Saturday, May 21, 2011

Book Review: "The Adventures of the Karaoke King" by Harold Taw

This book takes you on a bizarre and rollicking ride alongside Guy Watanabe, the Karaoke King. Still struggling after his divorce, he is an avid disciple of the motivational speaker Troy Bobbins, who inspires him to pursue his dreams. After he wins the Karaoke King title and medallion in a local competition in Seattle, he meets Megumi, a beautiful young woman with a difficult past, and he believes his life is changing for the good. Yet his encounters with Megumi leave him beaten and missing his Karaoke King medallion, and wondering exactly what his future holds. He is determined to free Megumi from the clutches of her patricidal businessman boyfriend and get his medallion back, and this adventure takes him across the Western US, into China and back again. Along the way he meets no end of interesting characters who either help or hinder him (sometimes both), and it is often difficult for Guy to determine who is on his side. There's Billy, a closeted gay man in rural Washington; Milton Schwartzer, a midget and former porn star; Sunny, the owner of a run-down karaoke bar; and Sheila, one of Milton's drug-abusing former employees. Encounters with each of these people leave Guy changed in some way, and he must fight to free his soul and determine his future.

I found this book simultaneously interesting and frustrating. I think Harold Taw tried to throw a lot of zany adventures and characters into this book, and some of them resonated more than others. But my main challenge with the book is that I found it difficult to muster a lot of sympathy for Guy, who keeps chasing the wrong things and seems eternally destined to make the same mistakes over and over. I also found his determination above all things to reunite with Megumi somewhat dubious, since she really didn't appear to give him the affection he needed and wanted, just exposed him to physical and financial ruin. The last quarter of the book, which chronicled Guy's return trip to the US in a shipping container, and the results of his capture at the hands of immigration officials, seemed so far-fetched it nearly made me stop reading the book.

I love books that tell of noble and bizarre quests—one of my favorite books of all time is Matt Ruff's Fool on the Hill, the story of a man looking for true love and dragons to slay. But The Adventures of the Karaoke King fell a little short for me. It was enjoyable, well-written and interesting, but in the end, more memorable for its weaknesses than its strengths.

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