Thursday, May 23, 2024

NBtM Virtual Book Tour: The Big Comb Over by J.P. Rieger


Guest Post

The Big Comb Over – The Background Story

J.P. Rieger © 2024

Kids, let me tell you a story. Once upon a time, there was a novel called The Big Comb Over. It’s a whacky mashup of comedy and fantasy, set both in Baltimore, Maryland and London, England. Here’s the background.

I’ve always enjoyed traveling to London. I’ve visited London on vacations at least a half dozen times over the past few decades. I always feel at home and my spouse and I really enjoy West End theater. And there is no better theater than in London.  Now, as a born and bred Baltimorean, I’ve come to realize (or been made to realize) that perhaps I have a Baltimore accent? Yes, maybe a mild version compared to many of my compatriots, but, yeah, it’s there, hon. In London I detected accents not dissimilar to my own but voiced by locals. It seemed ironic to me that an accent heard commonly in Essex, Maryland could potentially be found, at least to some degree, in Essex, England. What would happen if a group of less than sophisticated Baltimoreans, including a rugged Essex, Maryland waterman, descended upon London for a royal wedding? What if the bride, Lady Florence Stour, hailed from Essex, England? What sort of mischief and confusion could ensue? Well, plenty.

I’m a fan of that ancient literary institution, the comedy of manners. Mistaken identities, misinterpreted conversations and confused motives are all stirred together through coincidence and circumstance, often with the aid of a prankster or mischief maker. The Big Comb Over is my take on a comedy of manners. It features three nephews and their eccentric uncles. Uncle Roland is a mildly hypochondriacal actor obsessed with his hair, or more accurately, his lack of the same. Uncle Roy is a likeable waterman who travels no farther than his local supermarket, save for vacations “downy ocean” (Ocean City, Maryland).  Nephew Desales is in full pranking mode. And now they are in London. What could possibly go wrong?

But the royal wedding theme is just part of the story. A parallel theme revolves around another uncle who calls himself “tim tim.” Tim tim is convinced that he is a descendant of an ancient race of supernatural people who’ve been directed by God to help others. He believes that this “mission” is handed down from uncle to nephew and tries to convince his wary nephew, Robbie, that he is heir apparent to the mission. He also believes that he and Robbie receive superhero powers at key moments to assist them in the mission. A momentary glance of a very familiar, encouraging face signals that the time is right to act.

As a kid I always loved science fiction (and still do) and often thought about time travel. What if a person, now older, could travel back in time to simply observe their younger self from a safe distance? (Obviously, direct interaction would be forbidden to prevent temporal paradoxes). I speculated that if time travel became possible in the future, wouldn’t a person, presently, want to keep a lookout for an individual who resembled an older version of themselves? I knew that the future “me” would definitely take advantage of any available time travel and pay a visit. So, as a kid with an overactive imagination, I would occasionally keep an eye out for older persons that I felt might look like me. There were a few I’d glance upon that seemed “possible,” but no decisive sightings, of course. 

Later, I learned that many people do actually experience the phenomenon of “seeing themselves.” Psychiatrists call this “autoscopy” or the “syndrome of subjective doubles.” Thus, I decided to use the idea of tim tim essentially seeing himself as a theme. The theme tied in nicely with tim tim’s quasi-gnostic religious persuasion, which centers on the importance of seeing and knowing oneself. In fact, the original title of the novel was The Man Who Saw Himself. But that early title didn’t communicate the sense of comedy. And The Big Comb Over, although a little bittersweet, is definitely a comedy. 

And that, kids, is the story behind The Big Comb Over. 


Three nephews and three eccentric uncles.

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It’s 2050 and Robbie Elders has all but forgotten about his oddball, religious fanatic uncle, tim tim. He’s taken up the latest fad, genealogical research based solely on DNA. But Robbie’s “inconclusive” DNA results are unsettling. He crashes back to his childhood, back to his world of comic books and tim tim.


“I opt for posh and London” declares Lady Florence Stour. It’s 2019 and time for a Royal Wedding. Robbie’s uncle, Stef, is engaged to Lady Florence, a distant member of the British royal family. Stef’s Baltimore clan have been invited, but Robbie’s mom and dad can’t attend. They’ve entrusted Robbie and big brother, Doyle, to their mom’s two eccentric brothers, uncles Roy and Roland. Roy, a weathered waterman with a severe Baltimore accent, lives for Maryland blue crabs. Roland, a mildly hypochondriacal actor, lives to survive the Karens he unavoidably encounters. And then there’s Desales, Roy’s smart aleck, teenage son. He lives to prank. They’ve descended upon London. What could possibly go wrong?


