Don't get me wrong--there are some very funny parts--but by and large, the book is a rich tapestry of both humor and pathos. Hell, I'd almost call it lit-fic if I thought Oprah could stomach it. One minute it can be offensive enough to make you do a double-take at your Kindle, and the next you're hit with a moment of catharsis or introspection that leaves you stunned and itching to start the next chapter. One scene in particular involving a surprisingly violent temper tantrum in a restroom would have qualified the actor for an Oscar, I think, if it had been a movie.
About that offensiveness: great swaths of the book are devoted to building up situations that seem so politically-incorrect you'll be laughing and shaking your head in disbelief and developing characters that seem almost cartoonishly stereotypical. Drunken Japanese businessmen. Mexican landscapers. A schoolyard bully grown up into a boardroom bully. Then all of a sudden one of them does something that humanizes the hell out of them and you realize, 'this person doesn't need defending', or 'this guy is just like me'. You realize that underneath that Mexican landscaper's stereotype is a noble, hard-working immigrant that views his work as high art and loves his job so much his private life suffers. Underneath the bully's veneer of juvenile, name-calling, Biff-level antagonism is a clever, scheming sociopath with an inferiority complex.
You start to realize that a lot of this political incorrectness comes from Oakes's subtle yet full-force immersion of the reader in the main character Cody, who in his affluence is almost a shut-in. He's so sheltered he's damn near feral--a little boy raised by wolves in the tree hazard on a country club golf course. Thanks to his utter ignorance of the nuances of wider society, Cody's world is a minefield, teeming with racial slur naivete and faux pas trip-wires.
And in that ignorance is the book's first stunning magic trick: making you see the world you thought you knew in a whole new light, like some kind of portal fantasy dressed up in Billy Madison's clothes. Where Adam Sandler's stunted rich-kid manchild is viewed from the outside, turning him into an obnoxious clown transplanted into our common-sense workaday world, Cody Latour warps the Texas we know into an unfamiliar, trap-strewn labyrinth. Suddenly a character that could have been a buffoonish, one-dimensional 1-percenter playboy is brought down to our level and shaped into a real guy, a flesh-and-blood human being whose achievements and mistakes are our own. When the climax takes place and Cody realizes he's screwed himself into a major ass-beating, Oakes had developed him enough by that point that I actually felt ashamed and stupid FOR Cody, and I almost experienced cold physical fear at the prospect of getting my skull "cracked open" (as the antagonist so eloquently puts it, along with a very well-placed "Jesus Titty-Fucking Christ") in front of all his new friends.
The second magic trick, the real sawing-the-woman-in-half, is where Oakes crafts likeable, relatable, distinctive people out of the rich. In a time when billionaires are warning each other about pitchforks and guillotines and hiding their excess from the poor public eye, Oakes injects the lifestyles of the rich and famous with fully-realized characters that justify every Mercedes and Olympic swimming pool. Even the main antagonist draws a little empathy when Tagg and Cody get roped into an impromptu drinking contest at a wedding and we learn bully Tagg gets a little maudlin when he's had too much to drink. Oakes even makes the convoluted business and legal mechanics Cody has to navigate easy to understand.
By the time you get near the end of the book you'll be racing to the end just to see if all your suspicions are right--and then flipping back to the beginning to catch clues you missed the first time around. There were a scattering of grammatical issues throughout the book, but I've marked them all down and given the list to the author to take a look at, so by the time you read this review they will probably have been fixed. But even if they haven't, they really don't take away from what is a hilarious Catcher in the Rye for the Lebowski crowd, a modern martini monomyth full of goddams and one-liners and men born to wear cut-off jeans with yellow shooting glasses.