Friday, June 1, 2012
Review of The Shark Infested Custard by Charles Willeford
The Shark Infested Custard is told in four parts, each part told in the first person from the perspective of one of the four lead characters. Willeford manages to produce four different voices and to provide a nice depth of characterization. The dialogue is spot-on, and the scenes are well penned, some of them very well so. There are some very nice observational touches throughout, especially Hank’s amateur psychology readings of other people, although this is tempered by some fairly explicit sexism and some political incorrectness around race. For me, it was the plot that was the weakest element of the book. Each part is an extended short story, with each intersecting with the others. In some places, the story didn’t really seem to be moving anywhere other than building the character. There just seemed to be little forward momentum and if I’d lost the book, I wouldn’t have felt compelled to buy another to find out how the book ended. And collectively the four parts didn’t seem to be adding up to more than the sum of the parts. That is, until the last few pages. Often novels seem to tail off at the end, whereas this one finished with a flurry that had the effect of lifting the whole book. Indeed, it is interesting that a day or so after finishing it, my opinion of its merits is much higher than when I was actually reading it. Overall, an uneven story that has some flashes of brilliance.