Wednesday, April 25, 2012

“Hell in a Motel”: A Review of Michelle Bowser’s Don’t Yell at the Damn Desk Clerk!

(Amazon Kindle [for PC, Mac, or smartphone with free downloadable app]. .99 cents) By Joey Madia I have long been fascinated by the genre-bending practice of fictionalizing one’s life experiences to turn them into “literature.” If we concede that ALL autobiography is to some degree fiction, as the human memory is dreadfully unreliable when it comes to the unfolding of events (we each cling to and exaggerate the details that meld best with our personality and values while downplaying or disregarding those that don’t) then this seems like a fair and useful practice in creative writing. In my writing classes, especially with middle school students, an exercise I find very useful is to have them write down in six to eight sentences something mundane that happened to them on a recent day. We then start to exaggerate two different elements, choosing from the Place, the People, and the Event (creating problems where there were none). I always have them keep one element the same throughout the exercise to keep the revised/exaggerated piece rooted solidly to the original. The end result is often wild and outlandish stories that get a few laughs and beautifully illustrate that the Exaggeration is really what makes any piece of creative writing work. According to the late, great comedian George Carlin, Exaggeration is the foundation of the funny little story we call a “joke.” Michelle Bowser’s Don’t Yell at the Damn Desk Clerk! makes excellent use of the Exaggeration, mostly through the characters, but also through the events (the place in this case stays the same)—the problems are never mundane and easily solved; they grow in complexity, yielding plenty of laughs and an elevator-load of sympathy for the poor night-shift clerk at an unnamed local motel. Yes—the night shift! We’ve all heard stories from our friends and relatives who have worked the graveyard shift at gas stations, Wal-Marts, and factories across this weird and wacky land of ours. This is the time when all the kooky dudes and wacky weirdos come out of their caves to shop and mingle. And if you’ve ever spent any time wandering the grounds in the middle of the night at a small-town motel, you know what a rich Petrie dish of characters and happenstances they yield (I’ve fictionalized and incorporated my own experiences as a traveler in one of my books). Split into ten chapters (strung together by a cumulative list of 17 sub-jobs that the narrator does as part of her main job as desk clerk), Don’t Yell at the Damn Desk Clerk! takes the reader on a funny, and often biting, tour of the world of the weirdo traveler and the troubles that come with trying to keep the vending machines, AC, and laundry machines all working while cranky curmudgeons crowd your desk with all their (mostly petty) problems. Through the course of the book we meet over-eager Black Friday shoppers, the rabble-rousing rednecks that represent opening day of Hunting Season, and nefarious co-workers and inept and penny-pinching management. There’s also a secret rendezvous gone wrong and, perhaps the stars of this Silver, Gold and Platinum motel saga—the Rip-Off kid and his grandma. Oh yes. And the crazy, rainbow spirit-dog, positive, Reservation Lady. And “zombies.” I think you get the idea. There were many times while reading Don’t Yell at the Damn Desk Clerk! that I laughed out loud. Bowser has an edgy, sarcastic sense of humor and a lively writing style that makes for quick and enjoyable reading. If you’re like most everyone else and have ever had a crappy job, this is a book for you. And if you haven’t, you’re probably one of the lousy-mooded travelers on which this book is based.

No comments: