Jack crafts a giant allegory for the Age of the Awesome.
A Contrary review by Thea Brown

In the world Jack Pendarvis creates for Awesome, his third book and debut novel, a helplessly narcissistic yet charming giant ("I can leap one hundred yards from a standstill, if necessary. I have the skills to build a robot. Deep down I am just a regular guy.") insults his bride-to-be on their wedding day and she dumps him at the altar. To win her back, the giant—whose name, appropriately, is Awesome—must complete a scavenger hunt of gigantic proportions. And so he sets off across the country, leaving his heartsick robot ward, Jimmy, to fend for himself. The tone of Pendarvis' prose—presentational, witty, overly self-aware—matches the outsized, jocular premise of his novel, leaving open the question of how one ought to approach such a strange narrative and such an outlandish main character.

With the rise of personal reporting—blogs and memoirs, specifically—and the immediate and seemingly infinite access we have to such information, Awesome works as an allegory for the way we, as a society and as individuals, have been sucked into viewing ourselves. It's so easy and so acceptable in recent years to happily lose perspective, to view the events of one's own life and the attributes of one's own personality as larger-than-life. After all, something's got to justify the fact that we're obsessed with ourselves, that we display our personal lives, likes and dislikes as indications of self-worth on Facebook and Blogspot, right? We must be very important, or at least interesting. Awesome, similarly, can't see past himself, and thinks nothing of it: "I might say without exaggeration that many times I've fallen into the double double-mirror of my chocolaty pupils (me looking at me in me looking at me in me looking at me forever and ever) couched in their sky-irises, fallen, yes, in love." Not only is he in love with himself, he's in love with loving himself, and even with watching himself love himself. 

Even as he crosses the country to win back his girlfriend, the tasks Awesome undertakes are ultimately self-oriented, and the potential for failure only encourages him: "If justified, self-doubt may have a salubrious effect on the doubter, may teach him, in the end, how great he truly is, if only for recognizing the warning signals of some particular spiritual corruption and thus avoiding it in a manly fashion. In these ideal conditions, self-doubt is, actually, self-affirmation." Awesome lives purely by self-analysis; anything he does only shows him more of himself, and in that way makes the particulars of his actions, especially the impact on those around him, fairly inconsequential to him.

As far as the scope and color Pendarvis' narrative, a Tom Robbins comparison is, I suppose, inevitable. Awesome has all the flair: a man of mythic proportions, wry dialogue, quirky characters, lots of sex, contemporary cultural references and, at its heart, love. Playful yet directed, Pendarvis' story never gets distracted by or lost in its own wacky particulars, though it does, at times, skirt that line. But where Robbins' main characters, often helplessly self-absorbed, usually manage to pull themselves toward something approaching understanding, Pendarvis doesn't lead his self-arrgrandizing giant down a similarly redeeming path to broader awareness. Awesome, to the end, remains utterly infatuated with himself. 

Is this what we want to hear? As an allegory for contemporary obsession with personal minutia and self-analysis, Awesome hardly hardly strikes an optimistic note. Instead, Pendarvis seems to be telling us that we're doomed to feed a happy addiction to personal detail. Perhaps, though, this isn't so much a negative assessment as a brass tacks one.  

So, is Awesome an allegory? A not-so-sneaky satire of Generation Y's morally precarious yet sweetly habit-forming affection for navel-gazing? Is it just an outlandish love story? A Tom Robbins-esque romp across the country and the years with a hatless giant? Pendarvis doesn't make his tale easy to pin down and in that way it becomes all of those things and none of them. Whatever the end decision, Pendarvis has provided a character strange enough to both mock contemporary culture and represent it. Even in the face of deadly peril, Awesome's ego remains intact: "...I must admit that my main thought at the time was, Wow, I really am awesome. Look at me. Wow."

Thea Brown is a freelance writer who lives in Madison, Wisc.

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Jack Pendarvis

2008, Macadam Cage Publications

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