The Cheese Stealer's Handbook by Shoshaku Jushaku. Originally published by Pretati Press, February 2014. Approx. 112 pages.
The Cheese Stealer's Handbook is by and far one of the more unique things I have ever read. Darkly acidic humor that in the end burns through your heart, you may not give this novella repeat readings but I think everyone should give it a look at least once.
How to describe this work? The Cheese Stealer's Handbook reads less like a journal than it does a drugged-up Catcher in the Rye with elements of Rodney Dangerfield. Our narrator quips, bitches, gets tripped out of his head, eviscerates the banalities of everyday life, and burns bridges.
We follow our drug-addict/alcoholic narrator as he more than efficiently lives up to his namesake (roughly translated as a life succession of mistake after mistake). He lives a sort of bohemian lifestyle, stumbling from fix to fix, planning to write a great novel, but having no idea how to do it. The book starts after one ugly breakup, and halfway through, he enters into another relationship, with a woman way too good for him, and that it is a foregone conclusion he will royally screw up.
In theory, you think to yourself, what's the point of all this? Why would I want to read about this unlikable, seemingly irredeemable, perpetually wasted young man?
And, as it starts, you don't like him. You can laugh at his quips (although some of the humor/situations seem a bit forced), sure, but you wonder why you should even care. Especially when you know that he will ultimately do nothing but harm those that would do good for him.
The thing is, as the book progresses, you see the tragedy of the narrator, of perhaps most addicts, most directionless people. The square pegs. The self-saboteurs.
Whenever the narrator even half-heartedly tries to pull himself up, his demons happily yank him down. After a while, there seems no motivation to make himself "normal". What is normal anyway? It was never a term that applied to him anyway. Trying to work on his dream, his novel, puts him back in the throes of his vices, as he cannot effectively put his emotions into prose. Having something great, something he indeed loves, but knows full well he'll never be what it needs? Back to coke. And beer. And whatever else is in reach.
And then you realize: all the a$$hole-ish humor, it's just a coping mechanism. What else can you do when you have good qualities but just don't belong? Obviously the narrator has charm and intellect. This allows himself to always find a subsidizer/enabler. Mutually destructive symbiosis. Or something along those lines.
Shoshaku Jushaku is a masterful writer in that he either is a drug addict that can write coherently, or, just a good writer that nailed a mindset. I've known people like the narrator. Their behavior gets to be paint-by-numbers after a while. Now I've seen inside their heads.
Credit goes to the author, also, for some insightful and well-placed quotes at the beginning of each chapter. The only other author who I've seen properly uses quotations by Paul Valery is Cormac McCarthy, and that's no small praise.
So yes, I recommend this story, but don't expect a feel-good piece. The narrator ultimately succeeds at one goal; his work does not entertain his audience, but it surely changes them.
Here's what it is:
A free trip inside the head of someone you may have looked down on, sneered at, or gotten annoyed by. A first-person view of the life of someone suffering addiction, and the soul-crushing effects of it.
Nice and simple cover for this short tale. Stark white cover. Font looks hand written and the illustration looks hand sketched. But the best part is the back cover, where you find the recipe for Jamie's fudge.
Gotta try that soon. Just a little reminder that there is some heart in this story, even though you might think at times that the narrator doesn't have one.
Cover Final Score: