Thursday, February 23, 2012

Book Review: Harvard Lampoon's "The Hunger Pains"

For readers sporting "Team Peeta" t-shirts, The Harvard Lampoon's The Hunger Pains might produce a few more laughs, but even those without extensive knowledge of Suzanne Collins' now infamous Hunger Games trilogy can enjoy the outright ridiculous humor in the February 2012 novel.

Because the book is written in jest and parody, commenting on the novel's literary merit would be equally hilarious. But the creativity of the characters, plot, and setting more than make up for any boring sentence structure. The book follows Kantkiss Neverclean, a klumsy, scatterbrained, foolish teenager, who was involuntarily volunteered to compete in the yearly Hunger Games (a competition that began as a hotdog eating contest). She and Pita Malarkey (an obese and whiny Pillsbury Doughboy) are shipped to Disneyland and forced into the games. Effu Poorpeople (an upscale version of Effy Trinket) and Buttitch Totalapathy (a gambling-crazed Haymitch Abernathy) accompany the tributes on their journey.

Perhaps the most refreshing aspect of Hunger Pains is the total tongue-in-cheek dialogue. Take President Mark Bernette, for example (yes, as in the incorrectly spelled name of the British producer of Celebrity Apprentice and Survivor). After the President assures the tributes that they can leave at any time, an officer rushes to whisper into Bernette's ear. The President then turns to the crowd, clears his throat, and laughs. "Sorry, sorry, I was thinking of something else. You can only leave if you die."

Alright. Let's be honest. Some parts of the book are overdone and cease being funny after the 300th reference. The most looming example? The way Kantkiss can't decide between Pita and Carol (a.k.a. Gale). Yes, the allusion is very funny, particularly because of the ongoing subtle love triangle in the real Hunger Games trilogy. But twice a page for an entire novel? Not funny anymore. The novel's shining aspects lie in actually subtleties, the various settings, the secondary plots, the character names that are off by just one letter (the Peacemakers from Games are the Pacemakers in Pains. C'mon, that's hysterical). In that way, the book is worth the read.

This isn't the first full-length novel Harvard Lampoon has published. While the company is most known for its long-running humor magazine, HL has also released such roll-your-eye classics as Nightlight (based on Stephanie Meyer's Twilight trilogy) and Bored of the Rings (based, of course, on J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings). Harvard Lampoon has not announced any upcoming book releases, but will continue to publish five issues of the HL magazine annually. Past HL writers include comedians/writers Conan O'Brien and Andy Borowitz.

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