BOOK REVIEW: A Confederacy of Hot Dogs by Christoph Paul

So, on the last episode of Bold Words (E07), I talked about attending AWP’s writing conference. In case you didn’t know, AWP is the “Association for Writers and Writing Programs” and once a year they hold the largest conference for indie publishers and universities in North America. I know–it’s pretty much as bad as it sounds. If you want the rundown of my experience, head on over to Soundcloud or Youtube to hear the recap, cause today, we’re gonna do a bit of a book review.

So the biggest deal at AWP is the bookfair–at least that’s the impression I’ve gotten from the people I talk to. There are panels and seminars and readings and some person who does a big speech on opening night–though last year was some woman named Azar Nafisi and I have no idea who she is or what she’s notable for–but everyone talks about how big the bookfair is. The bookfair contains hundreds of individual tables with publishers–usually small presses and lit magazines–along with university table programs and magazines, and whatnot. I came home with ten books, two of them were George Saunders’, one was given to me, and I bought the rest. I’m going to give a review on 3 books I bought from The Clash Books table, though only two of the novellas were actually published by this press. The third I bought was written by one of the founders of the press, but published via a different press.I stopped there because of the “Keeping LIT in Literature” banner simply because it seemed humorous and I’m always looking for fun, playful stories. So I started talking to the three manning the booth and they were all very delightful to talk to, but that made it all the more disappointing when I actually read the works… So let’s get started… with the review and lots of opinions for the first book…:

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A Confederacy of Hot Dogs by Christoph Paul

 

The following is the description from Goodreads:

Phil LoPresti hates everything except his girlfriend Missy, the band Swans, and Clive Barker (except for the film Nightbreed—he hates that film most of all). He channels his misanthropy into his poetry and art photography but feels even more discouraged when no one buys his brilliant art. He shares his disgust by writing angry ALL CAPS posts on Facebook attacking all the mediocre writers on his ‘friends’ list.

Needing money to get Missy off his back, Phil enters an art & photography contest. He visits a cancer ward for inspiration and steals ‘artistic materials.’ Phil creates what he feels is his ultimate masterpiece. Unfortunately, an elderly woman drops dead upon first glance at Phil’s ‘artwork.’ Her grieving family sues him. Desperate for money, he stumbles upon a mafia money-laundering job selling hot dogs, but that is only the beginning of his problems. Faced with jail time and losing the love of his life, Phil embarks upon a madcap journey through Jersey in this laugh-out-loud irreverent romp into the dark side of art and love.

Christoph Paul was actually manning the table with his Clash Books co-founder (who is also an author) and Maxwell Bauman, another author published by Clash and a writer I also bought the work of. I’ll be reviewing his work next. I was excited to talk to the people at this table because once I engaged them, they became alive. Like most people at the AWP tables, they were pretty much minding their own business up until someone approached them of their own accord (not a great sales strategy, but I digress). I asked them comedy and weird and Christoph Paul was so energetic as he told me about this book he wrote. It’s satire, it’s humorous, it’s playful. I said I’ll take it!

I probably should have looked a bit more into it or thought twice when I read the word misanthropy, not because that automatically means a bad book, but it can often lead towards a nihilistic outlook and I have a hard enough time empathizing with characters, let alone characters who hate everything and have no redeeming qualities.

When I bought this book, I didn’t know anything about Phil LoPresti? But as I got through it, I got the feeling that Phil LoPresti was a real person and this was a sort of fanfiction, in a way. Think of Tina from Bob’s Burgers and her friend fiction. If Phil LoPresti is a real person, then this is fanfiction of a real person–unless Paul is friends with LoPresti, in which case, it’s friend fiction, and for all I know, they are friends.

Because Paul actually writes himself into this novel. There were so many things that made me dislike this novella, and I couldn’t really think it was funny either. Some of the straight-forward dialogue could have been great for satirical value and at times it felt mildly reminiscent of Sexual-Lobster’s dialogue, albeit less polished, but it still could have gotten me there if the whole thing wasn’t so… much. So, let’s see if I can figure out where to start….

