With a distinct Ferris Bueller feel for circumstantially created chaos, Michael Ebner’s main character is one of the most likeable teenagers I’ve ever met. He’s arrogant, pretentious as hell and a thoroughly bad role-model, and he is utterly compelling, hilarious and intriguing to watch.
Joe killed the flame and took the stairs. On the quiet street, cigarette in his mouth, he lit up, took one drag then gave it to gravity. Joe wasn’t a serious smoker; he just liked the motions: the theatrics of blazing up after suburban shakedowns. It was part of his crusade on movie talkers.
A teenage brother and sister fake their mother’s presence in their house as they fumble through parental abandonment. Loren dreams of being French while Joe, shadowed by secret agents, sneaks into the neighbour’s swimming pool in the middle of the night, or inflicts vigilante justice against violators of the strictest movie theatre etiquette. When he’s not saving the world from errant cellphone calls or over-crunched popcorn, he plays the Movie Game with his buddies in a bar – name a movie, name an actor from that movie, name a movie starring that actor, and so on, taking turns until someone runs out of obscure references and loses the game. Cruise ships explode, a mysterious stranger appears in a limousine, and a relentlessly sexy woman moves in next door.
When most people are asked about the worst moment of their lives, there’s usually a shortlist of contenders. Like a list of Top Ten Bad Movies – they’re all there for different reasons. For Joe, there was only one day that took the terrible title. It was winter, he was fourteen, and in one of the hospital’s many waiting rooms, Alice, his girlfriend of one year, had slipped into a coma.
Boy did this book surprise me. I wasn’t blown away by the blurb, to be honest. It reminded me of Carl Hiaasen’s chaotically funny romps, but there was a dark core to it that, juxtaposed with the dry wit, sharpened it and gave it depth. I couldn’t believe it – I actually cared about this selfish little prat with an unhealthy movie obsession, whose teenage heart had been shattered by tragedy. I warmed to him, I rooted for him, and I cheered for him as I watched the dominos fall around his oblivious flailing.
Underneath in the wet darkness was his world for solace and quietude. Apart from sitting alone in a cinema wrapped in wall-to-wall fiction, underwater was the only other time he felt okay. Okay when you can stop from it all and actually take time from your woes.
The novel has the feel of a 1980s coming-of-age story, and it has some seriously strong character development. I loved watching as Joe writhes and jerks around, trying to figure out who he is and reconcile who he imagines himself to be with the circumstances he is in. I cried for him as he grieved and fought through bitter disappointment. And I laughed as he took on the evil scumbags who ruin movies for all of us.
Outside the window, through open shutters, he could see his sister Loren. She was hanging out Mom’s clothes on the line beside the dramatic conservatory. Sundresses, skirts, shirts. All part of their daily routine to paint a picture of parent presence to keep nosy neighbours at bay and the authorities away.
Joe is not the hero we want, but the hero we need. This book has some powerful ideas about death and abandonment, but when it comes down to it, it’s just a whole lot of fun to read. The pace was perfect and I whizzed through it. I want to see it as a movie. I even want to play the Movie Game myself, except that I lack the level of obsession with movie trivia to be any good at it. I want more. The problem with this book is that it ends.
Snack consumption was legal but Joe expected anyone dining on the distracting shit to synchronize chewing with car chases and shootouts regardless of the genre. The Popcorn Pig was treating the space like a pie-eating contest. The buttery snack was his instrument and he was doing a sound check with the venue’s acoustics. The elderly woman became more unsettled by his riotous feasting, which gave Joe reason to intervene sooner.
It’s not litrahchah but it’s a jolly good read and a lot of fun. A good one for next to the swimming pool, as every time Joe goes for a dip you’ll want to follow him. It’s saucy, cheeky, witty and raw and I loved every minute of it. I want to see it as a movie.
Title: Movie Game
Publisher: Pen and Picture
Release Date: 21 January 2016
It’s been three years since Joe’s father vanished. Now seventeen, he is unaware that government agents are watching him in case his dad makes contact. Joe is too distracted by his secret girlfriend, midnight swims in the pools of strangers, free drinks from his buddies at the movie game and the glamorous college student, Felicity. But his movie-esque existence and addiction to fiction is set to collide with a heavy dose of reality this summer when he discovers everything is not what it seems: His secret girlfriend wants to be the real thing. His college fling may have ulterior motives. And the government agents want co-operation to catch his missing father. All this and the three year old death of Joe’s first girlfriend Alice are going to cause him to face some dark truths. It’s no longer a movie game. This is his life, and he wants to win.
This guest review was contributed by Literogo. This blog hosts book reviews, guest posts, and the occasional author interview.