Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, 242 pages, paperback, $16.95
Humor is a strange thing. In terms of authors, I can only think about four of them that consistently make me laugh out loud: Bradley Sands, Jerry Stahl, Steve Lowe, and Andrew Hilbert. Of these four, Hilbert is the one with the smartest humor disguised as over-the-top fiction. In Invasion of the Weirdos, his latest novel, he deconstructs modern art, hipster culture, the city of Austin, and even manages to make a few political statements inside a wild, drugged-up, sexy story that is packed with more dick jokes than an old bar’s bathroom walls.
Ephraim was kicked out of the anarchist art collective he was a part of for defending McDonald’s. While dealing with that, and eating free fries, he comes up with an idea: he’s going to create a robot/vending machine hybrid that gives children hugs. He has no idea how to go about, but he ends up meeting a strange genius who also happens to be the last living Neanderthal…and maybe, for humans, a sexual deity. Meanwhile, a man who used to work for a former president as a personal assassin is fired from the CIA after getting caught in a threesome in his car with two blow-up dolls (he can’t pass up a good deal). The gig was his life, so he decides to do something that will get him back to it: infiltrate Ephraim’s anarchist art collective, which he hopes are terrorists.
The best thing about Invasion of the Weirdos is that it never takes itself seriously despite having some serious ideas in it. Hilbert lives in Austin and the time he has spent soaking up the city’s collection of subcultures has obviously served him well. There isn’t a major component of Austin hipster/artists/smart/weird culture that doesn’t get dealt with here, and when Hilbert deals with something, he basically vivisects it and then pokes around its guts looking for the best jokes and sharpest observations. Making fun of things is relatively easy, brut writing about them in a compelling way that demonstrates absolute familiarity is a different story, and that’s exactly what the author does in this book.
While the narrative is nuanced and brings together a few storylines, what pushed this novel into must-read territory is the cast of characters the author populated his non-too-far-from-the-truth version of Austin. Three highlights include Manalo, a man with weird ideas who starts a religious podcast to spread the gospel to the masses, the group of a nihilistic anarchists, whose conversations are comedic gold, and Tobak Nrothak, the last living Neanderthal and a being whose song and dance has a peculiar effect on those who see and hear it. Having a few different narratives in the same book is tricky, but Hilbert’s characters and his knack for dialogue make the storylines here intertwine very well and, when combined with relatively short chapters, leads to a novel that moves forward at a nice pace.
Invasion of the Weirdos is a rare hybrid text that bridges the gap between crazy, dirty pulp, expletive-laden juvenile humor, cultural criticism, and scathing political commentary. Writing a successful dirty joke is not easy, but doing so while criticizing the capitalist system…seriously but in a joke, is much harder. Hilbert those both of these many times in this novel, and that makes him an author that should be on your radar. Austin knows how to keep it weird and the world knows the city for it, and this narrative takes the best, and the worst, that the city’s vibe has to offer and uses them all effectively while taking them to ask continuously. Yes, this is a funny book, but that it’s funny about serious things is what makes it a wonderful read.
Gabino Iglesias is a writer, journalist, and book reviewer living in Austin, TX. He’s the author of Zero Saints, Gutmouth, Hungry Darkness, and a few other things no one will ever read. You can find him on Twitter at @Gabino_Iglesias.