My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The New Bizarro Authors Series is always interesting. It provides a testing ground for new voices in fiction and new styles that we may not have seen before. It’s often a breath of fresh air in the world of fiction writing.
Grambo by Dustin Reade is one such entry in this year’s NBAS. By the title and the cover, most will probably already know what the main theme of the book is, but there are enough unique elements that make this book worth a read.
The book starts with Martha covered in the blood of her enemies, then we flashback to how she got there. Yes, the entire book is one long flashback sequence. After Martha’s grandson costs his school their chance to go to the championship basketball game and a trip to the Supermall, the school’s faculty violently takes out their frustration on the entire family, but mistakenly leave Martha alive. After she is rescued by a mascot (that takes more explaining than I’m going to go into here), she begins recovering and train in martial arts and weapons to take her revenge on the faculty that killed her family.
The book is funny in a very self-aware kind of way. While it is very bloody and violent, it’s also done in a strange tongue-in-cheek kind of way. This is especially apparent when we get a training montage in the middle of the book. Yes, an actually movie style montage in writing. The author never loses site of the humor, even if it turns dark at times, and keeps the book self-aware that what we’re reading is rather silly, and that makes it work in a special way.
Now, being a fan of action movies and having seen all the “Rambo” films, I could be an internet troll and nitpick here that there isn’t that much in common with the actually films. But that’s unfair. It’s probably got more in common with “Death Wish” or even “Kill Bill,” but you try and find a punny title that works with those. Martha is not a Vietnam vet who’s being run out of town or on a rescue mission or in isolation and bitter at the world. It’s pure revenge fantasy.
The plot is not the steadiest thing in the world. It does feel at times like it has a bit of a stop and start motion to it. It’s not necessarily bad, as a breather from bloody, violent action is needed at times, but at the same time it’s occasionally a little unsteady, and the ending is almost diabetically sweet in contrast to the rest of the book, but it needed a good end for a main character that, despite the arguably justifiable violence she perpetrated in her quest for revenge, still remains likable and endearing.
From a technical standpoint, the book is well edited, with very few flaws. I hate to point this out in a lot of my reviews, but it’s a sticking point for me, and I feel it’s worth noting. So I’m pleased to say that there’s very little in the way of writing or editing flaws to pull the reader off the page. A plus for the author and the editor.
Grambo is a loving tongue-in-cheek tribute to action and revenge films, with well-drawn, focused characters. While the violence is extreme and over-the-top, it’s never inappropriately so. That sounds kind of strange, but when reading the book, you understand that the violence fits the theme perfectly. While the plot is occasionally a little jerky, it’s never overly so, and on the whole, this book makes for a fun read.
Grambo by Dustin Reade earns 4 ninja throwing stars out of 5.