Reviews > Published on November 4th, 2013

Bookshots: 'Happy Mutant Baby Pills' by Jerry Stahl

Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review


Happy Mutant Baby Pills

Who wrote it?

If you're a fan of Palahiniuk or Vonnegut, you should be rushing out to buy Happy Mutant Baby Pills.

Jerry Stahl, best known for drug addiction memoir, Permanent Midnight, which was turned into a film starring Ben Stiller.

Plot in a Box:

A corporate hack slash junkie stumbles his way through the dull wave of the directionless malaise that is the 2010's.

Invent a new title for this book:

HEROIN! …. Wait, What Was I Talking About?

Read this if you liked:

Syrup By Max Barry, Choke By Chuck Palahniuk, Chump Change By Dan Fante

Meet the book’s lead:

Lloyd, former MFA day dreamer turned corporate hack who is in massive denial regarding his crippling addiction to the big H.

Said lead would be portrayed in a movie by:

Here's my problem with most Jerry Stahl novels: I always picture the lead as Jerry Stahl. So, I'm going to say, instead, Matthew McConaughey at his Dallas Buyers Club weight.

Setting: Would you want to live there?

Happy Mutant Baby Pills is, in part, a road novel, but huge chunks of it take place in shithole Los Angeles, so, no.

What Was Your Favorite Sentence?

'You're right,' I replied, and recited another slogan I would never sell. 'Prius. On the right side of history, on the wrong side of cool.'

The Verdict:

I'll be the first to admit that I'm a long time fan of Jerry Stahl. He's a novelist who when he releases a new novel, I snap it up without hesitation. So does this mean my review is going to be impartial? No, probably not, but I'll try anyway.

Let's talk social satire here for a minute, gang.

Let's talk about how hard it is to write. Let's talk about how no matter how funny a line is in your head, how full of truth, gut wrenching honesty, and biting ultra-realism it is, chances are, it's not. Chances are storytellers such as Orwell, Vonnegut, Saunders, Palahiniuk, etc., have probably written your exact thought before, and what you're putting down on the page is nothing new. Now, I'm not saying don't write satire; by all means, crank it out, have fun with it. But fully realize that the satirists who've come before you have already poisoned the well you're drinking from. I suppose you can say that of any genre at this point in literary history, but satire seems to carry a much heavier burden than most writing styles.

With that said, is Happy Mutant Baby Pills an original piece of literature that somehow manages to shirk the influence of first person satires such as Cat's Cradle and Invisible Monsters?


Does this mean you shouldn't read it?

No, absolutely not.

If anything, if you're a fan of Palahiniuk or Vonnegut, you should be rushing out to buy Happy Mutant Baby Pills. You should crack it open the minute you get home and chew your way through it in one sitting. Because although Happy Mutant Baby Pills shares traits with the aforementioned novels, its greatest strength is that it's written by one of modern satire's great unblinking stylists.

Unflinching is the word that best describes Stahl's style, which, for certain readers is going to make Happy Mutant Baby Pills a bit of an uncomfortable read. Because Stahl never looks away, not ever. From start up dating websites to the ugly perils of addiction to the Occupy movement, Stahl paints it all as base level opportunism; just another scam-within-a-scam painted with two or three coats of change and hope, repackaged, sent out to the American public for quick soundbite consumption, hoping that we all fill our bellies with it before we notice that the crisp, ripe apple we've just eaten is nothing more than the same old ball of shit that we've been fed time and again.

No, Happy Mutant Baby Pills is not by any means a perfect satire. The ugly glorification of heroin use—this is an issue most recovering addicts/alcoholics-turned-novelists suffer from—can be at times stomach churning and hard to bear. But thanks to Stahl's non-linear riffing, his keen observations of modern American culture, you'll be able to move beyond the surface ugliness of skin popping junkies, and delve into the rotted meat that is the crassly commercial American dream.

About the author

Keith Rawson is a little-known pulp writer whose short fiction, poetry, essays, reviews, and interviews have been widely published both online and in print. He is the author of the short story collection The Chaos We Know (SnubNose Press)and Co-Editor of the anthology Crime Factory: The First Shift. He lives in Southern Arizona with his wife and daughter.

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