With ‘The Unnoticeables,’ Robert Brockway Is The Literary Punk Savior We Need
Posted on May 18, 2016
If there was an award for “Best Opening Dedication In A Novel,” Robert Brockway’s The Unnoticeables would win by a landslide:
“To everybody who told me I was wasting my teenage years by drinking, going to punk shows, and reading comic books: Thank you for being so hilariously wrong.”
Robert Brockway is one of us.
If you haven’t stopped reading this to immediately buy the book, let me elaborate. Rarely is fiction and literature mixed with punk culture, but The Unnoticeables is oozing with punk cred and Brockway’s inspiration is clear from the get-go. A senior editor and columnist for the always insightful and hilarious Cracked, this is Brockway’s second fiction novel. It dropped in July 2015 through Tor Books, and is the first book of a future trilogy. It’s a swirling concoction of cheap beer, terrifying monsters, and anarchistic humor.
The Unnoticeables jumps narratives between 1970s New York and modern day Los Angeles. Carey, our protagonist for the 1970s chapters, is a scuzzy young punk. He is about as unlikable as they come; a rude, mean-spirited smartass whose only real moral quality is occasionally buying beer for one of his fellow poverty-stricken friends. It takes a lot for someone like Carey to try to be heroic, but when the Unnoticeables (seemingly-human creatures with faces that can’t quite be processed or remembered) and the Tar Men (large goopy monsters that are lava hot), start attacking other punks around the city he decides to hero up with his drunken acquaintances and get to the bottom of things.
The modern day L.A. chapters are told through Kaitlyn, a struggling stuntwoman who hates the glitz and glamor of her city. When angels (or are they demons?) start visiting her house and famous celebrities that bear an uncanny resemblance to the cast of Saved By The Bell become psychopathic empty husks of themselves, she finds herself in the middle of her own horrifying narrative. And to top it all off, somewhere in the middle of Carey and Kaitlyn’s overlapping stories might lie the answer to the universe itself.
If all of that sounds insane to you, it’s because it absolutely is.
Both narratives are enjoyable in their own ways but Carey’s punk rock world is charmingly despicable. Brockway accurately fleshes out the 1970s punk scene, warts and all. These characters are alcoholic shitbags, but they’re (sort of) lovable shitbags. Carey and his group stumble drunkenly through life, their only ambitions being attending shows and drinking the cheapest beer possible. Many characters don’t even have actual names, but are identified by accessories such as Scuffed Flannel or Safety Pins, and the underage kids trying to score free beer are known as Parasites. It’s a wonderfully depraved and relatable world, and punks everywhere will feel right at home in these pages.
While the novel can be laugh-out-loud hilarious, the horror elements are downright terrifying. The Unnoticeables does not pull any punches in its blood, gore, and uncomfortable suspense, except when a well-timed joke unveils the hilarious absurdity of a situation. The monsters are at times mysterious enough for your brain to fill in the blanks with its own horrors, and other times so in-your-face you can’t forget them when you close your eyes.
Placing a horror/sci-fi/comedy novel in the world of punk rock makes perfect sense. It even reads like a punk song: fast-paced, intense, and weird as hell. While The Unnoticeables isn’t a perfect book (the villains and their motivations can be murky at times), it’s unlike anything else out there. Brockway is the deranged madman literary punks have always needed, and this absurd/horrifying trilogy has only just begun.