‘When Elves Attack’
By: Tim Dorsey
Rating: Four out of five bookmarks
Readers will find a new spin on the spirit of Christmas in Tim Dorsey's latest novel that is as weird as its title suggests, "When Elves Attack."
The "elves" in this tale of holiday season-survival— meaning both the "War on Christmas," as our protagonist dubs it, and literal survival against disgruntled madmen — are not your standard toy-making sprites from the North Pole.
As they parade around the local malls and streets of unassuming Tampa, Fla., dressed in bright green elf costumes, Serge Storm and his cohort Coleman have their own ideas about making Christmas cheer.
Serge spends his time dealing with the truly "naughty" of the world — by inventing holiday-themed contraptions that result in gruesome but fitting demises. He is a thief, assailant and murderer, and yet he still believes in the joy of Christmas, a time when adults should regain their child-like wonder of the season.
His biggest idol is a longtime friend Jim Davenport, a simple consultant/family man trying to constantly appease his high-strung wife, his rebellious teen daughter and his overbearing, manipulative mother.
When Jim and Serge cross paths again after so many years, Jim has to contend with the madness that Serge inevitably brings wherever he goes, but also the unorthodox way that Serge betters, and even literally saves, Jim's life.
Serge reminded me of a character from another dark comedy Christmas tale that I read last year, "Gumdrop Coal" from Ken Harmon's "The Fat Man: A Tale of North Pole Noir."
Both "heroes" symbolize the darker side of the Santa Claus mythos, where they are responsible for dealing punishment on the naughty, and they find enjoyment in doing so. But while "Gumdrop" questions if enjoying punishing naughty kids means his own sense of goodness is in jeopardy, Serge never seems to regret what he does - whether it is blowing up someone with a frozen turkey and deep fryer, or torturing a girl's abusive boyfriend by electrocuting him with a remote-controlled Christmas light display.
Dorsey writes Serge with such humor, brazenness and fun that readers find themselves rooting for Serge and his diabolical methods for "disciplining" the various jerks and scoundrels that cross him and his friends, rather than being repulsed by his actions.
Mostly, it is Serge's energetic enthusiasm over having a perfect Christmas that makes it so much fun to read. He is like an exuberant little boy who absolutely loves everything about the holiday. The childlike side of Serge, in conjunction with his ruthless side, result in many wickedly witty and laugh-out-loud hilarious scenarios.
For those who claim that they do not have the time to read a good book, this novel is a quick read (just under 200 pages) with its brisk, straightforward pacing. Yet it manages to fit in several plot-tying threads (not always seamlessly, but the randomness of it all only adds to the craziness).
I am still not sure why there was a gang of 90-year-old ladies who break free of their retirement home so they can join Serge in his festive fiasco, but I loved they were there and able to tackle and subdue a gun-toting ex-mall cop.
This may not be the tale of warmth and good-will-towards-mankind that we tend to watch on TV specials this time of year, but that can be a good thing.
"When Elves Attack" is at times sick and twisted, but it is delightfully so, and ultimately there is a good message about not letting the stress associated with the season take away the fun and happiness that we experienced as kids on Christmas day.
Serge may not become as iconic a Christmas character as others, but he is one hard core Santa figure that is definitely memorable.
Alison Reeger Cook is a Gainesville resident whose Off the Shelves book review appears every other week in Sunday Life. Know of a good book to review? Email her to tell her about it. Her column appears biweekly and on gainesvilletimes.com/life