I've always been a John Waters fan. From the early cinematrocies, to his sidestep into the mainstream with Hairspray and Cry Baby, right up through his odd career of sick screwball comedies, I've enjoyed it all.

I also enjoy John's nonfiction writing. Shock Value might still be my favorite, but I had great times with Crackpot: The Obessions of John Waters, Role Models, Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America, and of course Mr. Know-It-All: The Tarnished Wisdom of a Filth Elder. So I, and a lot of other people, were excited to hear the news that John Waters had written a novel.

I had Liarmouth: A Feel-Bad Romance preordered at Amazon, but a trusted friend (also a Waters fan) strongly suggested I go with a library loan instead of buying the book. That way if I liked it well enough, I could always buy myself a copy.

Good advice.

I wanted to like Liarmouth. Satan knows I did. The book begins well enough. We are introduced to a colorful character right out of one of John's movies. Marsha Sprinkle is a thief who specializes in airport suitcase theft, she squats in abandoned buildings, and she has contempt for nearly everyone she comes in contact with. She's also a pathological liar. The world and the people in it exist to serve her.

Marsha and her accomplice are nearly caught one day at the airport. They flee the scene and run headlong into a degenerate maelstrom of weirdos, freaks, and miscreants.

Some of it is very funny, and John's descriptions and observations are often side-splitting. A group of bounce house cultists are especially amusing. However, the endless series of ever-more outrageous situations becomes incredibly tiresome.

Too much becomes way too much. Particularly egregious is a talking penis that was more than I cared to, uh, swallow. Most of the rest of the circumstances are over-the-top ridiculous, but barely possible. The talking penis took me right out of the story whenever it reared its ugly head. Maybe Waters was attempting to homage the infamous Talking Asshole bit William Burroughs did in Naked Lunch, but it didn't work at all for me.

The frustrating thing about Liarmouth is the missed opportunity. If taken even halfway seriously, Marsha Sprinkle could have been a fascinating study of a sociopathic borderline personality syndrome character. I think Waters identifies with her. He always said that he finds crime glamorous, and if things had turned out differently in his life, John could have conceivably ended up a lot like her.

I was hoping this filth elder had matured to some degree. I guess the kind of severe, disturbing story Lionel Shriver writes was too much to hope for. That's what I imagined when I heard about Liarmouth.

Liarmouth is more silly than subversive and reading it began to grate on me. I gave up around the halfway point. Hey, despite two valiant attempts, I never finished Naked Lunch either.

I still love John Waters, and if he writes another novel, I will certainly check it out. From the library, that is.

Written by Mark Sieber

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