Angry Elf follows the character Winton Chevalier's life several years before the events of The Right Kind of Stupid as he comes to terms with life as an achondroplasic dwarf and the son of a decorated police officer.
I'm not one to recount plots in reviews, but the core of the story is Winton's angst about having to resort to being a stereotype to make ends meet, and the nasty, defensive attitude that arises because of it. Needless to say, in classic Oakes style, Winton gets the good old Scrooge treatment.
What impressed me the most about Angry is how empathetic and incisive Oakes is with portraying a dwarf. Where other, lesser writers could have made Winton a two-dimensional joke or a piece of the scenery, Oakes pulls a G. R. R. Martin and does this Texan Tyrion every justice possible. Winton is an emotionally invested and realized character, and Oakes doesn't pull any punches or withhold anything the character deserves--he gets into fights, he has a love interest, he gets arrested, other characters lecture him.
He might be in a four-foot body, but he has a six-foot soul and I think that deserves a five-star rating.
Fish, his tiny girlfriend Marissa, and a big white biker-looking guy named Kenway came to sit with her in the booth. She helped them destroy the pizza and an army of craft beers while they ignored the movie and played a game of Cards Against Humanity.
Kenway held up a black card in one tattooed hand. A riot of color and lines ran down his huge arms in sleeves. “We never did find blank, but along the way we sure learned a lot about blank.” His Sasquatch frame was crammed into a black T-shirt and he had a massive beard that made him look like a lumberjack having a mid-life crisis. A piercing in his eyebrow twinkled in the projector’s glow.
Heather smirked and plucked two white cards--the tiniest shred of evidence that God is real, and tripping balls—from her hand, putting them face down on the table next to the others.
Marissa’s cards won the round. “We never did find passable transvestites,” Kenway recited out loud, and a huge grin gleamed through the dark cloud of his beard. “But along the way we sure learned a lot about Grandma.”
The table roared with laughter, and a couple of the people watching the movie glanced at them.
As the evening progressed toward midnight, Heather became more and more glad that she’d agreed to come. Several dozen hands into a Halloween marathon, she looked up from her beer and realized that all the movie-watchers had disappeared. Michael Myers’s blank stare filled the screen.
“I think it’s about time I head home,” said Kenway, and Marissa let him out. Heather was taken aback at how tall he was as he unfolded himself from the booth and stretched six feet of broad muscle.
She polished off her beer. “Got work in the morning?”
Fish stiffened. Heather scrunched her brow at him in confusion.
“I don’t really work,” Kenway said, jamming his fingers into his jeans pockets. “Well, I do—” He gestured with a big craggy hand. “—But it’s not really your usual nine-to-five.”
Marissa smiled. “Kenny is Blackfield’s local artiste.”
“Is that so?” Heather beamed. The smile felt alien and uncomfortable on her face even after laughing at the card game, and as usual it faded quickly. “What kind of art do you do?”
“A little of this, a little of that.” The hulking man folded his arms. It should have looked authoritative, menacing even, but somehow it seemed protective, bashful. “I did the big mural on the wall at the park, and I did the superheroes out there on the windows. I have vinyl equipment too, and I make leather stuff.”
“Maybe I can commission you to paint my van.”
“That skeezy-ass candy van?” asked Joel.
Heather pursed her lips at him. “Yes, my skeezy-ass candy van. It needs a little style, maybe.”
Kenway rubbed the back of his neck. “I’ll take a look at it, then.” He started gathering up the cards and shuffling them, sorting them into clean stacks and putting them into boxes. “What did you have in mind?”
“Do you do a lot of vans?”
“A couple. Mostly pick-up trucks and hot-rods from out of town. I do a shit-ton of motorcycles for guys out of Atlanta and Chattanooga. I did a big-ass snake on a dude’s truck a few years ago. It was pretty fuckin’ sick, took forever. Went all the way around the back from one door to the other.”
Heather tried to picture the van with a new paint job. “It’d have to be something black, with stylized artwork. Nothing garish or cheesy.”
“I’m sure I could figure something out.”
“I think you should take the lady back over there and let her show you her skeezy-ass candy van,” suggested Joel, with a devil’s grin. “I live on the other side of town, and it’d be out of my way, but your studio is between here and there.”
A rush of cold heat shot down Heather’s neck in embarrassment. She narrowed her eyes at him. You planned this all along, didn’t you?
SOMETIMES YOU CATCH A movie on cable TV and there’s this muted, dramatic, slightly off-kilter, made-from-the-heart quality about it. You’re instantly drawn in by its distant intensity and slightly aged quality. You look it up on the internet, and yep, there it is: it was made in Australia.
There’s something about Australia that seems to bring out the true creativity in its indies. They put out rich, complex movies that would never have seen the light of day in cookie-cutter Hollywood—Dark City. Mad Max. Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. They are eerily magical, with a stately pace and intricate characterizations, lit from backstage by a blazing red sun. Their actors say their lines quietly so that you’ve got to turn up your TV. Their scenes move across the beautiful desolation of the Outback, the vast bushlands standing in for the Apocalypse, for farmlands, for prairies and Las Vegas.
Richard, the protagonist of the book, isn’t your standard fantasy hero. While not written in the same flowing unchaptered frontiersman style as Cormac McCarthy’s masterwork “The Road”, this story carries the same feeling of fatherly protectiveness, of helplessness, a xenophobic vigilance against the unknown dangers of a foreign wasteland. Fleeing an enigmatic enemy known only as the Magician, the weathered fugitive hustles his increasingly strange daughter from town to town, clashing with a revolving cast of leering highwaymen and proud bedouin.
Aged, put-upon and weatherbeaten, the weary tactician is a deft cross between the driven Roland Deschain and the reluctant Indiana Jones. He doesn’t run from a fight, but he doesn’t charge mindlessly into battle, either—fear drives his decisions; fear of death, fear of losing his daughter, fear of losing his sanity, the fear any normal person would experience when forced to face the creatures that Richard encounters. And that makes him one of the most relatable heroes I’ve ever seen. He does what I would do, and feels how I would feel, and that makes it extremely immersive. His decisions feel real and make sense.
Richard and Ana’s tale has that special something that makes Australian indie so imaginative and commanding of attention. It also has the lyrical cadence and tight, locked-inside-the-head scope of a book that should have been published before the invention of the Kindle, a legacy fantasy epic that belongs between Lackey and Jordan on a shelf in a 1994 Waldenbooks.
If you’re a fantasy fan, you would be denying yourself a real treat by skipping this one. Get ready for the sequel, “The Ragged Lord”, and pick up “Century of Sand”. Just don’t forget your burnouse—the sun’s murder out there.