“Badass, brave and hilarious. Dan K. Oh has given us a funny and touching tale that few men have the guts to write.”—Susan E. Isaacs, the author of “Angry Conversations with God.”
Hollywood Book Review says:
Writing like Jack Kerouac and Sam Kinison’s long lost cousin, Dan K. Oh provides a comedic confessional in “The Ugly Guys Club.” A self-described member of the organization, Oh blends writer Kerouac’s stream-of-conscious style with the profane musings of shock comic Kinison. In “On the Road,” Kerouac admitted, “the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved…”
In “The Ugly Guys Club”, the author explains, “I didn’t possess the alluring sex appeal or self confidence that girls expect to find in a typical single young male.” Often it seems “The Ugly Guys Club” could be subtitled “On the Make.” Yet despite its occasional bursts of anger and even Kinison-level misogyny, the honesty and pathos of this book makes it a compelling read.
Indeed, for me this book is almost a form of outsider art, like those pencil drawings on notebook paper or 100,000 word manuscripts unearthed after the passing of an anonymous hermit. Oh isn’t trying to match literary convention or style, he’s trying to get the reader to feel what he feels, see what he sees. In his depiction of life in Los Angeles, a place many have called the loneliest city in America, he succeeds. Oh plays himself in the book, as a seemingly exaggerated stand-in for his own persona. It’s impossible to know how much is real in books like these –– that’s part of their charm.
Still, much of it has the ring of authentic and painful truth, such as when he goes out to dinner with Jeannie, the young woman who has imprisoned him in the dreaded “friend zone.” After she blithely announces her engagement, she’s flabbergasted by his reaction. To Oh her announcement was not just “a regular kind of bombshell –––– no, that came from the MOAB bomb… the mother of all bombs… I had a heart quake.”
Oh’s heart quakes often. It’s a book he describes as “Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy blames God.” While blaming a higher power for the perceived inequality of beauty is fairly fruitless, there’s no question that Oh does more than just blame. He also dreams and schemes. Besides depicting his lack of success with women in Los Angeles, he also describes his similar lack of success earning money to woo women in Los Angeles.
As he details the ways he falls for a multi-level marketing scheme and is constantly shorted as a waiter, it’s impossible not to feel compassion for his plight, along with a fair amount of amusement.
Perhaps the pretty people of the population could take some time away from helping the homeless or saving the whales. Surely a date or three with someone less blessed by genetics might do even more to help our troubled planet. Truth is, no matter how attractive a person is, everyone has at least once pursued someone who didn’t share their feelings. For that reason, we can all at one point or another feel like card-carrying members of “The Ugly Guys Club.”
This is why I think women, as well as men, will find much to think about, or even laugh about, in Oh’s book.
Pacific Book Review gives it five stars:
The old adage that suggests if it weren’t for bad luck some individual would have no luck at all, is a sentiment that radiates from the heart of Dan Oh’s raucous dark comedy “The Ugly Guys Club”. Here we meet Dave, a 29 year-old Asian man and self-proclaimed loser.
Believing his own pathetic existence lends a bad name to his particular native ancestry, he instead chooses to just hint at his country of origin. Money and women are Dave’s sole obsessions, and he has clearly failed miserably in both areas. From this distressed vantage point rooted in insecurities, Dave sees the population as divided into two groups, i.e. there are those fortunate enough to be blessed by the Almighty, and then there are those who are not. Dave of course places himself in the latter category.
From California to Mexico, in a literary landscape awash with virgins and hookers, fast cars and thugs, religion and fortune-tellers, Oh’s first person narrative draws us deeply into Dave’s fixated world. From the horn-dog heartache of female rejections that ignite Dave’s psychotic and destructive behavior, to career casualties that include pyramid schemes, promotional nightclub disasters, and a problematic stint in shoe sales/distribution (which seems a nod to the iconic, dispirited character, Al Bundy, from the popular TV hit “Married with Children”), Oh delivers Dave’s relationship and career misfortunes in such explicit detail, that some readers may consider a “less is more” approach to be more suitable. At times, such excess may seem redundant, particularly in light of Dave’s habitual attraction to women who aren’t romantically interested in him, and his penchant for get-rich-quick scams that repeatedly leave him fallen, depressed, humiliated, and broke.
