• How To Win At Life...By Cheating At Everything



    How To Win At Life...By Cheating At Everything
    Published by Dark Horse Books
    To be released on August 8, 2017
    Written by Mark Perez
    Illustrations by Scott Shaw/photography by Annastasia Goldberg
    Purchase From Amazon

    The foreword starts off by instructing you to steal the book and egging you on to do so. The opening sentence and the rest of the foreword does a good job setting the tone of the novel in how to cheat everyone and everything, and get away with it. So. Stealing. Yes!

    I figured the content of the book was a fabrication, but with the presentation in the form of a straightforward how to/memoir there was a part of me that had me wondering if the author had a shady past, so I looked him up. I found out he works as a screenwriter and was mildly disappointed there was not even a hint of grift, or at least any perceptible. The writing was convincing enough to have me wondering every once in a while if all this was not entirely made up, which might sound like disrespect, but I mean that in the best way possible! I had been fooled, conned, tricked, etc. Exactly what the author wanted, I’m sure.

    The advice on getting away with the various schemes described throughout is mostly negated by technology of today, but that might have been reverse engineered. Knowing what one could have gotten away with 20 years ago is certainly easier to figure out now. What I found interesting is the logic behind the explanations of why these plans worked. Though I am not a fan of admitting it, kernels of wisdom rang of truth about the nature of people.

    “People are generally trusting. I have no idea why that is. With all the history of cheating and deceiving that has been perpetrated over time, by individuals, religions, and just about every government that has ever existed on Earth, you’d think a healthy skepticism would have been ingrained in us, merely by natural selection. But luckily for guys like me, humankind remains genetically naive—dumb fuckers who may walk on two feet but still think like their ape ancestors.” (p. 12).

    And:

    “People like to feel sorry for others. Not because they give half a shit about you or me, not even a little. Rather, they enjoy feeling superior. And that’s because human beings are innate narcissists. Take this as a truism about the world, and then use it to your advantage.” (p. 16).

    I could not find myself rooting for the main character (name changed throughout the work) as he is intentionally deplorable. I did, however, appreciate how the author painted a picture of a morally ambiguous character willfully doing awful things to others over and over, acknowledging to live his lifestyle you could never let down your guard, never really have friends, never really be yourself, and never really settle down. I liked the obsessive motivation of seeing if he could do it again and again, each time being bigger and better than the last; a true honing of the craft.

    The story is framed by recounting how dear old dad had been the main character’s mentor in the art of swindling since as early as he could remember and had been put in prison around the time the main character was in high school. After that the main character moved town to town following the footsteps of his father, a man that left a heavy impression on the youth evidenced by frequent memories of the lessons he imparted. The main character was determined to outdo and prove himself to the old man well into his adulthood.

    There was a graphic element to the work in illustrations and photography. The Illustrations were amusing and really tied the concepts of the scamming together, adding a punch of humor to some real degeneracy. The Photos had a documentary appearance to them – very matter of fact and newspaper-ish. I believe they required a lot of effort to look just right, but I did not think they fit the book. I understand the photos could not be cartoonish because the illustrations did such a great job at being over the top, and it would have been too much, but they did not look serious enough. They straddled a middle-ground of the silly and the ordinary, and if they were more realistic, they could have served as a strong anchor to the subject matter.

    The book was an enjoyable read with a foreseeable conclusion, but the writing was concise, to the point, and fit the style well. There were a few spots that felt a little too long, almost going into subplot territory, for example, how the main character got one over the school staff by delving deep into their personal lives, but it was humorous and not unwelcome.

    Mark Perez, as mentioned earlier, has worked in film as a writer on ACCEPTED; HERBIE: FULLY LOADED; and THE COUNTRY BEARS. This is his first novel.

    Illustrations were provided by cartoonist Scott Shaw! known for FEAR AND LAUGHTER; CAPTAIN CARROT AND HIS AMAZING ZOO CREW!; and JIM HENSON’S MUPPET BABIES. He is also one of the people responsible for starting the San Diego Comic-Con. As a side note, I was interested in reviewing the book because I loved the cover. Design matters!

    The photography is from Annastasia Goldberg, who graduated from UCLA in Fine Arts and has contributed to VARIETY magazine and the LOS ANGELES TIMES.





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