Tuesday, March 3, 2020

A Book Review of The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek by Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal

It’s 1992 in Bleak Creek, North Carolina—a sleepy little place with all the trappings of an ordinary Southern town: two Baptist churches, friendly smiles coupled with silent judgments, and an unquenchable appetite for pork products. Beneath the town’s cheerful façade, however, Bleak Creek teens live in constant fear of being sent to the Whitewood School, a local reformatory with a history of putting unruly youths back on the straight and narrow—a record so impeccable that almost everyone is willing to ignore the suspicious deaths that have occurred there over the past decade.

At first, high school freshmen Rex McClendon and Leif Nelson believe what they’ve been told: that the students’ strange demises were all just tragic accidents, the unfortunate consequence of succumbing to vices like Marlboro Lights and Nirvana. But when the shoot for their low-budget horror masterpiece, PolterDog, goes horribly awry—and their best friend, Alicia Boykins, is sent to Whitewood as punishment—Rex and Leif are forced to question everything they know about their unassuming hometown and its cherished school for delinquents.

Eager to rescue their friend, Rex and Leif pair up with recent NYU film school graduate Janine Blitstein to begin piecing together the unsettling truth of the school and its mysterious founder, Wayne Whitewood. What they find will leave them battling an evil beyond their wildest imaginations—one that will shake Bleak Creek to its core.

Genre: Supernatural
Publisher: Crown (October 29, 2019)
Page Count: 336 pages

Ever since Rhett and Link announced in Good Mythical Morning that they were writing a novel, I knew I had to get it. However, I was a little skeptical about how good this novel would be. I love these two comedians (I mean they are completely part of my daily routine) but Buddy System attested that their storytelling needed a little work. They have hilarious characters and they’d have a good beginning then it would go off the rails at the end. So I was a little nervous I wouldn’t like their novel but I love these guys so much I had to give them a chance.

The Plot: I think because of the assistance with their co-writer Lance Rubin, the plot faired far better than their other narratives. It had an intense beginning, managed to keep consistent tension and finish well. There was some exposition, head-hopping, and a long flashback to reveal the villain’s backstory, yet despite these flaws, the mystery of the story propelled me to keep reading. 

The Characters: Rhett and Link have outright stated that Rex and Leif are them as teenagers and they did a wonderful job capturing their teenage selves. I love how they mentioned awkward details like body odor and feeling fuzzy around their crush. It felt really authentic and real. They incorporated a lot of their own quirks and things they used to do as kids like playing Testikill (you just have to read the book to find out what that is 🤣), wading out to an island in a river, and arguing about Link’s pickiness. My only bother with them is they lied frequently to progress in the story with not much consequence.

Janine is based on Stevie Levine and I really like the character’s relationship with her cousin and throughout the book, you’re yearning for their relationship to be prepared. Alicia is a really sweet and spunky character and the center of many of the Bleak Creek happenings. She’s very brave and smart. Whitewood is a nefarious but understandable villain. 

And of course, there have to be a couple of quirky characters cause this is a Rhett and Link story. Ben and Hornhat were very amusing. There were many moments with them that had me chuckling. 

The Setting: As someone who’s lived in the south for all my life, they did a great job describing it mostly because they lived there as well. The 90s time period also felt so vivid as well as mentioning Clearly Canadian and Hypercolor shirts and old ladies putting plastic on their couches. There’s also a supernatural element introduced later on that I can’t expand upon too much without spoilers but just know that it’s very unique.

My only irk is the disrespect toward Christianity in areas. I haven’t looked into Rhett and Link’s spiritual journeys (I heard there’s an Ear Biscuits ep about it though), but there were definitely some mixed feelings and skepticism portrayed by the characters even though they attend church weekly. One character mentions “patriarchy and xenophobia” in the south, there’s a bible verse on the creepy brainwashing school entrance, and there’s a fanatical religious cult. Also, baptism is likened to waterboarding which felt disrespectful to a really sacred Christian ritual.

Now I don’t think it’s wrong for the characters to feel these feelings and to portray cults because they are a thing but there wasn’t good shown with religion to balance it out and with all of the disdain shown toward Christianity in American cultures currently, I just don’t like that there’s another book out there that could lead people to the wrong conclusions. There’s enough of that out there already.

Epic Things: There is a lot of classic Rhett and Link comedy like Link hissing at a random raccoon. XD Glowing water and bubbles is a really neat aesthetic.

The Theme: Bravery is a big theme. Being brave enough to stand up for what you believe in despite opposition.

Content Cautions: There’s actually a decent amount of content in this book. I’d say a strong PG-13 rating. Good Mythical Morning has evolved into a bit more of a mature show and that shows in their writing as well. It’s mentioned in a newspaper that a kid was baked to death in an oven and a girl died in a gas explosion. There’s also mention of someone committing suicide with pills. Adults are abusive to kids, the worst examples being cutting hands with a knife, leaving them immobilized in a carpet roll for hours forcing them to pee themselves, and one man nearly water torturing a girl to death and then choking her. A lot of blood is drained from a dead guy. A person shoots someone else with a gun with lots of blood. 

There’s also a good deal of swearing and some severe curse words. Fourteen uses of h***, fourteen uses of d***, twelve uses of sh**, seven uses of bi***, five uses of a**hole, three uses of a**, three uses of f***, and two of d**k.

What We Can Take Away For Our Writing:

An Exposition Flashback That Works - Near the end of the novel, there is a chapter dedicated to Whitewood's backstory. It's basically an exposition dump, but you just want to know so bad about what up with this kook that you can't help but enjoy it. 

How this can be applied to writing: Sometimes exposition chapters work, but the information conveyed has to be something irresistible.

Conclusion: I enjoyed the book and I heard that Rhett and Link are going to try to turn it into a movie. Count me in!

About the Authors: Rhett & Link, best friends since the first grade, are an LA-based comedic duo known for hosting the most-watched daily talk show on the Internet, Good Mythical Morning, their narrative series Rhett & Link's Buddy System, the award-winning weekly podcast Ear Biscuits, as well as their wildly popular comedic songs, sketches, and viral low-budget local commercials. Rhett & Link’s YouTube channels have a combined subscriber base of over 19 million people with over 4 billion total views. They have been featured on and in The Tonight Show with Jimmy FallonThe Conan O’Brien ShowVarietyUSA Today, and Mashable.

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