Sun. Dec 15th, 2019

Read 4 Fun

Read the short reviews, read the book, comment

Focus: Degrees of Separation

8 min read

Six Out Of Five: The Marc Richard Box Set by Marc Richard is a boxed set of six published works. It is available on Amazon in the form of a box set for USD 9.99. It is available as the single novel on Amazon for USD 6.99. I received a request from the author for a review of the boxed set and didn’t feel I had the time to review it. I agreed to read the selection reviewed here. I received no compensation in any form for the review. Degrees of Separation is so interesting I recommend readers at least download the free sample from Amazon. Give it a chance, you will be surprised.

I have no idea of why the title of the collection is phrased this way. The title of the collection was the first thing to puzzle me. The first tale, Degrees of Separation,  has 47 chapters and, having read it completely, I am going to let readers know how I should have read it. There is a difference between how I read it and how I should have read it. This selection requires some reader participation to make sense of the 47 chapters. It requires a plan, an approach. And even then complete understanding will not be yours. But you will have fun.

I found this selection to be unique in its organization, weird in its content, and very demanding in terms of time to read. I loved it. After completing this, I am looking forward to the other five offerings in the boxed set but, having been warned by this selection, I will approach the other five cautiously. I might get trapped anyway.

Looking at the time demand first, I am sure many readers have come across books with titles like “The 250 Best Jokes in the World” or “1834 Memorable Quotes.” Most readers would rightly not attempt to sit down and read such books. They are more for reference. If you tried to read the joke book completely through, you might get jaded after the first 100 or so jokes. You would not appreciate what came after of your attention would slip away to the point you are only reading words without meaning. On the one hand, this selection is like that. The humor, the asides the author makes to the reader, the absurd situations that are set up by this imaginative and talented writer (he denies his talent in chapter 47) require that you pay attention and even react. The selections are dense as far as humor (this is a good thing). Reading them all at once will lessen the appreciation of the talent. For this reason, I could only read five or six of the selections at one time.

Which leads to the next problem, also related to time. Think about 47 chapters. Think about the title. There are lots of connections to be made and the reader is kept busy reacting. It is not that always (I think rarely) that the connections are sequential. Now we come to the uniqueness of the organization. Example: Chapter one might relate to chapter two, there is a flow to chapter three, then the next connection is to chapter six, which relates back to chapter five or forward to chapter ten. So this is the time the reader should get an idea of what the phrase “degrees of separation” means. Here is a link to the Wikipedia page:

This is not a minor concept although it has become sort of a catchphrase in trendy circles where people use it perhaps without considering its true basic concepts. The author explains his idea of it in Chapter 47. I could have used the information earlier. But I didn’t have it so I charged right into reading the first ten chapters. I was entertained. I was amazed. I wondered how one person (the author) could establish such different points of view for all the characters. I got lost.

By Chapter 10, I decided to investigate the idea of degrees of separation before continuing. I went to the link above. I save time by providing the link to you so I don’t have to discuss the concept and I can move on to these fascinating chapters. Because of the necessary link between the selection title and the chapters, few of these chapters could stand alone as short stories without modification. To see some of the connections you have to know what the selection title means. I provided a link. I saved you some time. Be happy.

Now we come to the weirdness and unpredictability of the content. I will point to some, not all 47 chapters with examples that sort of jumped out of the bushes and ambushed me while I thought I was on a safe, predictable path. I could spend time on each chapter, but why? This entire selection is great. If the following five selections are as good, I have a long, pleasant, but bumpy (the ambushes) reading journey ahead. And a content note: The Chapter titles are hilarious in their own right; think about them.


Chapter 2: How She Does It       She doesn’t like working as a stripper. Tonight she is one of the last to leave. Before leaving she observes an ice cube on the bar. “She thinks that in a way the ice cube represents her life, but she’s not sure why. She was never good at metaphors.” (loc 38-39) How we get from this apathy to burning down the bar, I’m not sure, but there it is.

Chapter 3: I Understand The Plight Of The Manatee        “Jim Cyr couldn’t believe it as he watched the strip club he’d exited a couple of hours ago go up in flames.” (loc 84).

