“Squabble of the Titans” by Justin Teerlinck

Where to start? This book is a work of great creativity and considerable variety: part documentary, part satire, part cartoon, part Science Fiction, quasi-historical and in total quite undefinable.

However, I will try. The story is revealed in a series of letters between Theodore Roosevelt, former President of the United States, his family and supporters, and Dr. Horace S. Browntrout, his (presumably) fictional rival and his family and supporters. And detractors. Nobody comes off looking good in this story. The contest is the exploration of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State in the early Twentieth Century, and specifically the discovery and development of the Sasquatch, a (presumably) mythical anthropoid denizen of the West Coast, similar to the Yeti of Tibet.

The style is mostly humorous, with hyperbole, satire and stereotyping as the main techniques. However, these specific methods are the least funny of the tools in the humourist’s lexicon, so that aspect of the story is tepid at best.

Roosevelt himself is painted (perhaps a better word is smeared) with the broadest brush, coming across as a cartoon of the real man, based solely on his enjoyment of hunting and killing. If the satire wasn’t so harsh, he would be the funniest character in the story.

More interesting were a few bang-on personifications in the lesser characters, such as Browntrout’s son, Bramwell, who is the least humorous of the whole lot. His attempts to find a goal in life in the absence of a nurturing and attentive father are very realistic and quite touching.

Another positive note is the subtle lampooning of various elements of British and American societies, both in the past and the present. There is an underlying thematic level to this book that gives it more weight than one might expect.

The main structural failing of the novel comes from the documentary nature of the writing combined with the acerbic style of the humour. Everything is seen from an objective and mostly derogatory viewpoint, so we have little chance to empathize with any character. We have little concern for the outcome of the conflicts. thus there is little suspense,  and so the reader has a reduced emotional connection to any of it.

Mr. Teerlinck is to be congratulated on the immense amount of detail and creativity he put into this work, but in the end it does not spark enough enjoyment to receive a higher recommendation.

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

About the Author: Gordon Long

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