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  • Irrational Devotions
  • David Holub (bio)
Busy Monsters. William Giraldi. Norton. 282 pages; cloth, $24.95; paper, $15.95.

If love were rational, we wouldn't be here right now. If love were rational, we wouldn't kill for it, cry over it, and lie in the name of it. The irrationality of love is why you choose him or her or that despite those-who-loved-you-first saying no, no, no. That irrationality is what makes love messy and blissful and unsolvable and intoxicating. And it is precisely what ails Charles Homar, the protagonist extraordinaire in William Giraldi's debut novel, Busy Monsters.

Homar, a "memoirist of mediocre fame" whose weekly column appears nationally, is clear from the start: his passion, his everything-I-ever-wanted is his soon-to-be-bride, Gillian. Gillian, however, splits in search of her first love, the mythical giant squid, accompanying a "big-shot squid hunter," no less. The love lost, coupled with suspicions of romantic shenanigans between captain and first mate, reduces Homar to a "lovesick numbskull with a hacked-up heart." Just as Gillian must chase her passion, so shall Charles Homar, who, writing dispatches along the way, zig-zags the country with schemes to retrieve Gillian and soothe his brokenness, seeking redemption and negotiating passionate madness—both his and others'—at every turn.

In fact, most of the lives in Busy Monsters are overrun with passions and loves that are far from rational, those kinds of devotions that make others, the sane ones of course, scratch their heads and ponder the degree of craziness standing before them. There are the recognizable (a wife and her curmudgeon husband, a son longing for the affection of his indignant father) and the not-so-recognizable (bigfoot hunters, UFO watchers, Loch Ness scholars), all chasing their monsters, however unattainable they are, or precisely because of their unattainability.

At the heart of Busy Monsters is Homar's brilliance, humanity, and understanding. At least twice Homar utters the sentiment, "Men, it's true, are not made well," and it might be his best self-characterization. Men, yes. Especially this one, as Homar is gracefully flawed, sometimes broken, seldom whole, every bit wise as he is clumsy and as much self-assured as he is tentative. Ruminating on advice he's received,

[M]ost men and women will stumble along to an internal tune that offers no nexus even to half-thawed logic; we will do what we will do and allow our unwanted saga to play out in whatever way it will, hoping for a conquest without any discernable way to achieve it. ... We have no answers to the bile boiling in the hearts of others because we have no answers to our own.

Homar is a giant in his multifariousness, a gushing-blood romantic whose longing infiltrates every sentence. He's made of bits and pieces of everyone you've ever known, with equal ability to deliver a haymaker as he is to weep before a burly gas station attendant, which is perhaps why you plain like him so much.

The absurdity Homar encounters during his travels (re: a body builder's invitation to a ménage à quatre with two porcelain "Asiatic scholar-slaves") keeps Giraldi's story moving, providing plenty of farcical fodder for Homar's memoirs. Fanning Homar's fiery altercations at every stop is Giraldi's entertaining and effective device of Homar-as-memoirist. As readers of Giraldi's Busy Monsters lap up Homar's yarns, it becomes clear that so too has everyone else living in Homar's world, thanks to the nothing-withheld approach to his weekly column. Homar's escapades and the novel itself benefit from a self-awareness, as everyone is essentially inside Homar's head. Knowing his business, they never miss an opportunity to weigh in, often finding fault in his affairs or offended at his characterizations. While creating a stage for plenty of blisteringly funny, Curb Your Enthusiasm-style altercations, the device also allows Homar to reflect organically, to contextualize and analyze past, present, and future, which is where Homar breathes and Giraldi seems ravenously comfortable.

What makes Giraldi's enormous characters...


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