Monday, August 19, 2013

Countdown: The Top 20 Joe R. Lansdale Works of Short Fiction--#17

[For the previous entry on the Countdown, click here.]

#17. "Godzilla's Twelve Step Program"

This offbeat 1994 tale (collected in High Cotton) features some spot-on humor.  Structured as a dozen vignettes, the story stars the erstwhile Tokyo-terror as a "recovering monster" living in America and struggling not to backslide into rampaging behavior: "Take it one day at a time," Godzilla echoes the addict's mantra.  "It's the only way to be happy in the world.  You can't burn and kill and chew up humans and their creations without paying the price of guilt and multiple artillery wounds."

Godzilla currently works at a foundry melting down used car parts, and has to fight the constant urge to raze the entire facility.  At home he attempts to find some ersatz bliss by carving "crude human figures from bars of soap" and then squishing them beneath his feet.  When the pressures of daily living prove too much, the mutant behemoth "falls off the wagon" by stomping and incinerating a neighborhood dog house.  He "can hardly walk he's so intoxicated" from the experience of unbridled destruction, and knows he needs to contact his sponsor, Reptilicus, right away.

It's hard not to appreciate the wittiness here: Godzilla slips off into sleep listening to "Heat Wave" by Martha and the Vandellas on the radio; King Kong (who uses a walker ever since being injured in his great fall) spends his time at the Big Monster Recreation Center playing with naked Barbie dolls.  Bus as in "Night They Missed the Horror Show," Lansdale uses a light-hearted approach as a set-up for some ultimately dark social commentary.  Federal agents exonerate Godzilla following an incendiary bender that obliterates a colored section of town.  Soon thereafter Godzilla finds himself employed as the champion of an ultra-conservative government; he's handed a map in which various areas of perceived deviance are marked for sudden demolition: "Nigger Town.  Chink Village.  White Trash Enclave.  A Clutch of Queers.  Mostly Democrats."

Realizing he's being used, Godzilla turns his wrath back against the U.S. government, which leads to a climactic showdown at the "Great Monument Building."  There Godzilla dies defiantly, damning humanity and designating himself "an equal opportunity destroyer."
The titular lizard trips up terribly while trying to work through his twelve step program, but the same certainly can't be said of
Lansdale in his absurdist anthropomorphizing of a legendary monster-movie creature.

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