Â Equus PressÂ
The constant media bombardment that blankets our nation every day has become an accepted fact of twenty-first century life. News spews forth from all media at all times, and itâ€™s nearly unavoidable. A question that looms over this media circus: how much of the reporting is actual news designed to inform an audience, and how much of it is a spectacle designed to draw attention, generate interest, and boost ratings?
This question is one of many that Thor Garcia toys with in hs debut novel The News Clown. The protagonist, also named Thor Garcia, is a small-time reporter for Cities News Services of Bay City, where he contributes brief, to-the-point articles on crime in the city. Interspersed throughout the narrative, his articles generally pertain to graphic violence or drug use:
Â SANTA COSTA MAN SEVERS THREE BODY PARTS
SANTA COSTA (CNS) â€“ The Santa Costa County Sheriffâ€™s Dept. said a 36-year-old man on Monday used a knife to cut off his finger, scrotum and penis in an apparent act of self-mutilation.
Thorâ€™s desire is to rise above his lowly position and become â€œthe Conquering Writer, loved and feared and hatedâ€”but mostly loved, it must be said.â€ At least this is the goal he claims in the first chapter; throughout the remainder of the story, Thor shows only the slightest shreds of ambition, choosing instead to drink heavily (an understatement), and get laid at every opportunity. He does receive the occasional promotion at CNS, but not so much because of his personal accolades than because another reporter moves to a different city or dies. His attendance is perfect and his writing consistent, but the articles are plain and predictable, notable only for the unsettling crimes being reported.
In stark contrast to Thorâ€™s articles are the press reports about and the speeches by the President of the United States, Wolfgang G. Mnung, a man hell-bent on a destructive war against a nameless dictator. Mnung, itâ€™s worth noting, is somewhat of a dictator himself; he was never actually elected and has no intention of being replaced. His public appearances are almost completely lacking in substance and entirely focused on flare:
If youâ€™re just joining us, President Wolfgang G Mnung had just officially announced the new warâ€¦ Yes, and now, as the White House has informed us, I do believe the president will use his personal sidearm to obliterate a few targets there on the West Lawnâ€¦ The president is quite a marksman, of courseâ€¦ Yes! THE PRESIDENT HAS HIT THE TARGET! Oh, my, there are no wordsâ€¦ Quite a performanceâ€¦ Weâ€™ll go to the instant replay.
The presidentâ€™s showmanship seems to win over the media, which offers its full support in nearly all instances. Public opposition to Mnung is rare and suppressed. Participants in anti-Mnung demonstrations at his rallies are required to remain inside a cage labeled the â€œFSZâ€”the official â€˜Free Speech Zone.â€™â€ The world of politics presented in The News Clown is disturbingly familiarâ€”form over substance, flashy demonstrations, celebrity endorsementsâ€”especially so in our most recent presidential election.
Garcia draws out the two extremes of news reporting: overindulgent, fanatical coverage of the president by the national media versus minimalistic, apparent coverage of gruesome crimes by the local paper. Neither variety appears especially valuable, yet no happy medium arises, perhaps to suggest that a middle ground is impossible.
While the novel presents fascinating ideas about society and the media, the plot and cast of characters leave much to be desired. Thor drinks, writes crime blurbs, has sex with women, dates women, moves on, drinks more. New, strange characters are introduced throughout the story, and most disappear without fanfare or reason. Some are mentioned early on, then not again for two hundred pages. The women of the story each read like slight variations of the same, one-dimensional person. They have different body types and occupations, but each is equally lacking complexity. More often than not, within the first paragraph of a womanâ€™s introduction, Thor mentions her boobs. The list of unimaginative breast descriptions include â€œboobs the size of pomegranates,â€ â€œyour average boobs,â€ â€œsmaller boobs,â€ â€œmedium boobs,â€ and â€œridiculously big boobs.â€
Speaking of lists, Garciaâ€™s novel is rife with them, ranging from a list of criminals and their crimes to a list of his drinks. When used well, a list can be a valuable tool for a writer. Garciaâ€™s lists, however, are mostly tiresome. Whatâ€™s more boring than a half-page list of designer shops and clothes?
Reading The News Clown is an exhausting process. The straightforward writing is serviceable, but the story is fraught with flat characters. The novel is readable in the same way that light beer is drinkableâ€”with little flavor to appreciate.
Thomas Michael Duncan lives in Syracuse, NY. His reviews have appeared inÂ Necessary Fiction Reviews,Â Prick of the Spindle, andÂ Blood Lotus Journal. His online home isÂ tmdwrites.tumblr.com.