Red Lobster, White Trash, & the Blue Lagoon is yet another hilarious book by Joe Queenan. I’ve loved the other books by him that I’ve read, but this one is different. It's a lot shorter even than Queenan Country. This surprised me until I actually read it. But it is still just as funny as I know Queenan can be.
In this book, he starts on a pop-culture odyssey and has a hard time coming back from it. Unlike Odysseus, though, he doesn’t have a family (or a wife) waiting for him back home while he journeys. Instead, he drags them along with him, kicking and screaming. He’s always been sort of a snob, sneering at various popular items that he wouldn’t be caught dead attending or visiting. Everything that he’s always loathed from afar, he decides that he must now experience. He’s getting bored with his intellectual life, and he wants to see how “the masses” live. So he dives in to the deep end, starting off with seeing Cats on Broadway. He’s managed to avoid even thinking about it for fourteen years, but now he decides he has to see it. It is an eye-opening experience, and one that’s just the gateway to the pop-culture Hades. Soon, he’s listening to Michael Bolton and Kenny G, going to Red Lobster and Taco Bell, and generally becoming one of us. Internally he’s a bit sickened by the whole thing, but soon he becomes addicted to it. He can’t live without getting up at eight in the morning for STARSKY & HUTCH. His is a journey between Scylla and Charibdis and around the island of the Sirens. He will find himself in dangerous waters, almost dying (well, his brain, anyway). And what a ride it is.
Queenan definitely has a way with words. He’s also very abrasive and condescending at times, so he’s not for everybody. He insults a lot of popular things in this book. If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself laughing uproariously even when he’s going after something you really like. There will be other times when you’ll be nodding your head in complete agreement (most likely when he’s talking about Michael Bolton). He can be an acquired taste, though, so you may want to leaf through the book before buying it, just to make sure. Don’t worry where you leaf to. Wherever you go, he’ll be going after something. However, if you find you don’t mind this, his style of writing is incredible. It flows very easily and reads very quickly. I read this book in three sessions and it didn’t take more than forty-five minutes each time (and for me, that’s fast). I found myself unable to put it down.
Probably the funniest bit in the whole book is when he has a dream about a worldwide conspiracy of morons. He thought originally that it was just random, that morons were all over the place but that they weren’t organized. But then he’s drafted to infiltrate the moron brigade and find out what they’re planning. His indoctrination (which he’s already started by going on this journey) is intense, and his life hinges on his familiarity with the television show “Touched by an Angel.” This sequence lasts for about three pages, and it is truly hilarious. Another bit that stands out is his description of seeing “Victor Victoria” on stage three times in a couple months, with three different stars: Julie Andrews, Liza Minnelli and Raquel Welch. Very hideous, but very outrageous. Even his thirteen-year-old daughter, who he drags to Minnelli’s show, knows that something is wrong here.
He outdoes himself when he goes to Vegas, though. One of his main themes once he starts down this road is that a number of the things he sees and places he goes to have a certain “scheissenbedauern” - the feeling that something really sucks but doesn’t suck as much as you secretly hoped it would. He finds himself disappointed by the mediocrity of so much that he experiences, when he wanted it to be truly horrible. Vegas was a good example, and he has some really complimentary things to say about Wayne Newton (and Barry Manilow in an earlier section). Too many things are just bad, rather than being mind-blowingly awful. This does not apply to his visit to Branson, Missouri, and this visit almost cures him of his addiction.
This is an hilarious book, and watching Joe sink deeper and deeper into the depths of pop culture, to the point where he can’t get himself out of it, is a blast. However, the book does have a couple of shortcomings. Both of these are actually alleviated by mitigating factors or are easily solvable. The first is that the book is so short. This sort of ruins the entertainment value and makes you wonder about spending that kind of money for a 188-page book. However, after reading it, I completely understand. As good as the book is, I don’t think it could have supported much more length. The second problem is that the wisecracks and insults of things that you might happen to enjoy (like “Phantom of the Opera,” for me) can get a bit old if you’re reading it all in one sitting. The solution for that, though, is to put it down for a little while and take a break. Easily solved.
I really enjoyed this book, and this view of popular culture from an “outside” source. If you’re in the mood to laugh and you find that Queenan is to your taste, this is another excellent example of his writing. Give it a try. Just take it in smaller doses then usual.