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#20 – The Buzzing

June 20, 2007

did i make me up, or make a face till it stuck, i do the best imitation of myselfAfter finishing The Buzzing, but before writing this post, I did a quick search on the author, Jim Knipfel.  Turns out he apparently has “left temporal lobe brain damage”, after being hit in the head in 1995.  So I’ve had to alter my planned review of this book somewhat: considering this book was written by a guy with brain damage, it’s not too bad.

My problem with The Buzzing was the characters – they’re completely insubstantial.  Everyone but the main character is either inconsistently written, one-dimensional or a total cliché, and the main guy manages to be all three at once.  Roscoe Baragon is a sloppily portrayed mishmash of geeky genre fantasies – a burnt out reporter in a trenchcoat who comes across like some kind of Hunter S. Thompson/Fox Mulder fanfiction.  The dialogue between the characters, consequently, is exactly what you would expect.  There’s nothing new or interesting happening here.

The saving grace of this book, and the reason I didn’t stop reading after 100 pages, is the subtle stuff behind the main narrative.  Baragon, a reporter for an insignificant New York daily paper, is known for writing on topics which no other reporters will touch.  As a result, he’s a target for all the crazies in town, and he’s constantly barraged by phone calls, e-mails and personal visits from conspiracy theorists.    This was actually very interesting – it seems like Knipfel’s had some real experience with the mentally ill, because all of this material is filled with realistically unsettling logic and non-sequiturs, without ever making fun.  Though we might not ever get to like Baragon as a character, it’s fascinating watching him deal with these people and gradually become one of them.

By and large, The Buzzing was a pretty unsatisfying read.  It definitely picked up as it went, and ended fairly strong, but the writing through most of the book was just too clumsy for me to get into it.  This is Jim Knipfel’s first and only novel; but he’s written a number of memoirs which are supposed to be very good.  I don’t think I’ll rush to check them out after reading this, but I won’t write Knipfel off as an author just yet either.

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