Finalist for the Wonderland Award for Bizarro Fiction
Collected fiction, Raw Dog Screaming Press, 2007
What they’re saying about Discouraging at Best:
“Discouraging at Best is like flying over the country and dropping down at random to eavesdrop on the thoughts of citizenry at all levels of our society. Read this book slowly to savor Lawson’s righteous anger and skillful comic buildup in a satire in the spirit of Jonathan Swift.”
“For those who do not find the more outrageous bizarro authors who dwell in the fantastic to their liking, Lawson may be more accessible. While some of his prose comes close to being fantastic, this story collection tends towards lampoon, a desire to show the truly insane in our life, the craziness that is right in front of us… It was entertaining as I read it, amusing and horrible at the same time, and there are times I don’t ask for more from a book. This is one of those times.”
“The content of the stories moves from profoundly disturbing to surrealistically hysterical, giving the book a manic texture…John Edward Lawson has written a powerful work with Discouraging at Best. Its stories are strong enough to stand on their own, but when taken in the thematic context of the rest of the book, they reveal added levels of meaning. Raw Dog Screaming Press has a real winner on their hands—a disturbing, thought-provoking, wildly humorous book. Highly recommended.”
“A genuinely funny (yet serious) collection, demonstrating that satire is indeed the vital blood of bizarro fiction; and it should be read by anyone who shares the opinion that America is a ship of fools that is slowly sinking, and all one can do is sigh and laugh at the sight of its going down, disheartened but amused.”
“Providing the reader with a mosaic-like narrative comprised of different voices and perspectives, Lawson’s approach is both imaginative and hilarious in its pairings, juxtapositions, and contrasts….Discouraging at Best is an accomplished and enjoyable read. A fabulous introduction to John Edward Lawson’s work as well as a treat for long-time fans, these stories are stylistically innovative and engaging. Highly recommended.”
“This serious approach to fiction is not without Lawson’s ability to bring disgust and humor to the situation at hand at any given moment…Tight, righteous and slightly surreal, Discouraging At Best is full of wonder and intelligent story telling.”
Read the Introduction:
“…Left Behind in the Abstrusified Zone Designated as the United States of America”
There are no happy families in Discouraging at Best. Nor healthy families, nor sane ones.
Leo Tolstoy’s famous maxim about the misery of every unhappy family being unique is proven true once more, but Discouraging at Best is a book that can only be done justice by replacing the word “unhappy” with the phrase “batshit loony.”
Whether black or white, rich or poor, each featured clan boils with the kind of dysfunction that goes nuclear when left unchecked. The Havenots rent themselves out as “disciplinarians” to their neighbors. The Pretorious clan brawls all night until their house is carpeted with blood and broken glass. These families are not so much dissected as allowed to tear themselves apart on the page. The reader gets to see inside and it isn’t pretty.
One of these families lives inside the White House. The patriarch is the President of the United States. He is a dim man obsessed with sex and imagined supernatural forces. His administration is comprised of racist crooks. Aside from an addictive substance called “aqua aqua,” it’s not exactly unfamiliar.
This is why Discouraging at Best is so funny. It may never firmly establish itself as a loose novel or a tight collection of long stories but this ambiguity in no way impedes its hilarity. You’ll cringe at times, your mouth will hang open, but you’ll laugh a lot if you can accept it on its own terms.
This is a stream of conscious satire that constantly changes shape. Some segments steam forward with the intensity turned up to eleven while others float lazily around the banal before abruptly landing on the shocking. Both ways keep the pages turning and, no matter how much you think ahead as you turn them (and there is a great deal to think about) you’ll rarely see what’s coming next.
No matter what the form, it’s usually political, if often slyly so. John Edward Lawson displays a deep suspicion of power that is only natural to one who has spent much of his adult life in close approximation to his nation’s capital, but not in the overblown, obnoxious, and, above all, obvious manner that readers have come to expect from works about life in these United States. Instead he takes a note from Dr. James Dobson and keeps his focus of the family, where the heart is.
Dr. Lawson’s prognosis? Re-read the title of this book.
And where does that leave us? Re-read the title of this essay—it’s a quote from inside the book.
Discouraging at Best is a book I’m glad to have. It reminds me a bit too much about the world in which we live, but at least it helps me laugh about it.