By Ben Arzate
Kyle Jarvis moved into the Le Trou Du Cul apartment complex trying to escape his past life of philandering. What he didn’t expect was the building to be full of strange, noisy characters, like a washed-up actress desperate to breakthrough again, a hippie woman obsessed with alternative medicine, a man fixated with hunting Big Foot, and a loud former jock and his family. He certainly didn’t anticipate a demon that looks like a Jim Henson character to be hiding in the walls and manipulating everyone.
Her better judgment warned against what she was about to do. She had seen the trouble the fuzzy demon had caused. But she opened the dumbwaiter and summoned the fiend and made her wish.
Sal Cangemi’s novella is an absurdist take on the haunted house genre. Sly, the demon who lives in the walls, grants Faustian bargains to the tenants of the apartment building with some very goofy results. For example, he grants the former jock Buddy his wish of turning back the clock to his best years in the late 80s. Not only does his son disappear, but when he goes back to his high school, the demon’s powers wears off. This causes his clothes to become so tight that he exposes himself to the students of the present time.
There are some inspired moments of humor such as that in the book. Another is when a homophobic old tenant finds himself trapped in his own bathroom and it gradually fills with more and more glory holes. It takes concepts one could develop in a creepy direction, but takes them to absurd places instead.
My biggest problem with the book, however, is that it reads as an early draft of a much better book. There are multiple typos in my copy. As short as it is, it also reads as somewhat padded in places. There are a few parts that consist of the characters arguing and backbiting. While the demon turning the tenants against each other is a major part of the book, the arguments read as mostly pointless. If the insults and dialogue were wittier, it would work better, but there’s just too much of them essentially calling each other fat and stupid.
The characters are mostly broad stereotypes. This isn’t a problem for the most part, as Cangemi does find entertaining scenarios to place them in. The times where he chooses “put them in a room and let them argue,” however, makes the book feel like it’s screeched to a halt. Especially because later in the book, the apartment building becomes stranger and more deformed from the demon’s influence. There were more possibilities for this part that don’t get explored as well as they could have.
As it stands, The Demon, the Dumbwaiter, and the Douchebag does make for a quick and entertaining read. However, the broad comedy becomes annoying rather than funny in places and it reads as full of unrealized potential. As Sal Cangemi’s first book, I do believe it shows a lot of promise and I anticipate his future works being much better.
Ben Arzate lives in Des Moines, IA. His articles, reviews, short stories, and poetry have appeared in various places online and in print. He is a regular contributor to Cultured Vultures and is the author of two poetry books (the sky is black and blue like a battered child and dr. sodom and mrs. gomorrah, feel bad all the time), one book of short stories (The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Saying Goodbye, NihilismRevised), and two novels (The Story of the Y, Cabal Books and Elaine, Atlatl Press). Find him online at dripdropdripdropdripdrop.blogspot.com.