Weird, quirky, and geeky as Hell, Damned Lies had me laughing out loud more than once. Liggio combines absurdist humour and the picaresque in a manner reminiscent of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Don’t get me wrong; this novel does have its flaws but overall it was a very fun read.
The premise of the novel is referenced in the title: the author is bed-ridden after a traffic accident and decides to spend his newly freed time writing his memoirs. Whether due to embellishment on his part or a recent concussion, what emerges is a strangely supernatural ramble through the worlds of fantasy, sci-fi, and horror fiction. Ominous births, crazy dates, and metafictional brothers are all introduced and dismissed within the first fifth of the novel, giving you a taste of what’s to come. Damned Lies primarily focuses on a bizarre summer journey, which takes place the summer after the protagonist’s high school graduation, and the machinations of the clone he creates to stand in for him. As you may have guessed by now, this is not a novel that takes itself seriously.
As usual, I’ll start with the good: this novel is most definitely a product of the internet. If you regularly frequent sites like TV Tropes, 4chan, or Reddit, you’re already familiar with the sarcastic style that Liggio adopts. It’s what is probably best defined as pastiche, and refers to a style that lovingly imitates even as it mocks a given genre or text. Many of the staples of Geek culture are here: the zombie apocalypse scenario, the anime-style mech warrior, unexplained encounters with insanity and the supernatural. If you are a denizen of the net, you will probably like this book.
Of course, the downside of online content is also reflected: you get short bites of everything but large helpings of nothing. Damned Lies is by nature a rambling narrative, and there are times when this means that the narrative seems incomplete, skipping from one story line to another without fully explaining what has happened to the supporting characters. If you enjoy a novel of chance encounters with weirdness, then this is precisely the novel for you. If, on the other hand, you dislike leaving subplots unfinished you may want to brace yourself. Damned Lies often abandons a subplot just as you’re getting to enjoy a setting or set of characters, and with the exception of those characters presented in the frame narrative, none are ever really returned to. This also means that you may leave one highly enjoyable narrative story line to be thrust into a tedious one (for me, this was the hobo boxing chapters).
But wait! I said I’d discuss the good before the bad. This novel appeals to my fetish for paratext: the author includes a smattering of footnotes, usually offering sarcastic commentary on the text itself. This is no House of Leaves level of paratext, mind you, but seeing footnotes pop up here was encouraging. I’ve often wondered why e-book publishers don’t make better use of paratext given how easy they are to access when reading a novel on a Kindle. It is one of the few ways that digital books have an advantage over traditionally published novels, and in my opinion more authors should take advantage of it, either to add commentary, as happens here, or simply to
screw with the reader introduce additional levels of narration as happens in HoL.
One problem that may not be a problem is that the protagonist remains unnamed throughout the novel. I’m sure that this was intentional, and is probably done ironically (intent on memorializing his own life, the protagonist ends up fictionalizing the majority of it and fails to even state his name. Maybe it’s the footnotes talking, or my inner English student, but I got a strong “channelling Byron” vibe from aspects of this novel. Unfortunately I cannot recall whether Byron ever names himself as the narrator of Don Juan or Childe Harold, but to the best of my memory the answer is no. So it may be that Liggio is doing this ironically, or that it’s some shout out to a past master of the picaresque, or that it’s simply a happy accident. In any case, it may be read as a wise decision. Unfortunately, it also seems out of character for the narrator himself. He seems like the sort of fellow who would at least give us an internet-style pseudonym (probably with a few pages description of why he chose the pseudonym and how it’s far more representative of his character than his “birth name”). The protagonist is full of himself, to say the least, and while his is a hilarious, generally non-threatening level of narcissism, he doesn’t exactly come across as the type to leave his accomplishments unclaimed, whether they be real or fictionalized.
Unfortunately, the biggest problem of all was copy editing! I hate coming across books that need copy editing, because it’s such a tiny problem and yet it has such a substantial influence on the way the book is perceived. In this case, the issue was usually bad grammar or the use of words that were outright wrong in context. To use a particularly noteworthy example:
From some well deep within the caverns of my being, sometimes screamed in defiance, a howl that rose from those depth and out through my being. [Emphasis added]
It’s a tongue-in-cheek novel, so the effect isn’t as devastating as it would have been had the tone been entirely serious, but these little errors still detract from the work’s overall presentation. I nabbed this copy of the book from Story Cartel, so it is theoretically possible that these errors have been fixed in the published copy of the novel, but if not, they’re really something that should be addressed. The internet is notorious for its nitpickers and its grammar Nazis. You don’t want to turn your target audience against you with a few ill-chosen words.
Overall Rating: 3.5/5 (4/5 minus .5 for errors)
Read it if: You’re a self-proclaimed geek looking for a modern satire.
Skip it if: You’re looking for a single, serious, sustained narrative and/or you think that sarcastic nerdy fiction should stay on obscure internet forums.