Sunday Book Review – 12/19/20

Bookshelf books, photo by Alien Motives

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind by Chuck Barris (1984, St. Martin’s Press)

With one month left in the Trump Presidency, it seems like an appropriate time to recall back to 1984, when a largely-forgotten game show host self-aggrandizing to the gullible could still be entertaining. While I normally try to review one fiction and one nonfiction book per week, in this case Confessions is pulling double duty.

Barris, best known as the host of the Gong Show, revealed his secret past as a CIA assassin in this book. CIA representatives, when pressed, flatly denied Barris had ever been an asset of theirs in any capacity, much less an assassin. Barris himself refused to confirm or deny the accuracy of any aspect of the book. This has been taken by some as an indication that he wanted the extra legal protection allowed by publication of material, while he did not want to risk retribution if he personally vouched for the truth of his autobiography. They are wrong. This part of the book is fiction, and transparently so.

Setting aside issues like the Mike Hammer ending sequence, technical issues are common. The book, not especially well written, includes scenes which would work well within a movie but are utterly implausible in reality. Perhaps the most obvious example is the assassination which frames the bulk of the story; Barris supposedly goes to a target’s hotel room, opens the window, waits for the man to walk in and, while he’s confused by the open window, rushes him and pushes him to his death. Beyond the likely evidence of a struggle such an assassination attempt would produce and the virtually choreographed placement and orientation the principals would require, there was the matter of most windows in New York hotel rooms without balconies not fully opening.

In addition to the cinematic nature of the CIA activities described, there are the recollections and conversations of Barris. The book opens with a detailed description of a particular dream and segues from there into a series of conversations. In most instances, people don’t recall a dream a few hours after waking, much less years in the future. Similarly, people don’t recall detailed conversations which were not deeply significant to them. It is for these reasons that some people keep dream journals and many government officials take copious notes.

On the other hand, when Barris shifts to talking about his time as a producer for television programs like The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game and The Gong Show, only key moments are recalled. The behind-the-scenes moments of the Gong Show and his earlier experiences in television have the ring of truth to them.

The result is two ideas, neither of which was strong enough to support a book, which have been merged. One, a thriller featuring a celebrity main character who bears remarkable similarity to the author (as in the style of One Who Trespasses by Bill O’Reilly, but even with Barris’ failings, far more competently written than O’Reilly’s abysmal effort); the other, an autobiography of a contrarian stuck in a business that rewards conformity.

If you know what you’re getting into, the strained sentence construction, regular references to genitalia and limited vocabulary can be overlooked in favor of a fairly absurd but entertaining book.

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About AlienMotives 1991 Articles
Ex-Navy Reactor Operator turned bookseller. Father of an amazing girl and husband to an amazing wife. Tired of willful political blindness, but never tired of politics. Hopeful for the future.