This is a book that provides a deluge of sexual desires and profanity. For readers put off by such meanderings, be forewarned that this story is focused on fantasy, conquest, and compulsion might easily be construed as crude and offensive.
While adolescent-type vulgarity often overshadows much of the humor, clearly its inclusion speaks to the nature of the troubled character, and also appears reflective of Dave’s environmental situations and generational considerations.
Early on we learn that Dave is a huge movie fan. For cinema aficionados, the author makes fine use of the opportunity to reference numerous films and actor/character portrayals in connection with the central character’s life situations and decisions. From the Notre Dame underdog of “Rudy” and the isolation factor of “Castaway”, to the provocative ambience of greed and ambition in “Devil’s Advocate”, the analogies are multi-faceted and truly relevant.
An essence of godliness is woven throughout Dave’s daily forum, from his coworker’s desktop display of religious figurines, to his comparison of the young thugs who terrorize a shoe store and its patrons, likening them to the children who torture Judas in Mel Gibson’s epic drama “Passion of The Christ.” Similar to the symbolic silver cross that Dave accepts from a friend in the hope of finding God’s strength and guidance, such references help highlight the stark contrasts of this plagued character’s often blasphemous mindset.
In the final chapters, Oh reveals Dave in a momentary redemptive turnaround. Here the ultimate act of self-serving desperation ironically proves a saving grace. In a circle of seemingly Divine Intervention we see Faith both ignited and restored. In the end, this life-affirming event, reminiscent of the prodigal son’s return, serves as a refreshing refinement to Dave’s challenging odyssey of sophomoric debauchery and youthful frenetic pursuits.
A debut novel chronicles a young Asian-American’s odyssey of frustration and redemption.
To say that David, the narrator of this story, is irked by a lot in life would be an understatement. Feeling as though “the Creator didn’t like me,” David details his coming-of-age in Los Angeles as he attempts to get rich, have sex, and otherwise attain the more tangible rewards in life. But those prizes, despite his best efforts, manage to remain out of reach. Beginning with his stalled pursuit of a girl named Jeannie Kim, who he winds up admitting “never considered me a real man,” David’s long story of embarrassment goes on to incorporate a number of adventures. From his time spent with a pyramid scheme to a stint in Mexico City, his experiences are varied, brutal, and not meant for the squeamish. A lover of movies and professional wrestling, David frequently embraces pop-culture references. When observing a fight at a nightclub in which he spends time as a struggling waiter, David sees a patron “doing the flying body press like Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat.” While such reflections may not be universally understood, they help to humanize the protagonist. David may be short, no friend to the environment (his pastor admonishes him as “the biggest litterbug I have ever seen!”), and downright pathetic, but he is, in the end, just as flawed as the rest of humanity. Though his thoughts delve deeply into the crude (“My schlong was like the Elven sword wielded by Frodo that turned blue whenever the Orcs were near,” he says of his penis), they are never outside the imagination of a man mystified and alienated by modern sexuality. Notable for informative tidbits (such as the concept of “booking” at Asian nightclubs), Oh’s tale also offers some episodes that drag. While much can be gleaned from David’s time as a nightclub waiter (including images of his business cards), readers may find their attentions wandering when the narrative turns to topics such as the markup price of whiskey. Though David’s eventual path to Christianity is long (and bumpy), the final pages of this vulgar, detailed, and amusing novel see a man who has come an extraordinary distance.
Far from a sanitized fable, this book delivers a highly nuanced and lurid account of one man’s surprisingly spiritual quest.