No one would mistake Rick R. Reed for Metallica, but both artists are willing to take chances and stretch. Metallica took speed metal to its (then) limits with …And Justice For All but decided to add hooks, strings and radio-friendly song lengths for their next work, the breakthrough self-titled Black Album. Their fans cried they were sell-outs, betraying their roots. Similar cries may be heard from Reed’s boosters when they read Dignity Takes a Holiday, for it is not Reed’s typical work.
It’s the story of Pete Thickwhistle, an overweight, flat-topped nebbish who gets himself in and out of scrapes, jams and predicaments, goaded and needled by his physically and mentally abusive mother, Helen. He finally meets the man of his dreams, but will Helen interfere? Even worse, will she live with them after the marriage?
Reed goes far out on a limb here, writing slapstick farce instead of his usual taut suspense and horror thrillers. Writers who take themselves into unfamiliar territory are to be applauded. The chances they take, whether successful or not, bespeak a willingness to grow beyond what their audience expects of them and that experience is usually reflected in a deepening—a re-dimensioning (I love making jargon up)—of whatever genre they’re better known for when they return to it.
But that’s not what you want to hear, is it? You want to know if it’s any good.
The answer is a qualified ‘yes.’ Qualified because Dignity Takes a Holiday is purposefully over the top and that alone may put some readers off. The abuse Helen dishes out is so severe and the situations Peter finds himself in are so outrageous that you may find yourself reading with a grimace instead of a grin. Funny, yes—hysterical at times. But painfully so.
However, this is all set-up for the ending, which (and this is typically Reed) puts the preceding events into context and reveals the heartfelt relationship underlying the farce. The hitch is that some might not want to wait that long for the payoff. The obvious remedy would be to get all that humanizing done with first before the farcical interludes take place, but that would undercut the shock and some of the humor they induce.
You might love this (I did) or hate it, but it won’t leave you without an opinion. If you’re a fan of Reed’s, go ahead and give it a try. You have nothing to lose.
Except a little dignity, of course.
Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler