Arcade of Cruelty by Joseph Patrick Larkin commits the cardinal sin of entertainment: It is boring. And, I have to say, that given its premise and its content, that is a difficult feat to achieve. Unfortunately, Larkin manages to succeed.
The premise of the book is that of a retrospective on the life and artistic work of the late Joseph Patrick Larkin. The book moves roughly in chronological order, from Larkin’s earliest work in middle school, through his final pieces in 2007. The book includes scribbled graffiti in yearbooks, single panel comic strips,
As I mentioned above, it is an interesting premise. A fictional recounting of a life that is, in fact, not yet ended. It could allow the creator to fill the book with all the ironic schmaltz that one finds in those types of books. Instead, Larkin chooses to fill the pages with incoherent ramblings and non sequiturs. Just one of the many examples: “Just some monotype prints Joseph Patrick Larkin made while attending art school in 2000, no big deal. P.S. Eat a bag of dicks. P.P.S. Your mother sucks cocks in hell.” Really, one could open to any page in the book and find something equally nonsensical.
The art throughout the book is fairly run of the mill. Larkin himself admits that it is not that good. Again, it is mostly just boring. Repeated images copied and pasted in new locations with different word balloons or captions inserted repeat the same gags and attempts at crude humor. Unfortunately all those attempts just fall flat.
There are few times where the humor comes through and the book achieves what I believe Larkin was attempting: humor that is so off-color, in such poor taste that you find yourself laughing at it in spite of the fact that it is so wrong. I am thinking particularly of the section titled, “The Unbearable Lightness of Being Raped.” It is so wrong. It is in such bad taste. But you cannot help but laugh at the exploits of he world’s most considerate rapist. (I think I need a shower after writing that last line)
Ultimately there is too little humor and too little cruelty for this book to work. Larkin relies on the same gags over and over. They weren’t even funny the first time, and after fourteen pages, they are just annoying. In
It is a task to read through the book, not because it is so tasteless and cruel, but because it simply fails to entertain.