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Friday, April 07, 2017

The Hike

Drew Magary is a very funny columnist for the sports website Deadspin, where he comments on sports as well as almost anything--once he ranked the quality of different crackers. Therefore when I picked up his novel The Hike I didn't expect a kind of, well, I don't know what to call it. It's a fantasy, a sort of suburban Lord of the Rings, with as much imagination as can be squeezed into 300 pages. It's certainly unlike anything I've ever read before.

The narrator is Ben, a typical suburban guy from Maryland. He's in Pennsylvania for a business meeting and checks into a moldy old bed and breakfast. He wants to take a walk before dinner and finds a path. All goes well until, suddenly: "And then he saw the man: a big, hulking man wearing a denim shirt and cheap jeans, dragging a body out of the shed. The corpse was small and clad in a little cupcake nightgown. Her feet were gone. Her hair was bloody and tangled. Her hands were limp and Ben could see the chipped blue nail polish on her fingernails. The legs were just a couple of stumps dragging along the ground. He saw the red, like the butchered deer parts on the side of the road. Saw it. Then the man turned to him and their eyes met and fuck."

The man is actually wearing a Rottweiler mask made from a real dog, so Ben runs. By the time he escapes, he's completely lost and in some netherworld. He is told to "stay on the path" (perhaps an homage to Ray Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder") and encounters many unusual things. A giant cricket. A crab that talks. A giantess who eats humans. Clouds with eyes. Beings that have mouths all over their bodies.

Ben goes through a lot on his journey, and through it all he misses his family. And through it all the Magary voice from Deadspin, a kind of average Schmo, comes through. I liked this book less for the writing, which is solid but is at times pretty plain for what is going on, then for what weird thing the protagonist will face next.

I'm not sure who the ideal audience would be for this. Guys who like Magary for his profane depiction of quotidian life may be put off by the fantasy (although Ben does get to have sex) and fantasy people may not like the vulgarity and the overall goofiness of it (a crab that calls Ben shithead is funny, but not exactly up there with the Gollum).

But I liked it, and think if both of those groups give it a chance they'll like it, too.

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