Comedy is subjective. Like snowflakes, no one sense of humor is the same; everyone has their own personal humor thermometer. In essence, you’re either a Simpson or a Griffin; a Murray or a Carrey; a Zucker or a Wayans. I’m aware there are some who love them all equally, and still others who hate them all just as equally. None of it’s wrong; it all comes down to taste.
The reason I mention this is because Shizzle, Inc., the debut novel by Australian author Ana Spoke, is a full-blown comedic romp with plenty of hits and plenty of misses, all rolled into a tortilla that’s oddly offbeat and manic at times, but then heavily structured and realistic at others, leading to a mixed bag of humor that some may find hilarious and whimsical through and through, and some may find too unstructured and chaotic for their tastes. Me? I I fall somewhere in between.
From the chapter titles alone, you know Shizzle, Inc. will be an interesting bag of kittens. What follows each of the fun taglines are very passionate prose that indicate Ana is having a lot of fun with the world and the characters she’s created. She knows them well and breathes life into them with a clear and authentic writing style. So it felt odd that I couldn’t quite seem to really connect with any of it. At least during the first half, before I changed my perspective and grasped the idiosyncrasies of the voice Ana was using to drive the narrative. You see, the book is written in first person from the point of view of our heroin, Isabella “Isa” Maxwell, and Isa is extremely delusional and and not very reliable. It was only when I grasped this idea, and started reading through that lens, that the book started to make sense — and a little more fun.
Isa, a newly-minted community college graduate seeking fame and fortune but unsure of how to get there, is a stereotypical “dumb” blonde with a heavy naivete that makes her very childish. On some level, I understand why she wouldn’t know what a marketing strategy was, but based on her age, I find it very odd and unrealistic that she wouldn’t know what an entree (or, as she puts it, “ontre”) is. She’s also a blatant liar who will do or say anything to reach her goals, no matter how hard it may bite her in the ass later on — when it’s discovered that she never went to Harvard, or doesn’t have any experience with financial reports, or doesn’t know a lick of Japanese. Because of this, it’s hard to tell if the events that happen are true or simply an exaggeration on her part, a way to make everyone else seem as naive and childish as her so she can feed the superficial narcissist that demands to be seen and loved by everyone (believing in some small part that everyone she meets is falling in love with her) and bury the sense of inadequacy and unimportance she tries so desperately to hide from.
When Isa sees a commercial for an open position at Shizzle, Inc. (a billion dollar corporation that isn’t clearly defined as to what they actually do, other than promote the “Shizzle Spirit”), she’s quickly taken under the boisterous wing of Mr. Hue, the narcissistic and somewhat foolish owner of the company. Mr. Hue has a penchant for seeing everything through rose-colored glasses; the world is nothing but what he believes it to be, everything covered in silver linings. So when Isa literally slides into the interview on water from a vase she accidentally knocked over, Mr. Hue takes a liking to her “specialness”, consistently promoting her for doing what amounts to foolish things. I was never fully on board with this set-up, as I never believed the relationship Mr. Hue formed with Isa. There wasn’t enough strength behind why he does it, making it come off rather false.
The world Isa describes as she goes about her attempts to be someone she isn’t is very fantastical and hyper-realistic. This is evident in things like the contract she has to sign after being hired at Shizzle, Inc., or the way she describes her friends and family, both of which are incredibly done and show Ana at her finest. One of the best and most on-point sequences Ana puts together — which involves a futuristic-looking limo, a broken slip and a kidnapping — is so well-written, funny, exciting and emotional all rolled into one, it goes to highlight some of the flaws from the rest of the book, where it feels as if Ana is trying too hard to be funny instead of letting the comedy come naturally through the characters. Take the chapter when Isa is unwillingly tasked to watch her twin nephews for the afternoon. At least half of it feels entirely unnecessary and doesn’t ever go anywhere, to the point that if it had been cut (with the exception of her sister’s semi-breakdown, which is important to what happens later), it wouldn’t have been missed.
This roller coaster ride isn’t only entrenched in the comedy either; it infects the dialogue as well, which at times feels fresh, exciting, fluid and credible, and at other times, simple, blatant, choppy and unrealistic. The characters are also a mixed bag — a box of chocolates that have some really delicious treats (such as Isa’s father, a well-drawn, charismatic and flawed human being) and some pieces that you’re not quite sure what to make of (such as Harden, who seems far too uneven, though that may just be because of the mask he wears in his profession as opposed to his personal life).
But what hit me as being the most uneven part of the book was the final three chapters, which fly by so quickly, it felt like Tim Curry rehashing events to wrap things up. So much happens within these last few chapters, I almost felt cheated, wishing Ana had slowed down and given us a little more to chew on. The thing is, these last few chapters are also the best written chapters of the book. Despite the rapid speed of events, the pace is nice, the dialogue works and Isa’s revelations come across clearly. There’s no denying Ana’s passion for the written word, and if she’s able to channel the energy of the last three chapters into the rest of her prose moving forward, I have no doubt she can become a fantastic author whose comedy stylings can and will affect at least half of the world who will cling to her zaniness, quirky style and passionate voice. The other half? She shouldn’t worry about them.
My Grade: B
Ana Spoke is an Australian (where she lives with her fiancee) who started a blog for the sole purpose of tracking her writing endeavors and experiences. She now uses the blog to discuss her experiences with marketing and self publishing, and has officially taken on writing as a full-time endeavor, starting with her next novel, the sequel to Shizzle, Inc.
Check out all of Ana’s social media platforms:
If you are an independent author and would like your book reviewed, let me know in the comments section with a link to where I can purchase the book. If I find it intriguing, and it’s something I think I’d like, I will purchase a copy and add it to my reading list. I will be doing one independent book review per month, so not all requests will be accepted.