This work feels like it was published well before it was ready, it felt like an earlier draft, but worse than that, it felt like I was being screamed at by progressive garbage. I wasn’t sure what was satire and what wasn’t as the main character is obsessed with menstruation. Most of his art is about menstruation, he tells an old man in a cancer ward he’s basically obsessed with menstruation, and then later decides to do a major art project using bloody tampons out of a dumpster and declares this great art. Now, I would think this is satire on the state of the art community if I wasn’t so confused on whether this guy was seriously making fun of it or not… With ‘art pieces’ like Piss Christ and Buzzfeed’s new favorite past time literally painting with period blood and this woman collection 200 gallons of her own urine to protest Trump all being heavily praised by progressives as beautiful and innovative and empowering, I find it difficult to pinpoint when a progressive is being serious or laughing…

The main character of this 92-page novella, Phil, is insanely unlikeable in every way and I can’t think of any redeeming qualities. He’s selfish, nihilistic, disgusting, hateful, lazy, and self-righteous. He rants about every other page on how much he hates pedophiles as soon as the idea of pedophilia is introduced around page 20 when he walks into a Subway shop and demands a free sandwich because “Jared tricked me into giving him money and he’s a pedo and now I’m addicted to your sandwiches so you owe me.” Freaking freeloader with no job. Yes, pedophilia is bad, but you’re doing your readers a disservice by thinking you need to reiterate your points continuously.

You know why he has no job? Because he has such an attitude due to being a reject. In the first two or three pages, he’s introduced as a store clerk for some places basically like Hot Topic or Spencers. He’s told to sell shirts for some movie he hates and he rails at his boss about how shitty the movie is and he’d rather sell it as toilet paper–granted, as long as you’re selling the merchandise, who cares? The writer takes this opportunity to also throw punches at Fallout Boy for being too mainstream as a customer walks in wearing a Fallout Boy shirt. Rather than coming off as funny or ironic, this actually made me view the author as being bitter that his work wasn’t mainstream. I put this in context with how desperately Phil, the novella’s main character, wanted his art to be liked.

Throughout the story, Phil logs onto Facebook and trash talks all the people in his feed for not understanding what real art is or what real writers are–as the synopsis above mentioned and yes, he actually does put this in the book in all caps. There are so many caps lock moments in this story, it’s one of the reasons the reader may end up feeling yelled at after the time spent reading–that and the repetition of the points made throughout. It’s not just his online rants that are capsed, but a majority of his swearing and insults are also capsed and it’s… Obnoxious.

It feels like a 14-year-old boy has gotten on the internet for the first time and is shooting loose all the words his mama told him not to say. Example? Here’s an excerpt from one of the first internet rants:

“YOU FUCKS! I HAVE POETRY AND PHOTOGRAPHS FOR SAE AND YOU’D RATHER BUY TALKING PENIS BOOKS! DON’T YOU SEE I’M A GREAT GODDAMN ARTIST! NOT BECAUSE I’M THAT GREAT, BUT BECAUSE SO MANY BOOKS RIGHT NOW ARE SO FUCKING BAD. YOU SHOULD BE THANKING ME FOR CREATING ART THAT IS ACTUALLY DECENT!!!! I SHOULD QUIT WRITING SO YOU FUCKS CAN GO EAT YOUR QUINOA AND DRINK YOUR MICRO BREWS WHILE READING YOUR TALKING DICK VAGINA BOOKS UNTIL YOU CHOKE TO DEATH ON YOUR HIPSTER FOOD AND BEER. IF YOU HAVE ANY DECENCY AND HUMANITY, INSTEAD, YOU’D BUY MY LATEST BOOK WITH THE LINK AT THE BOTTOM! BUY IT YOU FUCKS!!!!!!!!!” (pp. 5)

I could laugh at the irony of this if it didn’t seem like the true sentiment behind the book. I think it’s hilarious how many people in art and business attack the people they’re trying to get to buy from them–as if it will bring people to you. It’s also mildly funny that he comments about talking dick/vagina books when the author, Paul, is at a press with people who write about taking genitals and I’ll get into that with my review of Maxwell Bauman’s book, The Anarchist Kosher Cookbook. Bauman’s book literally features a burning bush of pubic hair that talks.

Something else Paul does, that I thought was peculiar, is that he inserts himself into the story, particularly around the use of Facebook. Phil knows Christoph Paul on Facebook and there are two things he usually mentions: one, he mentions Paul is a Jew and two: he mentions how cool/good/decent Paul is:

His writer friend, Christoph Paul, who was a decent guy, for a hack Jew writer, commented, “Why don’t you say something political with menstrual blood, you know, like symbolism. The art scene might like that.” (pp. 5)

This, in general, is just poor craftsmanship in writing. You should never try to insert character details into the name tags. But this book seems pretty full of undeveloped writer mistakes. Tags should ONLY be used to show who is talking, not add in whatever side information about the character you can possibly fit in… And it’s just weird to write about yourself. It feels kind of sad and more like a dream blog than an actual story? Like, even Stan Lee writes characters for himself. He doesn’t show up in the movies/stories as Stan Lee praising Stan Lee.

