The name Jack Handey may resonate with you. Fans of Saturday Night Live may associate the author with “Deep Thoughts,” the subversive slice-of-life vignettes that were a popular staple of the program throughout the 90s. Others might recognize the name from a recent New York Times article that referred to Handey as “the envy of every comedy writer in America.” Your level of familiarity notwithstanding, the only salient point regarding Jack Handey is that he’s synonymous with funny. His debut novel The Stench of Honolulu is a hilariously unpredictable tale that will make its way onto many year-end “Funniest Novels of 2013″ lists. It’s an unequivocal must read for fans of shrewd, trenchant humor.
Don’t believe me? Here are 7 hilarious quotations from The Stench of Honolulu.
1. “I looked around for some bugs to eat. If you get hungry enough, believe me, you will eat bugs. My friend Jerry found that out the hard way. He was slow getting his snacks out for a party once and we ate his butterfly collection.”
It’s not difficult to recognize the influence of Handey’s sketch writing background throughout the book. The Stench of Honolulu sometimes reads less like a novel and more like an incisive satire of a novel—and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. This book utilizes the very best aspects of sketch comedy—heightening humor, multiple callbacks, an economical use of words—to tell an engaging story in an untraditional way.
2. “I had dreams once. Once I wanted to build the world’s longest suspension bridge. But then I found out someone else had already done it.”
The Stench of Honolulu is packed with this kind of effortless, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it dialogue that will cause insecure comedy writers to drown their sorrows with a drink. The plot of the novel is fairly simple. Two men with a rather tenuous relationship obtain a treasure map and embark on an adventure to Honolulu, where they attempt to capture the elusive Golden Monkey. It’s like a funnier Indiana Jones—you know, if Indiana Jones were woefully incompetent.
3. “There were basically two bars in Honolulu. One was called Pops’. Coincidentally, it was owned by a guy named Pops. He was a big, friendly, ruddy-faced fellow, always ready with a joke and a hearty laugh. Which was why I got out of there right away. I went to the other bar, called Shut Up.”
Humor is a funny thing. Actually, let me rephrase that: there are many disparate ways for a novel to be funny. Handey utilizes an unreliable narrator throughout the story to create a panoply of opportunities for densely packed humor. The Stench of Honolulu is a rare novel that combines the “oh, that’s clever” acknowledgment of humor with legitimate sections of laugh-out-loud hilarity.
4. “The chief dragged me back inside. He began pounding my head against the radiator. I know what you’re thinking: a radiator in Honolulu? Look, don’t worry about that right now. The main thing is, I was getting killed.”
This was my absolute favorite part from the book. Other sections may be more conducive to LOL hysterics, but I appreciated the wry cleverness of this unexpected aside.
5. “The plan I finally decided on was complex. But also, in a way, it was simple: I would hit Don over the head with a frying pan.”
Even with a book that’s overflowing with sophisticated humor, there will always be something inexplicably funny about the idea of someone getting bonked over the head with a frying pan.
6. “If Superman ever visited Tarzan, at first they’d get along, but then Superman would finally have to say, “How can you live like this?”
Fans of Jack Handey’s Saturday Night Live past, rejoice! Two separate chapters of The Stench of Honolulu—”Theories” and “Blow-Dart Dreams”—are just thinly veiled disguises of a hilarious assortment of brand new “Deep Thoughts.” One more example: “Street signs would work better if they added the words You Idiot. For instance, instead of just Stop, the sign says Stop, You Idiot.”
7. “As we turned to leave, I was hit in the buttock by a blow dart. I playfully pointed You got me at the offender. It’s fun to leave on a joke.”
It sure is, Mr. Handey. It sure is.
What’s the funniest book you’ve read in 2013?