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The Horrors: An A to Z of Funny Thoughts On Awful Things

by Charles Demers

“You must make a friend of horror,” said Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now, and Charles Demers has taken his advice. In his new book, the comedian and sometime CBC Radio star cozies up to subjects that make his flesh crawl. The book uses its alphabetical structure – derived, by the author’s own admission, from Edward Gorey – to set up a series of freewheeling observations, some of which are more lucid than others.

The Horrors Charles DemersThere is an autobiographical streak running through almost all of these essays, and it’s endearingly ragged. Starting with Demers’s marvellous meditations on teenage sexual frustration and the failures of his salad days in stand-up (filed under “A for Adolescence” and “B for Bombing,” respectively), to his reckoning with depression, the author keeps his cards on the table at all times.

It’s difficult to take specific personal experiences and tweak them so they signify outward; in the best bits the author pulls it off without crowding the reader. His thoughts on politics and pop culture, meanwhile, sometimes feel stretched thin, although in “K is for Kelsey Grammer” – which contrasts the Frasier star’s actorly appeal with his ideological ickiness – Demers does a pretty good job of crossing the streams.

At several junctures, Demers positions himself as a national commentator, parsing Canada’s relationship with the U.S., or, in his most sharply pointed chapter (“S for Settlerism”), jabbing at the idea that his homeland has to reckon with charges of racism. The passing cameos by various Canadian media figures have the ring of name-dropping, but they also help to ground the volume in a moment when journalism and personal branding have become firmly intertwined.

The Horrors consolidates Demers’s position as a Canadian pop-public intellectual – a fetchingly articulate, smartly self-deprecating voice in an echo chamber where people like nothing more than to talk about themselves.