Monday, January 30, 2012

Review and Super-Duper Giveaway - Shangri-La Trailer Park by John Zunski (3/5)

To be honest, Shangri-La Trailer Park isn't something I'd normally read.  Nobody dies, there's no mystery to unravel, and there are certainly no ninja cyborg hamsters. But I was intrigued by the plot synopsis, and the author, John Zunski, was kind enough to answer a bunch of pretentious literary nerd questions and front some swag for a giveaway (see below for more info on that).  He also told me that if I didn't review it, he'd send that big cinnamon bear in the story to talk off my ear and drink all my coffee in the middle of the night.  Always protective of my beauty sleep (and caffeinated comestibles), I agreed.  Now that I’ve finished it, I'm glad I did.

It’s a dark comedy, a strange mix between Native American spirit journey and white trash train wreck.  The main character is a Blackfoot named Maistoinna from Montana trying to hike the Appalachian trail.  He has a little “mishap” on the Pennsylvanian leg of trail and ends up dislocating his shoulder.  Luckily, a local hiker (and recent ex-con) known to the locals as “Dog Shear Dora” happens along and offers her help.  Maistoinna and Dora hit it off like Tom and Jerry, antagonizing each other and bellyaching and generally expressing their intense dislike for each other.  But Dora feels some inexplicable attraction to the crass Blackfoot, and she offers to take him to the hospital and put him up in her singlewide at the Heaven’s Lake trailer park.  His stay there intersects with a local redneck love triangle… except it involves five people total, so it’s really more of a love pentagon.  And like any good story about rednecks and trailer parks and dysfunctional relationships, there’s a lot of satire to be had.  There’s also some stereotyping, but as one who comes from a long line of good redneck stock, I didn’t at all mind.  Along the way the narrative is peppered with Maistoinna’s dream visions, where a great cinnamon-colored bear—Maistoinna’s spirit totem, or something like that—converses with Maistoinna and offers advice in a suitably mystical and cryptic fashion.

One word of warning I would give any prospective readers, though, is that the novel contains a couple scenes depicting violence against women, mostly within the contents of domestic and sexual relationships.  Zunski presents it with a fairly even hand and doesn’t glorify the violence, but he’s also unflinching in his portrayal.  I know it seems kind of impossible to do—write a comedic novel while peppering it with domestic abuse—but you have to keep in mind that the abuse isn’t the part that’s supposed to be funny.  The funny part mostly comes in when the various dysfunctional personalities get what’s coming to them.  Oh, and just about everything Maistoinna says.  I especially loved the a-typical curses he used like “bison anus.”  But as always, I digress.

The most egregious failing I noted in the book were a few typos and missing quotation marks here and there, but they really weren’t all that noticeable—so then I guess you could say it wasn’t egregious at all.  Stylistically, there were a couple things that made my right eye tweak a time or two, but I really think it’s because I’m just a weirdo when it comes to certain stylistic elements.  As you might have imagined (given how much I’ve ranted about it in other reviews), point of view (POV) was the one I keyed in on the most.   What it all boils down to, I guess, is that I just don’t like the third person omniscient.  That’s probably a testament to Zunski’s storytelling ability more than anything, because I really did enjoy the book despite the fact he used the much-loathed “TPO.”  Plus, I can see why he chose that POV for his novel, as it has a way of fostering a tone similar to Chuck Pala-whatever-his-name-is that is very conducive to dark comedy.  And then there were a couple instances where adjectives ran rampant over a sentence or two, but either Zunski tamed them by the end of the book or I was enjoying the story enough not to notice them anymore. 

Like I said, I’m a weirdo.

All told, I found Shangri-La Trailer Park to be quite humorous and entertaining.  Except for Maistoinna, the characters are mostly of the stock variety and they deal heavily in white trash stereotypes, but seeing as how the novel is a dark comedy, you can hardly blame Zunski for that.  I also appreciated the fact that he avoided making the ending into some stereotypical rom-com Twelfth Night farce in which all the star-crossed lovers are shuffled around and matched up in their cosmically ordained pairings.  Major points to him on that.  So if I had to give it a rating (and according to the law of the land, I must), I’d say it was three stars, maybe even three and a half. 

If all of this talk about Shangri-La Trailer Park has whetted your appetite for all things John Zunski, you can find out more about him at his website,  Or hell, you could even check out my interview with him.  We talk about lots of interesting things like bear mace and the meaning of life.  It’s a must-read for sure.

