Title: The Ugly Guys Club
Author: Dan K. Oh
Genre: Comedy/Black Humor
Reviewed by: Carol Davala
Pacific Book Review
The old adage that suggests if it weren’t for bad luck some individual would have no luck at all, is a sentiment that radiates from the heart of Dan Oh’s raucous dark comedy “The Ugly Guys Club”. Here we meet Dave, a 29 year-old Asian man and self-proclaimed loser. Believing his own pathetic existence lends a bad name to his particular native ancestry, he instead chooses to just hint at his country of origin. Money and women are Dave’s sole obsessions, and he has clearly failed miserably in both areas. From this distressed vantage point rooted in insecurities, Dave sees the population as divided into two groups, i.e. there are those fortunate enough to be blessed by the Almighty, and then there are those who are not. Dave of course places himself in the latter category.
From California to Mexico, in a literary landscape awash with virgins and hookers, fast cars and thugs, religion and fortune-tellers, Oh’s first person narrative draws us deeply into Dave’s fixated world. From the horn-dog heartache of female rejections that ignite Dave’s psychotic and destructive behavior, to career casualties that include pyramid schemes, promotional nightclub disasters, and a problematic stint in shoe sales/distribution (which seems a nod to the iconic, dispirited character, Al Bundy, from the popular TV hit “Married with Children”), Oh delivers Dave’s relationship and career misfortunes in such explicit detail, that some readers may consider a “less is more” approach to be more suitable. At times, such excess may seem redundant, particularly in light of Dave’s habitual attraction to women who aren’t romantically interested in him, and his penchant for get-rich-quick scams that repeatedly leave him fallen, depressed, humiliated, and broke.
This is a book that provides a deluge of sexual desires and profanity. For readers put off by such meanderings, be forewarned that this story is focused on fantasy, conquest, and compulsion might easily be construed as crude and offensive. While adolescent-type vulgarity often overshadows much of the humor, clearly its inclusion speaks to the nature of the troubled character, and also appears reflective of Dave’s environmental situations and generational considerations.
Early on we learn that Dave is a huge movie fan. For cinema aficionados, the author makes fine use of the opportunity to reference numerous films and actor/character portrayals in connection with the central character’s life situations and decisions. From the Notre Dame underdog of “Rudy” and the isolation factor of “Castaway”, to the provocative ambience of greed and ambition in “Devil’s Advocate”, the analogies are multi-faceted and truly relevant.
An essence of godliness is woven throughout Dave’s daily forum, from his co- worker’s desktop display of religious figurines, to his comparison of the young thugs who terrorize a shoe store and its patrons, likening them to the children who torture Judas in Mel Gibson’s epic drama “Passion of The Christ.” Similar to the symbolic silver cross that Dave accepts from a friend in the hope of finding God’s strength and guidance, such references help highlight the stark contrasts of this plagued character’s often blasphemous mindset.
In the final chapters, Oh reveals Dave in a momentary redemptive turnaround. Here the ultimate act of self-serving desperation ironically proves a saving grace. In a circle of seemingly Divine Intervention we see Faith both ignited and restored. In the end, this life-affirming event, reminiscent of the prodigal son’s return, serves as a refreshing refinement to Dave’s challenging odyssey of sophomoric debauchery and youthful frenetic pursuits.