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Screenwriter's mental-illness tale a ridiculously fun debut effort

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Being broken, ill, depressed, financially ruined, creatively frustrated and relationally rocked is actually quite fun. You should try it.

Mark Lamprell insists you must try it. In his first novel, The Full Ridiculous, the Australian screenwriter and director (best-known for writing Babe: Pig in the City) casts readers as Michael O'Dell, a film-critic-turned-author, and signs them up for a second-person-narrated year from hell.

"You realize you can't move," the reader is informed after the opening chapter's run-in with a blue sedan. "You can't move anything except your head. And then you feel this thing you haven't felt as clearly or simply since you were a child. You feel really sorry for you."

Things don't improve. In a comic mounting of painful circumstances, each member of the O'Dell clan faces off against outside forces that range from malicious police and drug-dealing buddies to legal bills and vengeful school matrons. Growing evidence prompts a realization -- "The good part of your life is over; the bad part has begun" -- and sends you spiralling into a full-blown mental breakdown.

Depression and appreciation for life are the topical duelling forces Lamprell gives the most ink. Creatively and financially crippled, Michael O'Dell is the embodiment of the educated, ineffectual modern white male.

With no means to fight the universe that's turned on his loved ones, O'Dell turns on himself, in witty, self-tormenting feedback loops Lamprell knowingly captures.

"Like a demented Sisyphus, you roll your frustration up the hill of your impotence until you are so profoundly exhausted that you sleep."

Even with this comic grandiosity and ironic piling on of misfortune, The Full Ridiculous could be a much darker book. O'Dell's exaggerated self-loathing is grounded in an honest certainty, and tragic results believably threaten.

Lightening the load throughout is Lamprell's other main theme: family. The bipolar experience of parenting occasionally adds to the conflict, but this is a sentimental journey of a man revaluing what matters in life.

While a few heartwarming moments arrive with predictability and cloy, more often Lamprell sneaks them in with a winning simplicity, spontaneity and sincerity.

One major turning point in O'Dell's/your therapy is problematic. Without giving too much away, a late-introduced realization provides a tidy explanation of the root of your woes. It's a poor payoff for the long, sustained, frequently hilarious build of pressures that make up the rest of the book, but any relatively tidy resolution would seem unbelievable when tackling mental illness.

The excellent fun through the rest of the debut novel easily eclipses that fault, though. The intelligent, grounded, ultimately forgiving comic ode to the overstressed urban family is not only balm to the weary -- it's a wicked laugh.

Casting "you" as the hero is the cherry on top.

 

Matthew TenBruggencate is a writer for CTV Winnipeg.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 8, 2014 G6

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Updated on Saturday, March 8, 2014 at 8:55 AM CST: Tweaks formatting.

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