Meanwhile, tim tim has been coaching Robbie on “the mission.” A silly religious fantasy according to Robbie’s atheist parents and the therapists. Or perhaps not? Things are not always as they appear in The Big Comb Over.



Excerpt


Roland looked at the bottle in awe. “Fletcher’s Dry Shampoo – Hint of Almond.” He looked over the directions and ingredients on the back. “Wow! It’s gluten-free and approved by PETA, too!” He handed back the bottle, gingerly, as though it were an egg.


“Yes! So, I’ll get things started, today, but when you use it, remember to follow the instructions carefully. You have to shake the thing like a bastard.”


He pulled off the top cap and shook the bottle frantically. 


“Okay, shield your eyes with your hands, Roland.”


Morris began carefully spraying the bald spot. The bottle produced several quick spurts—the initial “targeting” move. He then pulled the can back several inches and sprayed in a wider arc, slowly filling in the surrounding areas. Excess brown powder fell gently onto the cape; iron filings mixed with cinnamon. 


“Yes, there we go! Success! Let me give it a brush-through and a good zhuzh!”


Morris began to carefully run the boar’s hairbrush through the mixture of hair and powdered shampoo. There was that one tricky area, so he gave it another quick blast with the aerosol can. He completed brushing and found the most optimal place for the all-important part. Something natural. Avoiding the comb-over effect was difficult. Balance . . . balance . . .


He then gave Roland’s hair a quick blast with the hair dryer. Not too much, as there was not much to dry. The shampoo had absorbed most of the hemp oil treatment. He put the dryer aside and gave Roland’s hair a two-handed, final zhuzh. He spun the chair around, dramatically, and placed a hand mirror in front of Roland’s face so that he could check out the back.


“Looky loo, Sir Roland! Nary a hint of . . . deficiency!”


Roland looked with disbelief. He no longer had that bald spot! It was gone!


“Oh dear Lord, Morris! You are a genius! Look at this! Michelangelo!” He handed back the mirror, stunned.


“Thank you, thank you!” Morris took a quick bow and rapidly turned the chair back around, causing Roland some dizziness. “Now, let me hit you with a finishing spray to hold everything in place!”


He dramatically removed the top of the hairspray aerosol and shook the can furiously. He sprayed the mist in a near random fashion near the scalp and then away from the scalp and then back toward and quickly away again—a symphony conductor of a twelve-tone sound poem.


He spun Roland around again and thrust the mirror before his face. “What do you think?!”


“Yes, yes, Morris, this is perfect! This is what I’ve been waiting for . . . dreaming about!”



J. Paul (J.P.) Rieger is a born and bred Baltimorean and mostly retired Maryland attorney. As such, he’s well acquainted with the quirkiness and charm of Baltimore’s unique citizens. He’s author of Clonk!, a police farce set in Baltimore and published in 2023 by Apprentice House Press (Loyola University-Baltimore). He’s also author of The Case Files of Roderick Misely, Consultant, a mystery novel featuring a wannabe lawyer anti-hero. The Big Comb Over, a slipstream comedy of manners featuring three nephews and their three eccentric uncles, is Paul’s third novel. Paul is married and lives in Towson, Maryland. 


Website: http://www.jpaulrieger.net




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13 comments:

  1. Good morning! Thanks for inviting me to your excellent blog!

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  2. The cover looks great. Sounds like a good read.

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    1. Thank you, Marcy, and my apologies for not responding earlier!

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  3. Replies
    1. Thank you! I'm a fan of Roy Lichtenstein's art. The cover depicts a person reading a French language version of The Big Comb Over, with its French title. (Although most of the characters in the novel are American and English, there are a few French characters, too). There's no precise French equivalent for a man's "comb over" hairdo. The closest equivalent is a hairdo "at low tide." So, in French the title is The Big Hairstyle at Low Tide. I went with this just for fun. The reader is shedding a few tears, hopefully because they are moved emotionally and not because they dislike the book. :-)

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  4. This sounds like an interesting read.

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  5. This looks very promising. Thanks for your review.

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  6. This sounds like a fun and entertaining book!

    Nancy
    allibrary (at) aol (dot) com

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