If an Indian falls in the woods, can you hear him scream? Dora Shear did, and her life was about to get interesting. After Maistoinna Standing Bear tackles a tree, Dog Shear Dora – as she’s known in the trailer park – is left to pick up the pieces. Only she’s up to no good.
Uncover the secrets of a Jewish love triangle, why the IGA checkout lady trashes a car, why a trip over the coffee table is better than Novocain, and more importantly, the difference between a Canadian Passport and a Kentucky Waterfall. Hop on board with Maistoinna for a crazy forty-eight hour ride through the world’s most dysfunctional trailer park.
What Readers are Saying:
Have you ever marveled at how Coltrane can take squeaks and squeals, seemingly discordant explosions of sound, and roll them out into an experience of sublime musical beauty? That’s how Shangri-La reverberated in my senses. More than the sum of its parts, the story takes some pretty distasteful dysfunction squealing and squalling its way through to another plane – an ethereal co-ordinate where the dream world and the consciousness fuse into a continuum.
I hate the gratuitous violence and sadism that has become a mainstay of our present day entertainment. I hate most what it speaks about the depravity of our tastes, the lows of human desire unplugged; the ancient beast in us fed the raw bloody feast of its nature. But gratuitous shock value is not what I found here – not once all the parts of this literary fusion had been put into place. As when listening to a masterful improv composition, one knows in the end that not a single false note has been played.
Not for everyone’s taste, Shangri-La Trailer Park is going to upset some people. This is the raw of life with no candy coating to get it down. Beware, though. These characters may capture you even as the repulsion towards them makes you want to put the book down. There’s no doubt they are real – maybe that’s the hardest pill to swallow.
As the trailer park occupants go about their painfully dysfunctional lives, the protagonist, Maistoinna, a Blackfoot from the north country of Montana, operates on a different plane. Fully modern, armed with all the smart talk and flippant slang he needs to keep trailer park culture at bay, this quirky anti-James Fenimore Cooper NDN has his act together as he communicates with his bear clan spirit guide with the familiarity of a family member
John Zunski is a fine word smith, and a composer of beauty from the rough stuff of life.
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. 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 four stars.
I’ve read books that’ve made me want to eat a particular food. (The Novel-scrapple:), those that have made me want to try a type of beer. (The last good kiss-Tacate beer:) I’ve read books that have made me want to change my career, or, um…get one. (Another roadside attraction-mushroom picker:) Shangri-La Trailer Park made me want to pack a hefty bag full of clothes and travel until I found the rusty collection of homes with wheels and dig in, I wanted to drink Tecate, take mushrooms and eat scrapple with them. Roll around and just get dirty with them and then kiss and make up. If the book gods are with me and Maistoinna, we haven’t heard the last from ‘em.