Because all of life is stories.
This is one of those books that sneaks up on you. I was browsing NetGalley and the cover and wonderfully ridiculous title grabbed my eye. The book description was more than enough for me to request a copy. Henry “Hank” Rosetta is a lone wanderer in the wasteland that is the post apocalyptic United States. He’s never too worried about that fact though. What Hank is after is just one thing: The Perfect 5-Star Meal. He travels from town to town, hunting down any surviving place that will serve him food, and reviewing them Zagat style in a small notebook. Points for atmosphere and lack of shrapnel in the food. Loss of points for lack of beverage and the number of people that try to kill him.
I was sold.
The entire novel is short, weighing in at just a shade under 200 pages, but it’s a fun read, almost like a quest novel. It’s as if Douglas Adams was a fan of the Fallout series and decided to write fan fiction about a few nameless NPC’s. While not every part is riotous, it very rarely manages to fall flat. Just a few of those things include, but are not limited to, roving dance raving zombies, fiscally conservative swamp mutants, fast food worker armies, sweet and terrifying Russian mothers, and the finest set of armor you’ll ever read about crafted from pieces of table. It’s frankly somewhat stunning the amount of things that Hammons (David D. Hammons, the author) manages to squeeze in to the limited amount of pages. Unfortunately, it does mean that some of these pieces feel a little bit rushed. I do wish we had been able to see a bit more of certain scenes, and everything happening in such a small amount of time makes the pacing a little breathless at times. Overall though, this is a small problem.
It’s the interactions of the main trio of protagonists with each other and the eclectic mix of side characters that really delivers the humor of the story. Henry is rarely worried, and looks at some of life’s greatest problems (Lack of condiments, scarcity of books, roving gangs of death mutants) with a pragmatic optimism, noting that life could always be worse. Lewis, dear sweet Lewis, is a unique blend of anxiety, regenerating tentacles, and acidic blood. He’s helpful, and is always apologetic when he accidentally maims someone with his acid, or doesn’t die when people try to kill him. And there’s Zoe, freedom fighter, sword wielding menace, single minded crusader against tyranny, super excited about slicing people to bits. The interplay between these three is where Hammons really shines.
For all its jokes, goof, and lightheartedness Hammons’ novel is about what makes us human, what is it that drives us, that makes life worth living. Henry and his quest to find out why the bombs fell. Lewis and his search for a friend. Zoe and her drive for justice in an unjust world. These are the big motivations. But the hunt for a perfect meal, the chance to be helpful, vengeance, a shiny jacket, a big hat, a rocket to Mars, and a dozen other motivations probe and ask at the questions.
I can’t quite believe that this book exists. It should by all accounts be nothing but fluff and nonsense, I mean, it’s ridiculous. It’s wonderfully ridiculous. But it has so much heart, and like Lewis, really just wants to show you a good time, and maybe find a friend. Like Henry often writes in his journal, this amalgam of nonsense and harpoons gains extra points for being full of atmosphere. Four of five stars. Is good for health.