Satire, sleuthing, cricket and goose bumps


Satire, sleuthing, cricket and goose bumps

KERNEELS BREYTENBACH became fond of characters and discovered new writers who delight him and make us curious.


THERE is something delightfully philosophical about good satire. Satirists don't waste time with trivial problems. They're looking at the big picture. Seeking the truth behind it all. But unlike truthful philosophers, satirists measure their success by the laughter they provoke.

They know that humour (often gallows humour), irony and exaggeration are the best way to expose that big picture. They disentangle first, then reveal.

Smart satirist

In Last Acts, Alexander Sammartino proves himself to be a smart satirist. As a debut novel, it's a huge achievement — the kind of entry into the entertainment industry on which an entire career can be built.

Last Acts is a burlesque story about a father and son who are losers. David, the father, has never done anything that could be considered a success — a salesman who has tried to flog anything from cars to hotel Jacuzzis and has tried to portray himself as the master of the universe. He's not. Nick, his son, is a druggie.

They were initially estranged. David owns an arms dealership and Nick is in hospital after an overdose. Nick can't help but approach his father for help again. And then he comes up with an idea for an advertising gimmick with which he and his father suddenly achieve success.

The ad uses Nick's overdose to make David's weapons shop unique: “What separates us from all the other gun dealers in the desert, though, is our commitment to combating opioid addiction … At Rizzo's Firearms, we're shooting addiction dead."

Rizzo's Firearms is suddenly the place to go for people who need firearms. It is all for a good cause. But David and Nick are born losers.

Last Acts is a novel that strikes strong blows against the distortion of the capitalist system. It uses the US preoccupation with firearms, shootings in public places and the pain pill crisis to get us to see modern life in a different light. I often think the Americans are becoming totally unhinged, but Sammartino shows that within even the weirdest Yanks you will find the grain of true humanity.

What Sammartino clearly realised is that no one would be interested enough in losers to keep reading. But if their dream is big enough, everything changes.

One laughs quite a lot as the narrative progresses, albeit with a very nervous chuckle. In our country, have we not recently listened to a very sincere State of the Nation speech? Living satire.

Last Acts by Alexander Sammartino was published by Simon & Schuster and costs R571 at Exclusive Books.

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No-nonsense churchgoer

I last felt this way about a writer and detective when I read Lee Child's first Jack Reacher story. But this time it's an eccentric sleuth who describes herself as an “old, fat, black woman" who made me feel so good about life.

Her name is Glory Broussard and she is a churchgoer who is all too aware of life's contradictions. In fact, she creates a bunch of them herself and don't you mess with her about it. She doesn't like spineless cops. Especially not when they say her friend Amity, a nun with activist leanings, committed suicide. Danielle Arceneaux made me love Glory very much. Like Reacher, may she make life difficult for many more people.

Glory Be by Danielle Arceneaux was published by Pegasus Books and costs R570 at Exclusive Books.

Cricket in Karachi

Two girls of Pakistani descent, Zahra and Maryam, grow up together in Karachi in the Eighties. Zahra's father is a celebrity cricket commentator in a country where cricket is the second religion. Maryam comes from a family of businessmen.

More than 30 years later, they resume their friendship in London after the Brexit debacle. If you want to get to know and understand other cultural groups, especially when they migrate to a different environment, this novel is just what you are looking for.

But I was disappointed in the ending. The story sets out on a mission to unravel corruption but the subtlety of content and the denouement are in such a subdued tone that one wonders about the sincerity of the author's intentions.

Best of Friends by Kamila Shamsie was published by Bloomsbury and costs R358 at Exclusive Books.

Goose bumps

I'm a little tired of novels about murder and killing. For a novel to make me as nervous as this one is quite an achievement. Actually, it's the title that caught my attention, being someone who struggled quite badly with the grieving process. I was bitterly cynical about the idea behind the story — that people isolate themselves for a week to finish their grieving process. How on earth can anyone find closure in a week?

Rebecca Thorne (she previously published under the name Rebecca Tinnelly) spins a spectacularly scary story out of grieving. People who grieve can just as easily be killed as people who have their wits about them. I suspect Thorne has a macabre sense of humour, with all the wild allusions to death she makes when launching the main character, Blue Ford, in the direction of the Hope Marsh House, aka the Grief House. When Blue places her foot on the threshold, goose bumps appear. 

The Grief House by Rebecca Thorne was published by Bloomsbury and costs R465 at Exclusive Books.

♦ VWB ♦

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