Book ReviewIn Memorium

Remembrance of Bob Smith

We lost a charming and big-hearted man this last weekend — at age 59, a much-too-young age. In Bob Smith’s honor, I am reposting a 2011 review of his second novel Remembrance of Things I Forgot. In the same league with gay comedic geniuses David Sedaris and Eddie Safarty, Bob Smith is a legend, who had a unique outlook on life,  a great, idiosyncratic mind, and was a lover of the written word. He will be sorely missed.

Following his hilarious 2007 fiction debut Selfish & Perverse, gay author/comedian Bob Smith has scribed another particularly unique novel that, in it, he mingles humor, science fiction, and political satire and which develops into a dry, sharp-tongued, brutally opinionated, sensational read. Imagine Saturday Night Live (the Gilda Radner years) meets Dr. Who (the screwy, British science fiction series). Smith’s protagonist in Remembrance is a semi-biographic gay character named John Sherkston, who is quirky, and like with a puppy, he’s sometimes irksome but loveable.

Because one theme of Remembrance is time travel, the story jumps between 1986 and 2006 — the burning, destructive Bush years — and it spans coast to coast, exploring the most profound depth of the human condition with cutting humor that’s as subtle as a chainsaw.

John, a comic book dealer, is considering leaving his physicist boyfriend of 15 years, Taylor, who has just completed the first-ever, government-sanctioned working time machine, but before he can end the relationship, he is unwittingly transported back in time. What transpires is a fiercely funny and sometimes moving depiction of self-endurance built upon the choices we as people make.

Smith, being an excellent satirical humorist, first asks and, as the pages turn, answers the eternal questions of every gay man: How would you react if you could travel back in time and meet your younger self? Would you like yourself too much? Would you approve of who you are? And would you try to change the future to better your own life? From the first encounter between John at age 46 and his 20-year younger self, Smith continually jabs at — himself, really — the ego of gay men with sheer brilliance.

I still had muscular arms and a firm chest, but had reached the age where every time I was photographed there was a fifty-fifty chance of a slight double chin vandalizing my portrait. Well, I’d be more confident if I wasn’t the first gay man in history to be rejected by himself.

There are, however, more challenging obstacles in Remembrance than self-intercourse. John’s family, over the two-decade span, had endured immeasurable tragedies. John’s realization that he was back in 1986, those same tragedies hadn’t yet occurred. So John selfishly sets out, with his younger self and Taylor (five years before they meet) to change his family’s past, a no small feat.

If, God forbid, someone in our family needed a guide dog, it would also have to be trained to look the other way.

Along with their journey, it quickly becomes apparent that someone else from the future is in pursuit of John. And, in a race for time, he must take down his most prominent archenemy, President George W. Bush. Under actions of many political figures, the take-down plan involves sexual impropriety.

But she said she can’t stand Reagan, and if she can stop a president who’s worse than him, then it’s her patriotic duty to fuck him.

Though Remembrance bloomed out of a sci-fi short story, the bulk of it feels like a therapeutic, if not redemptive, need of the author. Diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) in 2007, Smith says, “ … It’s [ALS] made me feel freer to mix the funny with the sad without trying to demarcate them since they clearly share the same genre of life.”

It is abundantly clear that Smith mixes the funny with the sad in Remembrance of Things I Forgot, and he has literally turned that “genre of life” into a tangible reflection of the time it takes for humans to forget their life experiences, big and small, sweet and sorrowful; and in the end how remembrance of all things could actually change the world.

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