Most of the books I write about are big hitters, either classics, best-sellers, or in the nerdy zeitgeist in some other way. But sometimes the most surprising books are those that aren’t on the radar at all.
Fat Riker is and odd duck of comedy writing, and I mean that in a good way. Most stories I know going in exactly what to expect. Here I found myself caught off guard until I got into the groove a quarter of the way through (it’s a short novel so that’s not very long). It’s something of an epistolary, the history of a bizarre rock band being told through journal entries, newspaper articles, interviews, office memos and the sort.
At first you think the story is simply going to be wry and quirky. We start off with the band essentially being given to a character in the first few pages and being told they’re his problem now. About the only thing he has to work with, though, is a book filled with records of the band’s history.
Now, I’m not a musician or big on the music scene, but I strongly suspect that this story will resonate with those who are. I have a suspicion that every band has either met or heard of their own Fat Riker in one form or another. A train-wreck of epic proportions, either devoid of talent, in a constant state of self-destruction, or both. A band that defies the odds and all logic by simply existing.
The first thing that came to mind was that classic Warner Brother’s cartoon where the singing and dancing frog turns out to be a curse rather than a blessing. Only in this case the band can’t sing. Or dance. Or even have a consistent lineup of members.
Much like the witches’ broom paradox, where you can replace the head when it gets worn down and the shaft when it breaks, and yet it somehow remains the same broom, Fat Riker has changed completely many, many times—in size, members, and musical genre—yet it is always somehow Fat Riker.
But as I read the story, it grew into something far more bizarre than I was expecting. The humor ranges from subtle to over the top. One example is the correspondence between the band and a bar owner, where the band continues to make increasingly strange and specific demands before their big performance there, and the bar owner continues to be oblivious as to who they are or why they’re contacting him.
On the other extreme you have the internal memos of a food company who at some point in history was Fat Riker’s promotional sponsor. It quickly becomes apparent that this company is just as messed up as the band. One of their guacamole products, for example, has such drastic side effects and instability that they end up donating most of their product to homeless shelters…only to find that the homeless have found they can use one can of this Franken-guac to create an insulated cocoon like shell to keep their bodies warm through the night. This ends up having unintended PR side effects as people walking to work start seeing homeless people eating their way out of bright green cocoons and staggering about in the early morning.
What makes Aaron Littleton’s comedy work is that even when it’s clearly having insane things happening, it still feels like it’s coming from a springboard of truth somehow. Sure, no guacamole product is ever going to turn into an expandable hardening shell that homeless people can stay warm in, but the nature of the legalese that goes on as the corporation deals with the fallout feels satirically genuine. As does the hair-pulling lamentations of a music magazine reviewer forced to listen to every Fat Riker release—the tracks he listens to might defy belief, but not the pain he feels being forced to listen to such music for work.
Those that end up in Fat Riker are struck by a strange kind of obliviousness to their actual talents and limitations. I’m not sure if they were aware of them before and the prospect of being in a band blinds them to it, or if perhaps the band itself somehow blinds them to it.
My theory is that Fat Riker is in fact a curse, an ancient curse far older than even the book is aware of. As you read it you will start to wonder if you’ve been sucked into that curse like The Ring, and begin to fear that the current incarnation of the band will end up knocking on your door, expecting to crash on your couch and raid your fridge before you can even ask who they are.
And then maybe you’ll start wondering if you should try your hand at lead guitar… or perhaps kazoo.