So here we see the simplest connection made. I won’t point out the connection points from each chapter. Without writing a spoiler, I will give you a clue that this chapter connects to one much further along in the book. Establishing and recognizing the connections is why the book is fun for the reader. I’ll look at a few other things.

Chapter 4: Will I Ever Make It Through This Clown Suit Dry-Cleaner Called Life Without Being Haunted By A Midget Named Dave Who Supposedly Grows Cigarettes From His Lips? (loc 208-209).

Here I just want to point out how cool the chapter titles are.

Chapter 6: I Really Don’t Enjoy Having My Pulse Taken Every Five Minutes          In this chapter I noted the seemingly aimless mind meanderings Marc Richard (the author) seems to take at times. Lance is reflecting. Steve was gone and Steve was his mentor. “He had never wanted a mentor, nor had he ever thought he’d needed one. He’d had Mentos once, and those were good. They were mellow and fruity. Just like himself. But a mentor? Never. And he never thought he would be anyone’s protégé. He owned a Mazda Protégé, but he never wanted to be one.” (loc 433-435)

Chapter 7: The Early Bird Special Is Only Worms           Here is one of the early places Richard plays with language. Later, in chapter 47, he will write about his difficulties with grammar and word order. Maybe he was commenting on this example. “He spotted the computer coming home from a late shift. He was coming home from a late shift, not the computer.” (loc 579)

Chapter 18: Nick, Mary, And Drew Part 5 (a.k.a. My Pet Goat)          Nick is packing to leave. He will take his goat, Biddy. This is his packing list. It reminds me of Steve Martin’s “Just one more thing” routine. The packing list: “In went his toothbrush, his razor, his alarm clock, his bowling trophy, a few books, his Discman, AA batteries for his Discman, the fifty or so CDs that he owned, including Barbara Streisand, Hall & Oates, “The Gentle Sound of Cockroaches”, “TV Themes”, Eric Carmen’s Greatest Hit, Wham!, Judas Priest, and lots of other things that are listened to by everyone, but admitted to by no one. In went his unfinished sandwich from last night, his latest urine sample, his body odor, his pillow, Biddy’s chew toys, Biddy’s goat food, pictures of his mother, toilet paper, a seizure.” (loc 1775-1779)

Chapter 31:        If you can find the connection from this chapter to any other, you deserve congratulations.

Chapter 33: G.G. Allin         Avoid this chapter if offensive language bothers you. There is something in this chapter to offend everyone except me. There are no penalties for skipping chapters.

Chapter 34: I’m Starting A Grassroots Campaign To Repair My Lawn                This is another case where Richard is talking to the reader. “Well, so much for relaxing. She stepped out of the shower and turned the water off. Actually, she turned the water off first, but does it really matter to you?” (loc 3343-3344).

Chapter 35: Bubble And Squeak      In this chapter Marc Richard wants to let you know he is hungry and he knows what to do about it.

Chapter 36: Who Do I Make Your Reality Check Out To?      The following line begins the chapter. How do you walk away from a line like this: “She lay there, her head on the gray pillow, and gave a sigh into the tiny gray room. It escaped her mouth and fell to the floor with an annoying thud.” (loc 3546-3547)

Chapter 40: A Virtual Tour Of North American Wildlife, Minus Pictures       I challenge anyone to keep up enough interest to read through this chapter word for word. The idea is clever and would make no sense without this title.

Chapter 43: Alexa Garbagemouth         Another example of Richard addressing the reader directly: “It would take chapters and chapters to explain the logistics of it, and by the end, you would probably politely put the book down and pick up your favorite Vonnegut novel. Which is quite fine, of course; I may do the same thing before I’m finished here.” (loc 4011-4012).

And the story ends with a self reflection by Travis Dunn in Chapter 47. Travis has been the narrator all along and may have a few things in common with the author but that is speculation. Travis is in possession of a gun, one which we saw in Chapter Three. The circle is complete.

On to “Harm’s Way,” the next selection.


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