The Residents have always had a novelistic aspect to their lyrics. Since 1988’s God in Three Persons, they’ve grown into superb storytellers. (Which is not to say that they didn’t tell stories with their previous work; narrative has always been a core to who the Residents are, though albums like Eskimo or Mark of the Mole took more impressionistic methods to spin their tales, rather than through monologue and dialogue.) It stands to reason that the Residents would eventually branch out into books — and their latest novel, The Brickeaters, definitely feels like a Residents project.
The Brickeaters follows the story of Franklin Blodgett, an alcoholic freelance writer from Los Angeles who hears a strange news brief about an old man abandoned dead on the side of the highway with a gun and oxygen tank in the small town of Clinton, Missouri. The bizarre circumstance piques Blodgett’s interest, and figuring it’d be more interesting than staying at home, drinking and mourning the end of his marriage, books a trip to get to the bottom of the story.
The book is definitely noirish in feel — and definitely Residential — as Blodgett meets all sorts of freaks and weirdos, including a paramilitary nut with a bizarre plan to fight the fluoridation of water, a nearly comatose old woman who, Blodgett is assured, is getting much better, and a woman who may or may not have fucked a chimpanzee. (Oddly, not the first mention of chimp sex in the Residents’ oeuvre; though in “Mickey the Mumbling Midget” from Freak Show, at least it was chimp-on-dog action.)
A major theme of the novel is parenthood and, more directly, the death of parents. Nearly every character — even those that only appear once — in the book is struggling with parents who have recently died or are dying. One of the central mysteries involves trying to find a replacement parental figure — though, considering it’s a noir novel, you can guess about how well that goes for everyone involved.
Though The Brickeaters has been called the Residents’ first novel, that’s not entirely true. A few years ago, there was a novel adaptation of their CD-ROM game Bad Day on the Midway credited to Talking Light-era lead singer Randy Rose. Of course, being a point-and-click adventure game, the Bad Day novel almost acted like a playthrough guide for the original. (For an actual, albeit brief look at the game, check out PushingUpRoses’ review.)
While The Brickeaters is an original book, not based on any prior Residents work, it feels like it’d make for a wonderful point-and-click adventure. While reading, you can pick out the bits that would make for great, game-ending puzzles and where potential “Bad Endings” would be. But given how rare point-and-click adventures are nowadays, it’s a welcome return of the genre, albeit in non-game form. (And if anything, it made me wish for a novelization of the aborted I Murdered Mommy game, which was killed by the end of the CD-ROM market.)
If you’re a fan of the Residents — and/or these sorts of games — you’ll definitely want to check out The Brickeaters. It’s a quick, fun read, and The Residents’ gift for characterization is on display, even if the writing occasionally veers into the idiosyncratically clumsy. Kisses are always “smackers,” regardless of whether or not it’s a friendly peck or full-on necking, and The Residents have a bit of a predilection to put things in ALL CAPS! SOMETIMES WITH MULTIPLE EXCLAMATION POINTS!!! But, to be fair, I’d imagine at least that is due to writing words meant to be performed in a theater or album setting, where the right emphasis and delivery is important. And, well, it does work to that end — you can definitely hear the singing Resident deliver the book in your head.
While there’s room for improvement, particularly in making sure The Brickeaters works as a book rather than an album, it’s very much worth reading. I welcome any further literary exploits from The Residents, and can’t wait to read what they’ve got next. In fact, you could say, I would LOVE ANOTHER RESIDENTS NOVEL!!!!!
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