he asks some of the simplest questions.
If you want to breeze through a book and be handed every idea, concept and meaning throughout the journey, “A Strange, Sickly Beauty” is not the book for you. Although it’s not huge on word count, it is very heavy in the thought-provoking department. Jon Dambacher seeks to challenge the reader to venture to ask what is really important about the precious time we are given to live. For many readers, “A Strange, Sickly Beauty” may do just that.