The continual use of profanity isn’t funny or edgy, it’s exhausting and lazy. The narrative is filled with telling and retelling of thoughts, situations, and rants as if the author thought he hadn’t made his points well enough or the reader had already forgotten them. Stupid reader! There’s no character arch and no character development, there’s just… reaffirming Phil’s beliefs by the end and an attempt to make you like him because he’s spent the whole time railing against pedophiles and the Catholic church while embracing Muslims/Islam.

So, what makes me question how much of Phil’s actions are satirical is this rant he has at the end. Consider it the equivalent of “Kyle’s Speech” at the end of almost every South Park episode because, at the end of this story, Phil goes off to an audience of people by saying:

“Alright, you fuggazis. I’m going to say my piece. Listen or not, I don’t give a shit. The truth is, is I’m not a fucking hero. I am just a good poet, and if I don’t die in twenty years, maybe I’ll be great. I’m a photographer too. I just was at the right place at the right time to catch and stop some fucked up shit. It was horrible. But I enjoyed burning off Peter Sotos’ face, because that is what should happen to child rapists. Experiencing that and almost getting killed by the Mafia helps you see the real truth. I’m looking out into the audience seeing your admiration turn to disdain like I might as well be a fucking pedo like Peter Sotos or Jared and I see you’re all full of shit. You all think the church behind this is a good place. FUCK CHURCHES! They should all be burned down, because they give pedos room and board, food, and fresh kids to fondle. But YOU FUCKS lick the Pope’s asshole and let them live tax free, while poor fucks like me have to sell hot dogs and bring down the mafia and still owe your stupid philistine asses money, because you are too weak and fucking stupid to appreciate real fucking art! I am an artist and have been fighting to share the horrors of life but none of you give a fuck. The world doesn’t care about art and if you did you wouldn’t have these kids be with these sick Catholic fucks, who might grow up to be pedos too…” the booing started, the policeman chief was shocked, but Phil kept going. “Go ahead and boo! Boos are claps for the truth! You are all hypocrites and full of shit. I wrote a chapbook about murdering pedophiles but I didn’t get a fucking parade. No one gave a shit. I just did the right thing, none of you do the right thing, cause YOU FUCKS are always wrong. The shit that happened is because you fear sex and violence in art and entertainment, but you let pedos watch your fucking kids. Yeah, go ahead and boo. Boo the fucking hero, even Jesus was crucified by YOU FUCKS. The truth is, art and all gods are dead, and you all worship bullshit. I am giving you the truth and you don’t want it! Well, I don’t want your fickle and fuckhead love either! All I need is Missy and my few fans. The rest of you FUCKS can fuck off!!” (pp. 86-87)

This is, unironically, how most progressives speak and act. How, when people boo or say you’re wrong, they use it as motivation and affirmation that no, they are actually right. That if you don’t agree with them, it’s because you’re evil, not possible because they are doing the wrong thing. He thinks he’s a hero for writing a chapbook about pedophilia while he lectures the listeners about not doing anything to stop pedophilia, but does he know what steps any of them have taken to protect the children? No, he doesn’t. He just knows they didn’t do what he wanted them to do, they haven’t gotten behind his cause and solution, which is apparently burn all the churches, FUCK CHURCHES. I really didn’t get any other message or call to action from the above.

With this message being at the end of his ‘journey,’ I’m not sure how else I’m supposed to take it other than the author making his closing statement on what this book was about.

And you’ll love this… The last page of the story reads:

“Yeah, I know that the world is still fucked but it will be less fucked if we got married so I knew you’d always be in my life.”

Missy smiled and said, “Stop fucking around, Phil.”

“I’m not. I’m really not, Missy. I got a good job now and I’ve got a good woman, so fuck it. The few good things in life you got you hold to, you hold to them tight. I love you more than anything, so let’s go marry each other in that fucking pedo church.”

Missy’s smile only increases as she took his hand and said, “Ok. Let’s get married. I love you, YOU FUCK.”

I honestly… don’t see anything funny here. I really don’t. The language isn’t funny, the characters are flat and swearing not because they want to, but because this is written like a 14-year-old at a keyboard–and again, we’ve got pedophiles and fuck churches. If you read the whole thing, you’d see how much it was truly mentioned and groan every time you saw the words coming.

I was so insanely disappointed by this book and unfortunately, do to it… and the other books I picked up at this table, I can’t recommend people buy from this press. This isn’t funny, unique, edgy–I mean someone’s writing this, so I’m sure someone out there would enjoy it, but after even a single page I said, “I get why this book is being sold at the anti-prom of literature…”

It’s bad.

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