Book Review: The Street, by Paul Elard Cooley

Hello, you awesome people who read this blog and honor me with your patronage. Today I’m doing a review of a different kind: a book review. Yes, usually I do video game reviews, but I’m branching out. Besides, considering the amount of books I got from my trip to Balticon this year, plus all the awesomeness to come, books are much more fun.

Let me get started with this missive by letting you all know just who Paul Cooley is. Some of you may remember the Ten Questions I did with him many moons ago, and hopefully have checked out his amazing stories about Garaaga and his children. I’ve been rather a fan of his for awhile (called “fiendlings”) and I had the pleasure of meeting him for the second time at Balticon 2014. His stories of historical dark fiction are detailed, visceral, and some of the most fun I’ve had reading in a very long time. He is consistently a fun read, and his ventures into audiobooks are just as good. He is dark, he is twisted, and he gets you enjoying every syllable that you read and hear.

Which brings us to The Street. From the gritty and run-down scene on the cover, masterfully done by Scott Pond, to the harsh and cynical words of the protagonist private detective, Paul Cooley brings us— no, that’s not quite right. In fact, that’s not even in the same area code as “right”. Cooley drags us, kicking and screaming, into a world where our most beloved memories of television have come to life and been put out of a job by budget cuts. The Street is none other than Sesame Street, and the denizens are those who made us laugh and learn in those by-gone days of yore, when we all ate cereal and learned how to count and share and sing ridiculous songs that helped us remember how to tell when one thing was not like the others. The residents of the Street are also refugees from the Muppet Show, and Cooley brings them all to horrid life, showing how addiction, graft, murder and perversion can strike down even the most loved characters.

The whole book is through the eyes of the cynical private detective Oscar the Grouch, who spends what days he isn’t solving the Street’s problems drunk on Tuaca. Oscar is, if anything, even more a curmudgeon, hating pretty much everyone who is on the different sides of the turf war between Snuffalupugus and Cookie Monster. He may respect some of the other residents on the Street, but friends are very few. Oscar is loyal to the Street itself, and those who just want to survive one more day. What makes the book even more interesting is the Street itself becomes a character, a living, breathing thing with a character all its own. Seeing the Street through Oscar’s eyes, you can tell that, while he hates what it has become, he still loves it, and will give every bit of his stuffing to defend it.

While the action does center around Oscar who has a mean throwing arm and an addiction to Tuaca, the other characters from both Sesame Street and the Muppet Show make appearances in their dark forms. Bert and Ernie, Big Bird, the aforementioned Cookie Monster, Gonzo, Scooter, and even Elmo… They and dozens more show up in the pages, carving out their own bits of literary real estate and sticking in your mind. Even as I read words I would never hear on the real Sesame Street, I could hear them in my mind, even where Elmo is a badass, and is rightfully feared throughout the Street. That was the creepy part: how well Cooley was able to make the scenes on paper seem so not just possible, but inevitable.

I was cheering for a Grouch. What does that tell you?

If you’re looking for a book that will bring back childhood memories with a smile, this is not that book. If you’re looking for an astoundingly well-crafted tale about the downward spiral of the things we thought were pure and incorruptible, this is that book. As Paul Cooley says himself, this is a love letter to Jim Henson. It’s a twisted love letter, but at its heart, it is pure admiration for a genius who touched us all, helped us dream, and let us know that those dreams can be achieved. I cannot recommend The Street enough. Go and get it. I’ll provide the link to Shadow Publications, which is Paul’s site, and as an added bonus, Paul was donating a portion of the profits of The Street to the Sesame Workshop the last I checked. He might still be, which is awesome. Regardless, you need to read The Street. Now.

~ by Walker on June 22, 2014.

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