Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Quick Book Review: "Spanish Fly"

Ferguson explains the origin of the
cover photo in the "Afterward."
"Spanish Fly" by Will Ferguson could be read as somewhat of a prequel to Ferguson's first novel, "Happiness." There's not much of a crossover apart from Jack McGreary and the mention of the De Valu family (which is a reference to the protagonist of Ferguson's first novel). "Spanish Fly" was a bit of a disappointment from that perspective, and Ferguson has this knack for making most of his characters "sound" very similar. I've read a lot of his non-fiction writing, and a lot of the dialogue and banter in "Spanish Fly" often has the same kind of cadence to it even thought the characters themselves are quite a bit different than he's written before.

The actual story isn't riveting but more interesting. It's a character study more than anything, but there's also a history component when it comes to the cons and the ramp-up to World War II happening in the background. But it sure as hell isn't funny, which might have been the point. There are a few moments of amusement but for a lot of the book it's deadpan serious. At first I thought maybe Ferguson was trying to work a "dark humour" angle but I abandoned thinking about that a few chapters in. With the dust jacket harping on the fact Ferguson has won the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour a number of times, I was expecting a little more in the way of actual humour.

Maybe I've pigeonholed Ferguson in the "funny" camp and any attempt at escape -- at trying something outside that particular camp -- results in a a volley of cannon fire in the back. Without the expectation of humour my opinion of "Spanish Fly" might have been different because the story of cons and double-cons and conning the cons in 1930's America is actually good.

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