'Unnoticeables' Is A Raunchy Ride Through Punk, Horror And Pop Culture

 (Courtesy of Tor Books )
(Courtesy of Tor Books )

There's nothing pretty about The Unnoticeables. The novel's author, Robert Brockman, is a senior editor at Cracked.com, and he brings that publication's legendarily irreverent wit to this raunchy, rollicking tale of punk rock, gruesome horror, and pop-culture satire. Lurking beneath that layer of grime and spilled beer, though, are a few hidden depths that make the book more than the sum of its snarky parts.

Carey and Kaitlyn don't know each other, but at the start of The Unnoticeables, their destinies are already inextricably bound. Carey is a punk rocker in New York City in 1977, living in a squalid apartment and spending most of his time trying to get drunk, laid, and even more offensive than he already is. Kaitlyn is a waitress in Los Angeles in 2013, working part-time as a stuntwoman and still trying to come to terms with the mysterious disappearance of her sister when they were children.

In dueling, first-person narratives, Carey and Kaitlyn's stories begin to show shocking parallels. Both of them are attacked by impossible, supernatural creatures: A plague of shapeless "tar men," as Carey calls them, are killing punks on the streets of New York, while Kaitlyn must deal with the robotically violent advances of her former teen crush, Marco Luis, who once played a character in a high-school sitcom that bears a striking (and wholly intentional) resemblance to Saved by the Bell.

It's a cartoonish pair of premises, and at first, Brockman seems to want to keep things strictly silly. In particular, Carey's character is such an outlandish caricature of the Sid Vicious-archetype punk rocker that his drunken, destructive shenanigans begin to wear thin. There's only so much bodily humor that any book, even this one, can take. But the book's flip, snarky tone grows steadily darker as the two plotlines overlap, and a far larger backdrop reveals itself. The monsters that Carey and Kaitlyn are forced to battle wind up having a sinister common origin — one that telescopes The Unnoticeable's seemingly streetwise scale into something downright cosmic.

In that expansion, though, the characters often fall through the cracks. Carey's off-putting crassness is explained away briefly as an ironic mask that he never manage to take off. There's no further effort, though, to substantially flesh out (let alone justify) that choice. Which is a missed opportunity; there's just enough perverse charisma in Carey to keep his side of the narrative rolling, but whatever makes him truly tick is left unexplored. The more sympathetic Kaitlyn balances the equation, but her character isn't any more developed than your average ass-kicking action-flick heroine.

Brockman's ambition is big, but he keeps it tightly bottled. Just when the story balloons into an urban-fantasy phantasmagoria, he yanks it back to the gutter: slimy, sardonic, and self-deprecating. It's an occasionally frustrating (but mostly winning) dynamic, especially when the book leaves itself enough wiggle room to wax philosophical. Even as he's jackknifing between the comic and the cosmic, Brockman makes time for meditations on the nature of information and energy — nothing too heady, but just enough to season a fun, otherwise lightweight battle between punk rockers and the horrors that lie beyond.

Jason Heller is a senior writer at The A.V. Club, a Hugo Award-winning editor, and author of the novel Taft 2012.

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