The Weekly Weird-off: Spoiled Brats vs. The Wasp Factory

The Weekly Weird-off: Spoiled Brats vs. The Wasp Factory

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Welcome to the Weirdathon's Weekly Weird-off! Here your word gladiators will be fighting to the death to determine which weird book is the weirdest. Welcome our guests, Shannon from River City Reading and Shaina from Shaina Reads! Both participants were under the weather, so let's give them an even heartier round of virtual applause for debating.

This debate features Spoiled Brats by Simon Rich and The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks. We're back in my comfort zone now of not having read either book. Each contestant is allowed to rebut their opponent's answer before moving on to their answer. And prepare for some of the nicest rebuttals ever. Ding ding ding, let the fight begin!

The Weekly Weird-off: Spoiled Brats vs. The Wasp Factory. Which book is weirder?

Shannon - River City Reading      VS.       Shaina - Shaina Reads


Shannon: Choosing a short story collection feels a little like cheating, but I’m nothing if not ruthless, so here we go. In theory, Spoiled Brats is a collection about the narcissism of the millennial generation and the people who raised them to be that way, but really it’s just a hilariously weird batch of stories that also touches on some deeper things.

Shaina: Not even sure where to start with this bonkers novel, so let’s go with some summary from my review.

“Frank Cauldhame is sixteen years old, homeschooled by his eccentric father and given fairly free rein of the Scottish island they call home. He spends his time building "sacrifice poles" (read: sharpened sticks mounted with animal heads), reflecting on his three familicides and wondering when his older brother Eric, a recent escapee from the psychiatric hospital, will show up at their house.”


Shannon - Answer: So, short stories mean that there are a ton of plots going on, starting with a story told from the perspective of a classroom hamster named Princess Jasmine who is trying to protect his family from the child who is assigned to take care of the class pet for the week. One of the best stories is about a man who falls into a vat of pickle brine in the early 1900’s, where he is preserved for 100 years, and emerges as a young pickle-selling entrepreneur in 2013. The Brooklynites love him. There’s also stories that confirm some of the weird things we imagine to be true, like the fact that all internet commenters are out to get us and crabby children really ARE demons.

Shaina - Rebuttal: I gotta hand it to you, Shannon. This collection sounds pretty bananas. However, the downside to picking a short story collection is that not all of them can be that weird, right? There have to be some pretty tame ones in the bunch. The Wasp Factory, on the other hand, doesn’t have a normal moment to speak of. Also, we definitely already knew that the internet commenters were out for our blood.
Shaina - Answer: At this point, I feel like it’s the common Weird-off answer, but I’m struggling to think of a non-strange moment in the plot.

Frank spends at least half the novel, perhaps more, describing how he tortures animals in excruciating detail. He uses hamsters as catapult ammo, various animal heads for the sacrifice poles that “keep watch” over his island, and blasts rabbits out of their burrows using pipe bombs.

Also, Frank has this thing called (you guessed it) a wasp factory, which is essentially an insect torture chamber. The wasps crawl across a modified clock-face to choose their own death adventures, including (but not limited to) death by spiders, death by fire or death by drowning in some of Frank’s fresh urine. Frank believes that these wasp deaths can somehow tell the future.

Oh, also, Frank (naturally) decides to exhume his old family dog’s skull so that he can plant some candles in it and use it during his murderous rituals. Frank also uses the remains of wasp parts as his candle wicks. Waste not, want not!


Shannon - Rebuttal: Okay, I think your book corners the market on weird waspy guys who like dead things. But don’t be so sure that Spoiled Brats isn’t all weird! There’s not a normal human tale to be told.

Shannon - Answer: The format is pretty straightforward when it comes to short story collections, though the story about the man in the pickle brine is almost a novella at close to 100 pages. Pretty non-weird on this end.

Shaina - Rebuttal: Not really a rebuttal, but 100 pages about pickle brine is pretty weird.

Shaina - Answer: My pick is also pretty straightforward. You’ve got your run-of-the-mill flashbacks to various homicides, of course, but otherwise nothing experimental to see here.


Shannon - Answer: It’s a little harder to develop super interesting characters with detailed backstories in a short story, but there are definitely memorable characters throughout. Not only are there typical “weird” characters like ghosts, elves, and talking animals, Simon Rich does a good job getting to the heart of the Millennial generation through the straightforward humor of the odd situations he puts his other characters in.

Shaina - Answer: Well, I think the three family members might have been interesting had Frank not killed them before they could develop.

Other than that, we’ve got Frank’s dad, who mostly hobbles around seemingly clueless to Frank’s various hobbies; Frank’s brother, Eric, from whom we mostly just get frightening phone calls; and Frank’s friend Jamie. Frank and Jamie often go out drinking at the local pub (this is probably Frank’s second most time-consuming hobby after animal torture), and Frank carries Jamie around on his shoulders so his friend can scope out chicks (did I mention that Jamie’s a dwarf?).


Shannon: There’s a point in one story where you realize that a girl’s study abroad trip is actually to a new planet and she’s doing things like playing Never Have I Ever with aliens.

Shaina: At one point, Frank finds a jar full of genitals in his dad’s office. 
(Whose genitals?! You’ll have to read to find out!)


Shannon: It’s going to take a bit of trusting here, but you will all have to believe me when I say that every story in this collection really is bananas - no room for normal anywhere. Unlike many story collections that dabble in magical realism, Spoiled Brats is more just straight up weird with a bunch of hilarity thrown in for good measure.

Shaina: Spoiled Brats does sound like a bizarre romp (really, really down to play Never Have I Ever with aliens), but I just don’t think it can top the sheer what-the-fuckery happening in The Wasp Factory. I can’t actually recommend that you read it, but I am more than happy to use it for battle.


Again, NICEST REBUTTALS EVER. Though Shannon definitely had my heart at "aliens," I don't even have words for how much I don't understand The Wasp Factory. Putting how absolutely fucked it sounds aside, it sounds wholly strange and imaginative. Why's he got to do bug stuff tho?? And rodent stuff?? The very disturbing The Wasp Factory wins this round. Though I think I want to read Spoiled Brats more. Just because I'm not currently in a murder mood. Shaina wins the weird e-book bundle this week! Thank you both so much for playing!

Who would you declare winner in this battle of wits and words?


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