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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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06/19/2005 Archived Entry: "Book review: Hoax"

Hoax
by Robert K. Tanenbaum
Published by
Pocket Star Books, 2004

Review by: Betsy Phillips

The only explanation for this book is that Robert K. Tanenbaum is not a man who lives in the world with other human beings, but is instead some kind of robot programmed to take the most ludicrous plot points and most vile racial, ethnic, religious, and gender stereotypes and print out 600 pages of dreck for his/its publisher.

Let's start with the lesser of those two evils: the ludicrous plot points. On the off chance that you'll want to read this book even after being warned, I won't tell you what they are. Instead, I will use parallel ridiculousness. The first insanely stupid plot point would be like if your best friend were killed during a tragic peanut butter and jelly sandwich accident and you vowed never to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich again. But then, the ghost of your best friend comes back, again and again, begging you to make peace with peanut butter and jelly and to again enjoy its tastiness. Then, people around you begin to die and your best friend comes back and says, "Hey, you, you must make peace with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or more people will die!!!!!" And you still aren't sure if you should do it. You really wrestle with it for a long time. And then, nothing really happens with the peanut butter and jelly storyline.

The other, crucial plot point around which the whole last half of the book centers, would be like if you were the janitor at Koko the sign-language gorilla's place and a crime was committed and only Koko, through her sign language could help the police solve the crime and somehow we're supposed to believe that you could sneak Koko out of her enclosure and hide her without anyone seeing you do it, without help, and without anyone figuring out it's you.

At least that stuff is funny. But the other problem with the book--the stereotypical characterizations of racial, ethnic, and gender groups (as well as religious)--is really an insurmountable problem. Lest you think I'm joking, here's just a short list of the stuff you'll find: black characters who don't aspire to the traditional upper middle class professions are sweepingly dismissed as lazy. The Latino characters are all gangbangers and are promptly killed if they try to leave that life. The whole Catholic church, with the exception of two priests, is corrupt and full of child molesting monsters and murderers. The Native Americans are all more spiritual, and healthily spiritual than everyone else, and they help the white women find spiritual fulfillment. The "fiery" Sicilian woman is a killer. The Italian guy from New Jersey is mobbed up. The women constantly need rescuing by the men (when they aren't rolling around in the mud, fighting each other), and the women think only about their men and their men are the center of every conversation they have. And everyone speaks in dialect so ridiculous I was constantly snickering.

Last, but not least, I suspect that the author's copyeditor must have been so offended by what she was reading that she quit as there are a number of errors even a bad copyeditor would have caught. The three funniest are (1) that two women are driving around Indiana looking at the covered bridges from The Bridges of Madison County, which must be quite a feat since that took place in Iowa; (2) the Puerto Rican kid's grandma came to the United States from Puerto Rico because she wanted the better opportunities in this country. This change in the citizenship status of Puerto Ricans is bound to be quite shocking to the great number of them who are under the impression that, for better or worse, they are a part of the United States; and (3) the main character ponders what a group of lawyers would be called, perhaps, like cows, they would be called a murder. A murder of cows! Sure, it's a typo, but one that should have been caught.

The book is terrible on so many levels.

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