Before I get into my review, I would like to give a warning that this book is not for the easily offended. There are topics and situations which, if taken at face value, are quite taboo. My review will not touch on those, so I simply mention that the book is not for the faint of heart.
Dignity Takes a Holiday is the fourth or fifth book I've read by author Rick Reed. Used to scary, horror-type books, this novel was a divergence. Instead of telling a dark tale of mystery and suspense, this was a farcical tale filled with dark humor.
Pete Thickwhistle is a 47-year-old virgin who lives with his mother. Socially awkward, completely unable to read people and situations, he finds himself in embarrassing compromising positions at every turn. Add to the mix a mother whose treatment of her son is so horrible it would curdle milk, and Mr. Reed has pulled together the ingredients for a disturbing tale filled with hilarity. Whether Pete is at a picnic in need of going to the bathroom and gets a bee sting up his ass or in a motel room and gets arrested for alleged prostitution, the long line of mishaps never ends.
As I read, I found myself thinking of such novels as David Seradis's Naked, Joe Keenen's Blue Heaven, or even the hilarious BBC television series Absolutely Fabulous. In short, books and shows where a comedy of errors occur and where the characters are flawed on basic levels, but still relatable. Even though the average person would have to really stretch their patience to like them, a message about human nature is revealed.
Just like sweet romances, horror stories, or stories which take me to new worlds, I was brought through a full range of emotions with Dignity Takes a Holiday. Pete, for all of his cluelessness, is still a sweet person at heart who suffers terribly. Add to the mix the vile, horrendous treatment from his mother, and you can't help but feel for him. The way the mother taunts, insults, and torments Pete is nothing short of abusive and throughout the book I found myself wondering when and how she would get what was coming to her.
For the first three-quarters of the book, each chapter serves as its own short story of sorts. In emailing Mr. Reed during the reading of the book, I asked what motivated him to write this book; where the idea came from. Here was his response:
Honestly, so many of these stories sprung up on their own and made me laugh. Some of them started way back when I was big brother to my little sister and I would tell her some of the tamer stories to make her laugh. I also used to do a lot of public readings around town when I lived in Chicago and Pete stories were a standby...people would roar with laughter.
In an artful manner, Mr. Reed wove Pete's mishaps together into an over-the-top story; a story which wasn't supposed to be taken at face value for the individual scenes, but for the overarching message it portrayed. As stated earlier, he pushed the line in many places, bringing in animals, date rape drugs, and domestic altercations. He never glorified any of those things. Quite the opposite, actually. The reaction of all the "normal" people in the story were completely appropriate.
Not until the last quarter of the book does the true message reveal itself. Through the use of hilarious wit and a series of events which literally had me laughing out loud, we come to realize that, no matter who we are, love touches something deep inside us. Despite the evil treatment from his mother, Pete and Helen love one another. True, their relationship is so warped it might rip a hole in the space-time continuum, but it's love nonetheless. And, true to the romance genre, Pete does find his happy ending.
After reading this book, I wanted to see how others viewed the book and wasn't surprised to find a mixed bag of opinions. So, in closing, I'll reiterate that this story needs to be read knowing it has highly disturbing scenes, but it is that bravery which makes the story so wonderful. Once you see past the actual events, the farce paints a brilliant picture of finding one's own happiness against all odds.
Pete Thickwhistle doesn’t live what one might call a charmed life. At age forty-seven, he’s a flamboyant gay man who believes no one knows he’s gay, still living at home with his harpy of a mother. Worse, he’s still a virgin, longing to find just the right man to make his life complete. Pete’s an upbeat kind of guy, yet he’s never learned that the answer to his motto “What could possibly go wrong?” is always: “Everything.”
Pete’s road to love and happiness is full of potholes, yet he never tires of searching, despite job losses, weight battles, clothing faux pas, and disastrous vacations, parties, and dating debacles. Pete is the ultimate underdog living a television situation comedy, one named Dignity Takes a Holiday.