Author: Jack Handey
It’s been a couple decades, but TV fans of a certain age may still fondly recall a special comedian by the name of Jack Handey. Although he never appeared on the show, for several years in the 1990s Handey’s Deep Thoughts were a frequent highlight on Saturday Night Live. Erroneously assumed by many to be an SNL fabrication or pseudonym, the man has made a career out of his brief, bizarre, ironic and often hilarious commentary. Although it may seem hard to believe, Handey has recently become a novelist with the publication of The Stench of Honolulu. I think it’s fair to say that it’s just about exactly what I expected.
Invited on a trip to the tropics by his friend Don, our unnamed protagonist ends up in a “dirty coastal backwater called Honolulu”, which turns out to stink to high heaven due to the foul remains of its once thriving fish industry as well as the presence of the Golden Stink Bomb Factory and an unfortunate infestation of belchwood trees. Upon their arrival, they stop to admire an impressive bronze statue of Sir Edmund Honolulu III – the discoverer of Hawaii – and proceed to make themselves at home despite the stench. Unfortunately, our amusingly incompetent narrator finds it hard to make ends meet, struggles to find work and finally decides to join the Hawaiian Army, although he changes his mind at the last minute.
“The world looks different after you’ve narrowly avoided joining the Hawaiian Army. Colors seem brighter. Every breath seems like a gift, and every cigarette a treasure.”
Eventually the two men stumble across an old treasure map and decide to search for the Golden Monkey, heading up the Paloonga River into the dangerous tropical wilderness, guided by the beautiful Leilani. Naturally, their trip doesn’t go smoothly, due to constant interference by turtle men, pelican gods, witch doctors and plenty of poison-tipped blow darts.
The story is quite funny at times, but there isn’t much to it and it really appears that Handey has cobbled together this ridiculously flimsy tropical plot to serve mainly as a scaffold for a lengthy string of his trademark one-liners. The book is actually at its funniest when the narrator leaves the story behind for a moment and dispenses some lists, like random scientific theories, the hallucinatory effects of blow dart poison or different ways to kill Don.
“Find some phosphorus; rub in Don’s hair. Find some sulfur; rub into Don’s hair. Get Don to strike his head across a rough surface.”
In the end, The Stench of Honolulu is a very quick, very silly read that had me laughing frequently. As I expected, it contains nothing of great societal import and is unlikely to affect anyone’s life in a deep or significant way, but I enjoyed it. I can confidently give it four stars for fans of Handey’s oeuvre. Everybody else can go back to reading vampire novels.
— D. Driftless
Honolulu photo by Cristo Vlahos