Book Report: Santa vs. Satan

According to National Public Radio, women read more than men. I read more than the men I know, but than again, I get paid to read. NPR says, “Cognitive psychologists have found that women are more empathetic than men, and possess a greater emotional range — traits that make fiction more appealing to them.” Perhaps, but I think Jake Kalish, author of Santa vs Satan: The Official Compendium of Imaginary Fights (Three Rivers Press, 2008) may come up with a better solution for increasing the man-to-book ratio than the “Reading is FUNdamental” campaign.

Santa is a guy-book through and through. It’s cleverly illustrated by artist Christopher Frost. It deals with fighting. There’s enough gore to keep things interesting and, while the book is a work of fiction, there’s none of that sissy plot or character development to keep up with. For the naysayers out there, Kalish offers this in his intro: “I know what you’re thinking: But that’s juvenile. Yeah, and? So are we. Maxim, for which I’ve written dozens of articles, boasts over a million readers monthly, without a single article concerning sociopolitical impact.”

I can’t vouch for that being a good thing. And I’m not going to hyperlink Maxim. But Santa is very likely the sort of book that might pull Maxim‘s slobbering fans away from its glossy, airbrushed pages. And, even if readers weren’t previously aware of the world of imaginary fights (I wasn’t), Santa is not only a well-versed introduction, but pretty much the tenants, bylaws and unabridged history of said world.

Fights include, The One You Love vs. The One You’re With, The Lucky vs. The Skilled, Barbie vs. Ken, Married Gay People vs. Straight Divorced People, Metrosexual vs. Eunuch, Hypochondriac vs. Leper and Thomas Edison vs. MacGyver. In all, there are 60 fights, followed by an extensive all-time combatant rankings, followed by the sociocultural significance of these imagined altercations — which is startlingly lengthy and detailed.

This is how each fight works: There’s a graphic of the characters slated for battle followed by a two-sided list in which each opponent’s stengths and weaknesses (and background info and bad jokes) are detailed. Then there’s expert analysis garnered from sources like Dale Dobson, humorist for Cracked, National Lampoon and Yankee Pot Roast and Danny Saroudi, webmaster of the Official Barbaric Barbarians Web page. Oh, and gossip blogger Perez Hilton weighs in, too.

Following the analysis, Kalish offers a short paragraph on how the fight goes down (on Donald Duck vs. Daffy Duck: “Donald smacks Daffy’s beak around his face, then blows it clean off with a rifle”) which tends to end with something the reader couldn’t possibly see coming (“Donald is laughing hysterically and hollering unintelligible taunts at a frustrated and deflated Daffy when the large white-gloved hand of a rabbit erases him from existence”). And then there’s the verdict.

The winner doesn’t matter. Well, maybe the winner matters in the minds of people who genuinely care about imaginary fights (despite Kalish’s insistence that he does, his increasingly unlikely opponents and snarky repartee suggest otherwise), but as it effects Santa: Not really. Ultimately, the book is about how succinctly Kalish can reference pop culture and dismiss it with his razor-sharp sarcasm.

In the name-sake fight: Santa—“DOES HE EXIST?: Yes, Virginia.”  Conversely, Satan—“DOES HE EXIST?: You’ll find out if you keep masturbating.” Or, take the stats on Tony the Tiger—“NUTRITIONAL VALUE: Well, the flakes would be healthy if they weren’t covered in cocaine.” It get more lowbrow, less PG-13 from there. And that’s fun. The author proves himself as a humor writer and a master of the cultural phenomenon of making pop ephemera meaningful by pointing out its sheer vacuousness. That, too, is fun.

What’s less fun is how, if read in more than a few minutes’ sitting, Santa begins to come off as smugly mean-spirited and tiring. Yes, Kalish is an equal-opportuity offender, but even the fair division of insults and tasteless quips gets old. As a footnote to one graphic he writes, “The illustration on the previous page shows the author as a gigantic married gay. Illustrator Chris Frost thought this would be a funny joke though Jake Kalish is neither married nor homosexual, and is also way cuter than Frost would have you believe. Jake (The Heterosexual) Kalish would like the women of the world to know he may be the least gay man alive, and asks that his friends please stop teasing him.” This is the guy who not only thinks about, but wrote and published, a detailed account of imaginary fights. Sixty of them. Being perceived as gay is probably not his greatest romantic hurdle.

—Alli Marshall, A&E reporter

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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