Sunday, February 22, 2009


Manny Rupert is a former cop. He's kind of a former
junky. He's almost formerly married to Tina, a woman he met after answering a domestic call during which he discovered that she'd murdered her then husband by putting ground glass and Drano in his Lucky Charms. (He didn't put that in his official report, but he did marry her, and now she's divorcing him.)

As Pain Killers opens, Manny, who is now nominally working as a private investigator, discovers he's been the victim of a home invasion. He's knocked out while still trying to process the bizarre scene that's been left, and when he comes to he finds the home invader is still there. Harry Zell has come to hire Manny to go undercover in San Quentin to discover whether the inmate who's claiming to be Josef Mengele--uh huh, the Angel of Death, scourge of Auschwitz, reported dead in 1979 in Paraguay--really is who he says he is.

What else can he do? Manny has no other jobs, and no prospects. He's been ignoring notices of impending foreclosure for months and the love of his life--the admittedly borderline personality Tina--is divorcing him because he's the reason she's been making herself throw up (although she's been bulemic since she was nine). Manny heads up to San Quentin and then the antic fun really begins.

You could call Jerry Stahl, at least in this book, the poor man's Chuck Pahlaniuk. From the mold- and fungus-ridden trailer he's given as his digs at the prison (he's undercover as--ha ha--a drug counselor)--to the graphically surreal scenes of carnage at an L.A. dog pound where Mengele's recently worked to the experimental surgery that Manny wakes up to find being performed on him at one point, there are plenty of things that might make a grown man vomit. Although Stahl's not nearly the writer that Pahlaniuk is, he is certainly laugh-out-loud funny...sometimes uncomfortably so, but hell, I'll take my laughs where I can get them.

Jerry Stahl's early career involved TV writing and heroin addiction. He came to main stream attention with his 1995 memoir, Permanent Midnight, which, while it might not have been the first of the confessional memoirs to take the reader tweaking and puking along for the ride was among the first (and for sure among the best and funniest). His sitcom background trained him well, and shows especially in the snappy back and forth of his dialog.

Pain Killers is not a great book, but it is a good and a funny one. It's not for the weak of stomach or the faint of heart, and if you don't like a good Nazi or Jewish joke then you probably want to steer clear. But if you like gross out humor, far-fetched premises, and truly hilarious resolutions, pick it up. The book could have used a bit of judicious editing through the middle third, but still moves along at a fairly brisk clip.

Disclosure: In accordance with new FTC guidelines for bloggers I must let you know that I received a free review copy of this title.  My reviews are just that: reviews.  They are not endorsements, nor am I ever compensated for posting my opinion.

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