I’ve talked before about my love for John Swartzwelder, but I really can’t say enough about the guy. His episodes of the Simpsons are pretty consistently my favorite, and as I started to get the DVD seasons and the episode guides, I slowly pieced together that all of my favorite episodes were written by the same guy. I feel it was at that point that I really realized that people write things, and one guy can clearly make a living writing funny things. Knowing about him was one of the big things that spurred me onto trying to actually write stories for people. I also became incredibly intrigued by the man, because of how reclusive and mysterious a figure he was on the show. They even made weird references to him in the show, like having Barney holding a sign that says “John Swartzwelder” and having a character who’s modeled after him pop up in random places in the old episodes, adding to this weird legendary status around him, like if Bigfoot was a prolific author of episodes. I was a super dorky kid and loved listening to the commentaries on the Simpsons episodes, the behind the scenes stories were fascinating to me, and of course, John Swartzwelder has never done them. He apparently refuses, despite having been asked numerous times, and the folks who do the commentaries always have incredibly strange stories to tell about him. Like, apparently he bought a booth from a restaurant he liked to write at when they closed, so he could keep the booth in his garage and still write in it. A lot of my favorite writers are rather eccentric and odd people, like Hunter S Thompson, and I found all the strange and disparate stories about Swartzwelder fascinating. There’s even a commentary when they call him, and he’s apparently grilling a steak at like 10 a.m. and he pretty quickly says that he’s not actually John Swartzwelder, and man I don’t know who was lying in that scenario.
And of course I reached a point where I learned that John Swartzwelder had taken to writing incredibly funny and strange little novels in the last decade. He’s written eleven at this point, and sadly I hadn’t read any of them until yesterday. They’re kind of pricey since they’re self published, and I’m a bit of a cheapskate, so I’ve never been able to read any. But a buddy of mine who is a huge Simpsons fan as well recently bought me a copy of the first book, the Time Machine Did it, so I was finally able to read one. And boy was it a blast. It was only around 140 pages, but was jam-packed with crazy jokes and a ridiculous plot. While reading it, the thing that it most reminded me of was Charles Bukowski’s Pulp, but done right. It’s essentially a parody of noir detective novels, which I’ve already talked about how much I love, but done absolutely crazy. Bukowski’s Pulp was a weird pastiche of the genre, where he tried to jam every single trope into one book, so it ended up having his protagonist take on five different cases and then quickly solve them and get rid of them in rapid succession. This has much more breathing room, and tackled the tropes much better. It stared Frank Burly, a detective who was essentially Homer Simpson, who changed his name to ensure his clients that he’ll be frank with them, and he’s burly. He’s incredibly incompetent to a hilarious degree. And he gets a case from a homeless man named Mandible who claims that the day before he was the richest, most powerful man in the town, and he needs Burly to find a figurine of Lady Justice that was stolen along with the rest of his holding. So Burly starts investigating, and pretty quickly figures out what’s happened. A group of criminals have robbed the house of a brilliant scientist who created a fully functioning time machine, and they’re now using it to travel through time and steal stuff. Burly eventually gets hold of the time machine himself and gets stuck in 1941 for a while before finally coming across the figurine, which turned out to be made of proof that the Mandible family made their money through bribery. Burly bounces back and forth through time trying to solve the case, getting into a multitude of ridiculous scenarios, before making it back to the present day, where he decided to keep the figurine and become the richest man in town instead.
This book was ridiculous, and it really has to be read to understand. This book had the highest rate of jokes of any book I’ve ever read. Just about every line has some sort of pun or joke in it, while somehow keeping a narrative. It plays with the tried and true tropes of the noir genre, and manages to poke fun at them while also embracing them lovingly. I really want to read the rest of his books now, especially the ones featuring Burly, because while he was pretty much Homer, he was still a fun character to read. If you like noir, or great comedy, I would definitely recommend giving this book a read.
The Time Machine Did It was written by John Swartzwelder
Categories: Page Turners