Or, if you like free stuff as much as I do, you can enter to win a free copy of Shangri-La Trailer Park from Smashwords.  How do you enter to win?  It’s easy peasie one-two-threesie.
  1. Comment on either this post or the interview with John stating you’d like to be considered for the drawing.
  2. Leave behind some contact information
  3. Cross your fingers!
Sorry.  Third one there isn't required, I just felt compelled to complete the series with a "#3."  Call me OCD.

This time we’ve got two copies to give out, so the more the merrier.  The winners will be announced after midnight, Sunday, February 5th (eastern standard time).  Good luck!


  1. Interesting and well thought-out review. You share some of my pet peeves re: spelling, adjectives, typos and what I call the curse of the self-published author who has not been subjugated to the editorial knife. But I disagree about using the omniscient voice. I am guilty of that, as I think it essential for weaving in inner-world material and inviting the reader beneath the surface. Nice one, John and Jonathan!

    1. Thank you so much, Niamh. You’re a saint.

      I completely understand about the TPO issue. It’s more personal taste, really, but I much prefer Third Person Limited or First Person. Divulging the main character’s feelings and internal monologues in those instances does not bother me at all, but what especially awes me is when an author can get across exactly what the characters are thinking and feeling through dialogue and surface actions. It moves the story along more quickly, encourages the audience to read more intuitively, and just feels more artful to me.

      I blame it all on Cormac McCarthy. He has ruined me in that regard.

  2. You had me at "a strange mix between Native American spirit journey and white trash train wreck". Really, any kind of train wreck... Too, I love what you said about your general criteria- specifically, that this differs because nobody dies. I have recently started watching "Sons of Anarchy" and complained about a particular arc because "not enough stuff is blown up". I mean, I can appreciate subtlety as well as the next person. But sometimes, you just need a good explosion. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

    1. Amen, sister. There's nothing like a little death and destruction to liven up a story line.

      Am I correct in assuming that you'd like to be considered for the book drawing? I mean, accumulating books you might not ever read is your M.O., isn't it?. ;)

    2. Oh, you bet. And I would definitely read it. Although I'm already leery due to the lack of rom com "Twelfth Night" ending...

  3. Enjoyed your review, Jonathan. I loved Maistoinna's vocabulary, too.

  4. I was wondering if you could give me a reference that explains about POV. I only know "speaker" "spoken to" and "spoken of" and I have a tendency to flutter between one and three in my work. I know many people hate third person and I can't stand to read first person for very long. One reviewer even said she got into my book even though it was third person. And third person omniscient, would that be like a narrator? It's been a long time since I went to school. God talks in my first book, (with his tongue in his cheek) and He's pretty omniscient, but that blurb was definitely first person. If you are not interested in this stuff, maybe you could just give me the reference.
    Re: the book drawing. Don't know.

    1. Hi Virginia,

      I'm sorry, I don't have a specific reference guide for you, but if you Google "types of point of view" I'm sure you'll find something that points you in the right direction.

      Now when I say "third person limited," what I mean is that the narrative is told from the third person perspective, but the narrator is privy to the thoughts and inward emotions of only one character. The thoughts and emotions of other characters are described through what the main character can perceive and infer. You can have a third person limited novel in which the story is told from multiple characters' perspectives, but only if you separate each one with a "scene break" or something similar. I find that generally speaking the more the POV shifts in the book (i.e. the number of characters whose POV the story is told from), the sloppier the narrative. That's not because having multiple character POVs is inherently sloppy, but more because people have a tendency to insert unneeded scenes that don't really advance the story line. But that's my personal opinion more than anything.

      As for third person omniscient, that's when the narrator knows everything every character thinks and does and says. If done with a little bit of restraint it can be OK, as in the case of John's book above, but I've seen it where the author will describe the thoughts and internal monologue of multiple characters in the same scene , fluidly bouncing back and forth without use of a scene break. That is probably when third person omniscient drives me up the freakin' wall.

      Oh, and then there's third person objective, which is a story told from the third person but the narrator does not know any of the thoughts and emotions of the characters, only what can be empirically observed. The closer a narrative gets to third person objective (sometimes it's not possible to be 100% objective), the more I tend to like the novel's style. That's because I really appreciate a "less is more" approach to storytelling, wherein it's mostly actions and descriptions that let you know what a character is feeling rather than the author telling you outright. I feel that it engages me more as a reader and makes me pay more attention to each detail of the story.

      I hope that helps. Again, the majority of this stuff is all just my opinion, so your mileage will almost certainly vary.

  5. thanks for the chance to win! I love dark comedies. This books sounds like something I'd enjoy. Fingers crossed :)

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  7. Really liked this one; I genuinely was surprised and delighted by the quirky imperfect characters whose failings gave them a realistic touch.

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