149 pages, V Publishing
Review by Marie Mundaca
Diary of An Oxygen Thief is getting high praise. The back cover claims that New York magazine called it “Kinky, artsy, and swoon-worthy.” Although I can’t find that review online, the magazine did feature it in their Valentine’s Day “Romantic Reads” feature, where a representative of hipster Brooklyn bookstore Spoonbill & Sugartown said that, "Women seem to be very fond of this book, about a down-and-out guy who has lots of trouble with women. It's a surprise dark-horse Williamsburg bestseller.” It also got a decent review in Faster Times, which called it, “brisk, original, and deceptively astute.”
So get ready, folks! This is by far one of the suckiest books I’ve read in a long time. The only thing that kept me turning the pages was the disbelief that it was so bad.
Let’s start with the conceit—an alcoholic Irish guy living in London likes to emotionally hurt women. This is not in diary form, but in confessional form, making it exceedingly dull. There is none of the excitement of participating in events as they happen, or the dirty fun of reading someone’s secrets. The anonymous author is writing this for public consumption. But everything is told and not shown, and not told very well. I was not given any idea of the sort of thrill he got from this emotional torture, other than he liked to do it. Over and over again. Then he gets sober and moves to America. Bizarrely, he gets an advertising job in an ad agency with the very Irish name of Killallon Fitzpatrick in a made-up town in Minnesota, conveniently located near the famous Hazelden Addiction Treatment Center. Only he calls it “Hazleton.” You’d think this might come into play later, but you’d be wrong. Also, oddly, people at the agency have British names like “Graham.” And one has a niece in the author’s hometown of Kilkenny, which, yes, is what they do every week on South Park. The author keeps reminding readers that he will get his comeuppance, and he does, but who cares? By that time we’ve been punished by having to live through his boring day job and his masturbatory habits. Besides the fact that the set-up for the comeuppance relies upon a very strange plot device--that there is a publishing program at Harvard where the STUDENTS can publish any books they want, no matter how ridiculous.
Here’s a scene demonstrating his cruelty (both to his lover and the reader), which is set in what appears to be 14/15 New Times Roman. The design, along with the text, is an affront.
“‘I’m going to dismantle us tonight. And there’s nothing you can do about it. You’ll have to sit there and listen while I wrench the U from the S. You’ll question your own judgment. Maybe you’ll never really trust yourself again. I hope so, Because if I don’t want you, and believe me I don’t, then I don’t want you being happy with someone else when there’s any doubt that I might be with another girl.’
I was not yet aware, you understand, that I was to become the Soulfurnace you see before you, But I was losing the bolt-uprightness I felt I deserved, so I added,
‘Your c*nt is loose. … Let me put it another way. Your vagina is baggy…feels overused.’
Now we were cooking. Her eyes widened. I saw how she tried to keep her outrage to herself. But it was too late, I was already in there. I could almost see out through her eyes. She couldn’t hide. Not from me, I was the undercover cop. I knew all her moves. I’d helped create them. This was too easy.
‘Your tits sag.’
This was delivered like a punch. I leaned back to better view the effect.
‘They’re too big and they hang too low.’ ”
No, I don’t know what a “Soulfurnace” is either. Or why she had to sit there and listen. Or where in the world saying that a woman’s breasts are too big is an insult. Or why there’s a paragraph break after a comma. So many unanswered questions!
To be fair, most of the book is not this exciting. Much of it has to do with Anon’s boring day job working on some luxury car ad, and how he hasn’t dated much since he got sober, and how friggin’ cold it is in Minnesota. Also, he claims Minnesotans say “cwaffee.”
Diary of An Oxygen Thief was so awful it had me yearning for the florid, over the top prose of James Frey. At least that guy knew how to tell a story.