Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Book Reviews: From political histories to bad comics, to bad comics of political histories. And the occasional rant about fiction and writing.

Mimsy Review: Idiots, Imbeciles, and Morons

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, July 11, 2001

That’s it, just call me the Natural Kid. Nothing but bean sprouts and twigs, tofu and dirt, carrots and lichen, broccoli and rocks, collard greens and seashells. That’s me, the Natural Freakin’ Kid. Jesus I miss that big morning coffee and chocolate cruller. The glazed chocolate cruller. If only they, I’m picturing scientists in white lab coats, could invent a chocolate cruller that promoted weight loss and curbed obsession about eating bad food. Is that too much to ask? Christ, they can make a personal computer the size of a Poptart, but they can’t make a healthy cruller. What does that tell you about our priorities as a society?

A unique story about a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown--working in a day home for the developmentally challenged.

AuthorJohn Karrer
Year2000
Length556 pages
Book Rating8

I was wandering around the various “self-publishing” print houses a few weeks ago and ran across two books at XLibris that looked very interesting. One of them was John Karrer’s “Imbeciles, Idiots, and Morons”.

This is a self-published book, however, except for minor editing problems it is a professional package. I have seen worse editing problems in “mainstream” books, but it still should have been done better. There are about three or four missing words throughout the book, and a couple of odd misspellings. Some of them are clearly intentional; others are clearly unintentional; but the remainder I just can’t tell.

But the story itself is fascinating, and if it weren’t for the size I would not have been able to put it down. As it was, I finished reading it in two nights and want to read it again. As I read the book, I believed that it was autobiographical; I have no idea if it is or isn’t, there is no “back cover blurb” explaining how Karrer came to write this story. It is simply that the characters and situations are so real and invested with so much emotional energy that I assumed it must be true. That kind of connection with a book is rare for me, and I’m always overjoyed to find it.

If you remember John Kennedy Toole-the young writer who couldn’t publish his books during his own lifetime, and was only published because his mother used his death to shame an editor into reading it-you might find Karrer very similar. I don’t know if Karrer is making money by hiring XLibris’ services, but as a reader I am very glad that they exist, and that I don’t have to wait until Mr. Karrer dies before seeing his work.

ReJean (pronounced “Ray Zhahn”, it’s French) Zartro is a social worker at a “day treatment center” for New Yorkers of retarded development. Every once in a while he goes through a major depressive episode of his own, and he’s pretty sure he’s on the verge of one right now. He can’t sleep. He most definitely can eat. And he can’t get along with his idiotic coworkers. (The smart coworkers he can get along with just fine.)

His story begins with a “client” going violent in one of the treatment center’s classroom, yelling about needing coffee. The senior instructor, it turns out, told him he wouldn’t get any coffee if he didn’t take off his coat. Hell, most “normal” people would go crazy if you withheld their morning coffee.

The rest of the book goes between Ray whining to his friends about his crappy life or whining to himself about his whining, and life at the treatment center: mostly paperwork and meetings with people who wouldn’t know what to do if they didn’t have a meeting.

The story is written in first person, and the names are all pseudonyms, as if to shield real people from harm: one of his co-workers is “Paula Perfecto”. His ex-hippie boss is “Mary Paisley”. The treatment center is the “Gulag Day Treatment Center”, part of the Center for the Rehabilitation and Uplifting of Developmentally Disabled Individuals (you work out the acronym).

While the names are all fake, the character interaction is all very, very real. Coworkers blow up over silly things such as the font used in a report. People die. People know they’re dying. Friends try to pull him out of his depression. And things keep building to a head at the office. What’s going to happen next? Who will it happen to?

Despite my current feelings about CRUDDI, I’ve got to admit these pictures do capture some of the good times, days where it all made sense. Times when everyone, including me, pitched in and forgot their petty feuds. Days when the line between client and staff was erased and we were all out for a good time. Unfortunately, moments like these are few and far between. Most times, like now, it’s hard not to wonder if they ever happened at all, if they’re not merely concoctions of CRUDDI’s public affairs department spewed out by the propaganda machine on Twenty-third Street.

(There was probably an editing mistake in that paragraph: it originally read “it’s hard not wonder if”.)

I was completely enthralled by his spiraling-out-of-control life. This is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. I strongly recommend it.

Idiots, Imbeciles, and Morons

John Karrer

If you enjoyed Idiots, Imbeciles, and Morons…

If you enjoy life is unreal, you might also be interested in An Unlikely Prophet, Tortilla Flat, and The Secret Bookshelf.