Book review: Junk by Christopher Largen

I’m trying something new. In the past I rarely researched a book before purchase. I would buy after reading an author’s other work or hearing a friend say something like “Hey, this book I’m reading is really good. It’s about pizza delivery and ninjas!” But after paying full price for Palahniuk’s Pygmy and putting it down in the sixth chapter (read review here), I’m changing all this. With this new approach I’m certain to save time and money, but I’m already wondering how much enjoyment of discovery will be lost? I’ll use Junk as an example.

From the beginning I misjudged Junk as a niche book. Based on the cover and what little I’d been told, I assumed incorrectly that Junk dealt primarily with Big Brother food regulation (the ban of trans-fats in NY, the regulation of fast-food products, and the censorship of junk food advertisement). If I had read the online synopsis more closely I would have learned that this book is a satire of the "war on drugs”, and prohibition of all types. It doesn’t limit itself to food regulation. In this case, being educated beforehand would have taken away the enjoyment of discovering Largen’s method for myself.

What Largen does in Junk is take real examples from the drug war (news, documents, court cases) and exposes the ridiculousness by replacing drugs with another mind altering substance-- junk food. With a hilarious and revealing outcome, this method brilliantly exposes the false paradigm drug propaganda has spent years trying to erect. Examples include a sting operation on a junk food paraphernalia shop that sells fondue forks labeled “elongated broccoli utensils” (here they find incriminating traces of cotton candy!) and a teen trying to swallow a Twinkie, wrapper and all, to hide evidence during a pullover.

If Largen hopes to sell this as a screenplay like his wikipedia page says, he may need to spice up the storyline a bit lest it flop as a series of interesting situations and conflicts that don’t amount to anything onscreen. Not to say this isn’t worth reading. The novel is character driven. It focuses on the lives and situations of interesting people, but if there is to be a plot, it should be good throughout and Largen’s seems formulaic on occasion.

Yes, I’ve now ruined your chance of unwrapping Junk for yourself but with interesting quotes, letters, and news stories throughout, this book never gets boring (I read it in a day). For fans of satire, mockumentary, and dystopia, for anyone who wants a fresh perspective on prohibition, government regulation, and politics-- read Junk. It’s addictive.