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An outlandish life makes for hilarious novel

bookIrish novelist Kennedy Marr is making millions of dollars through the sale of his books and as a Hollywood scriptwriter. Directors vie for his scripts, actresses and actors want to perform in his movies, and a university in England offers him a fabulous sum to teach for one year.

Kennedy is also a first-class jerk. He drinks and smokes daily to excess, brawls like a sailor with anyone who crosses him, and puts more women to bed than a rock star. He ignores his dying mother, neglects his ex-wife and daughter, refuses to return desperate phone calls from his agent, and owes the IRS over a million in taxes.

In Straight White Male (Black Cat Press, 2013, paperback, 374 pages, $15), John Niven gives us a hilarious story of a writer gone mad on money and success. Despite all his shortcomings — his wild womanizing, his drinking (Marr makes the characters in Hemingway’s novels look like teetotaling aunts), his kiss-off attitude toward his obligations — Kennedy is indeed, as one reviewer put it, a “most lovable rogue.” On page after page, Niven gives us great comedy. 

Here, for instance, is Marr on his first day of teaching class. He was supposed to read 200 writing samples by students wishing to sit in the classes, but being Kennedy Marr he instead delivers a karate kick to the piles of papers and takes the first 20 he picks from the floor. Then in his first class:

“Seven undergraduate faces: four guys and three girls. (Yeah, he really should have thought this through.) Besides this Tim now speaking there was another pimpled late-teens bumboy who was staring at Kennedy like he was the burning bush and an older mature-student-type guy, in his mid-thirties Kennedy guessed, sitting with arms folded in ‘impress me’ manner. Among the women was another mature student, around his own age with a savage wedge of hair and a sizable butt encased in enough loose denim to carpet the room, a studious-looking girl of about twenty already frantically taking notes, and finally, at the back … hello.”

Soon, of course, he is sleeping with this student.

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When his debt to the IRS forces Marr to take the teaching job, he slowly finds himself wrapped up once more in the lives of those he once loved. In one of the sweetest scenes in the novel, he reunites with his dying mother; he later tried to grapple with his sister’s suicide; he tries, again comically, to reconnect with his daughter.

To follow this book to its close would spoil the plot for readers. Suffice it to say that this is easily the funniest novel I have read in quite a while. Not everyone will enjoy its raw humor, but it had me laughing out loud.

•••

In Food: A Love Story (Crown Archetype, 2014, 341 pages, $26), comedian Jim Gaffigan, author of Dad Is Fat and star of several comedy specials, gives us his take on food — the funniest and most unusual take on cooking and eating (mostly eating) that I’ve come across. Famous for his “Hot Pocket” skit and for his comedy about living with his wife and five young children in a two-bedroom walk-up in Manhattan, Gaffigan here shares his love of food. Well, most foods: he doesn’t care for everything in the grocery store. For example, he despises seafood. Of oysters, he has this to say: “Often on the menu, oysters will be listed as ‘oysters on the half shell.’ As opposed to what? ‘In a Kleenex?’”

Food is a book that tempts the reviewer to simply snatch quotations out of the text, a temptation I to which I am now going to yield.

Gaffigan on cheese curds: “I don’t really know what cheese curds are. I guess they are like the cookie dough of cheese. Either way, cheese curds sound pretty unhealthy and are a key element of the Canadian national treasure, poutine. In Wisconsin they have deep-fried cheese curds, which taste like French fries and heaven had a baby.”

On biscuits and gravy: “Most amazingly, people in the South are eating biscuits and gravy for breakfast. Yes, breakfast. They aren’t coming home drunk late at night slurring, ‘I’ll eat anything.’ They are waking up thinking, Time for cement!”

On Smartwater: “Recently, I tried Smartwater, which has electrolytes in it, and it’s supposed to replenish your body better than regular bottled water, therefore making you, I guess, smarter. I tried it, and it totally worked. I am now much smarter. Now I only drink tap water.”

On fortune cookies: “Baker: ‘Oh, you have to try the new cookie I created. Tell me what you think.’ Sampler: ‘Okay. (Chewing) Interesting. You know what this could use? Paper. This would be good for holding a note. Like maybe for a fortune or a recipe for a good cookie.’ Baker: ‘Oh. How much should I charge for them?’ Sampler: ‘I’d give them away with the check. You got a spit bucket around here?’”

On McDonalds, where Gaffigan sometimes eats, but is embarrassed to be seen: “‘What are you doing here, Jim?’ Not wanting to embarrass and humiliate myself by admitting I’m there for the food, I say, ‘Oh, I’m just meeting a hooker. He should be here by now.’”

Jim Gaffigan, promoter of hot dogs, cheeseburgers, waffles, ketchup, and much more, but mostly one of the funniest comedians working today.

(Jeff Minick is a writer and teacher. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

Straight White Male by Kennedy Marr. Black Cat Press, 2013. 374 pages

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