First of all, yes, this book is like “Deep Thoughts” in novel-form! And secondly, there is indeed a real plot! But it’s the world of Jack Handey and everything you know is flipped on its head and then thrown out the window. Handey masterfully crafts jokes in literally every sentence (I mean, the book is essentially 200+ pages of one-to-three-liners) and the amount of them is so substantial that I suggest anyone reading this book to take generous breaks in between the micro-chapters to fully appreciate the LOL-ness of Handey’s work.
In his first full-length novel The Stench of Honolulu, Handey imagines a Hawaii that is absolutely filthy and pungent, the way piled-up steamy sewage in New York City smells in the summertime. Here, Honolulu is inhabited by savage aborigines. The local religion is Pelicanism. Violent freak creatures called turtle men roam the island. Old-school peg legged pirates control the seas. Active volcanoes casually spew off lava. Turns out that Honolulu is not a sexy place to be, but it proves to an exotic destination nonetheless. It’s also quite possible that Handey has never been to Hawaii.
At the story’s core is an unnamed narrator, that familiar “Jack Handey” caricature, with his deadpan delivery and astute (yet also selfish and childishly oblivious) observations. The narrator and his best frenemy Don are on a mission to find the Golden Monkey, a la Indiana Jones. It’s a fever dream, at best, as we encounter a stereotypical motley crew along the way with the usual hijinks you’d expect in an adventure tale: an evil doctor, ominous warnings from random old people, an omen, one very bad luck charm, epic chase scenes, explosions, and even a love interest named Leilani, a native islander who joins the narrator and Don on their quest. The thoughts that spew out of the narrator’s head are endlessly hilarious, cringe-worthy, and fucked up; in other words, they’re great.
The language of Jack Handey has always been tightly succinct, surreal, and easy to read in fun-sized digestibles, and many years later his branded absurdist style has the same zing and snap as it did back during the SNL years. I can’t say The Stench of Honolulu is for everyone—it can be an acquired taste, especially in such a long format—but in appropriate doses, anyone who appreciates humor (and more importantly, any aspiring humorist) will no doubt greatly benefit from reading Jack Handey, who has developed into the sole master of his craft.
In the classic share-worthy spirit that was once “Deep Thoughts,” I’ll simply conclude this review with a randomized sampling of quotes from the book. Enjoy!
“The trouble with going to Uncle Lou’s was that he was always drugging you. I guess he thought it was funny. Yes, the food was good, but half the time you didn’t even remember it.”
“Fruit stands sold pieces of what they called ‘pineapple.’ It tasted so strange and foreign. I wish I could describe it to you.”
“We squatted down. No one made a sound, except for the accidental sound I made when I squatted.”
“What was wrong with her? Was she crazy? A pretty girl who was also crazy was something I’d never heard of.”
“I used my standard opening line: ‘What’s your religion?’ She said she was a Christian. I said I worshipped the Pelican God. There was a long silence.”
“I don’t know if you’ve ever been on a hike before, but it is pure hell. It’s mostly walking uphill while you carry things.”
“Up and up we went. My lungs burned. My legs burned. My mouth burned. I looked at the label on my chewing gum. Red Hot Chili Gum?! When did I buy that?!”