Thursday, February 24, 2011

Muscle Memory

It's getting close to the end of February and I'm still trying to wrap up the books I read in January. Three to go. Three marvellous, entertaining, and wonderfully written books. These are the three new bizarro author series books that I read from the seven new books put out in this series in 2010. Muscle Memory, by Steve Lowe was the first.

The concept of this story is simple enough to grasp: a bunch of people wake up to find they switched bodies in the night and they need to figure out what the fuck is going on. It's your standard Freaky Friday shit, pretty much.

Ok, so Steve Lowe isn't the next Shakespeare or James Joyce or whatever, but what he has in this tiny little book, is, pure and simple, an entertaining story. He takes the body switching concept and makes it his own. Firstly, the main character wakes up in his wife's body and finds out that he died some time in the night. Which means that his wife is dead. Yes?

I think that's how it worked out. Insert some government conspiracy and alien shit in there and you got Muscle Memory. It's a funny book. And not the sort of funny where it comes out as forced humour. It's sort of like, this book keeps getting stranger and stranger, and without giving too much away, the body switches are well thought out such that sometimes you don't know whether to cringe from the awkwardness or laugh.

I thought this was a great read, certainly a decent introduction to the new bizarro author series, as Lowe focusses on telling his story, and telling it well. The thing that really holds this book strong is that the crux of the novel, the body switching concept is entirely unoriginal, it's old, yet it works anyway. Steve Lowe nods to the fact that he's working with recycled concepts early on in the book, and then he just leaves them behind. It's a body swapping novel, but the difference is that it's Steve Lowe's body switching novel and he's made it his own.

My next book review will be Eric Hendrixson's Bucket of Face. And in amongst my "to read" pile, which I'm trying to keep trimmed down, is Lowe's second short novel, Wolves Dressed as Men, which I'm quite looking forward to. Hopefully between now and then I'll have caught up a bit on a few more reviews, but with uni starting soon, it may be a bit of a struggle. Although with uni starting soon I will probably be reading less.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Night of the Assholes

Kevin L. Donihe's Night of the Assholes is classic bizarro fiction. Kevin L. Donihe's Night of the Assholes is clever and entertaining. Kevin L. Donihe's Night of the Assholes is quaint and charming.

Yeah, with a title like that, you may not conjure up those thoughts, and I think perhaps I am stretching things, but this is the third book of Donihe's I've read, and the second novel, and by now, I'm sure he knows what he's doing.

Donihe is one of those guys who (to me, at least) writes to tell a good story. Now, I must say, my favourite authors are usually the ones who try to do things a bit differently, to push some boundaries, to challenge the norm. And while bizarro certainly pushes boundaries in terms of content, I find it doesn't always push boundaries in terms of style. Guys like D. Harlan Wilson and Carlton Mellick III (flick back to my past couple of reviews), and even some of the up and coming bizarros in the New Bizarro Author Series had some literary style flying about the place. The danger of this is that it can be hit and miss, and while I'm yet to read Donihe's earliest books or weirdest books (I'm keen on getting a copy of House of Houses at some point in time...), I'm convinced that Donihe has found his little notch in the bizzaro genre and is quite happy there.

I guess I should probably talk a bit about the book. Now, after reading Mellick's Zombies and Shit, I had kind of worked myself into the zombie mindframe to read this book. I'll admit (as much as I've admitted various intertextual references in the past) that I'm quite unfamiliar with Night of the Living Dead. I don't watch many movies, let alone many horror movies, let alone many zombie cult horror movies. So, launching off a narrowed perspective here, I can say that for me, what makes this book work is not the references to zombie culture, it's not the Night of the Living Dead parody that seems to be at play here, or the mad-libbed assholes. In fact, this book could (in the wrong hands) have turned into a hideous pop culture spoof-fest that is essentially a hollowed out joke book pretentiously pretending to be a novel.

What makes this book work is the lead protagonist. Pure and simple. The support cast isn't too bad. It's refreshing to find yourself in a well-thought-out story, especially when people seem focussed on churning out mindless (hullooooo zombies....) parodies to suckle up to the cash cow. In this age of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Pirates and Ninjas and Super Fucking Mega Space Monsters, it's fantastic to see that Kevin L. Donihe knows how to tell a good story. Yes, it's a story as much as it's a parody.

Oh yeah, it's a book about an asshole epidemic, where everyone everywhere turns into assholes! It sounds pretty fucking cool, but if ever Donihe went through a phase of writing fanfiction, there is no trace of it at all here. Which is more than I can say for other parodies involving "what if we do x story, but instead of y we have z!" or "let's do x story, but add y to the story!!!!"

I think I'm starting to sound like a broken record, but really, I feel like the point needs hammering home. Donihe wrote a damn fine book about zombi- uhhh assholes, and while the title assumes the role of parody, the novel doesn't feel "gimmicky" or "tacked on", which I believe is no mean feat. Washer Mouth was a great book too.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Egg Man

I would have to say that the Egg Man, by Carlton Mellick III, is one of my favourite reads of his thus far. With all the sick shit he's put out over the years, I've now read... seven Mellick books. He does some awesome, weird, disturbing, sexual, juvenile shit, and while you expect a bit of all of the above, there's something else to his books (well, his stronger novels, at least) that keeps us limping back. Now, it all whittles down to one question people should ask more often: Why?

Why read this book over his other titles? Why choose this author over other authors? Why choose this genre, when you know it will fuck with you every single time and offer no sympathy afterwards.

Here's why I like the Egg Man so: It's dark and disturbing and quirky. It's compellingly twisted. It's rank and fetid and sexual. It's about instincts and taboos and nature and culture. It's about dystopia. It's about obsession. It's about fragile things and things that are too large to conceptualise. But really, it's a book about a guy who paints with his nose and a dirty, smelly chick and a guy with a massive brain.

As with other Mellick books, it's dark and surreal, and goes places you don't really want to go. But it's got a gothic beauty about it. There are politics at play that stir up something wonderful in my mind. And the world Mellick creates for his festering creatures to exist in is so brutal, yet so creative and strangely wonderful, it's so easy to just lose yourself in it and smother yourself with its people. It's a feast for the senses. It's a book that flowers in your imagination and touches on concepts of perspective and being that are so foreign it feels like the only way to attach yourself to Mellick's world is to completely detach yourself from this one.

And I think Mellick, himself, considers this his best work (or at least, one of his best). Well, Mr. Mellick, you sure know when you've hit the mark. The Egg Man is a cult masterpiece that is impossible to accurately describe. it's just nothing like anything I've read before.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


It's been a while since I've posted a book review, and I've been doing a lot of reading over that period, so I've got a lot of stuff to catch up on. I'm tossing up whether to belt out a heap of short reviews or to pick the books I most want to talk about, or whether to keep pushing through the list.

Well, at least at the moment, I think I'm reading more books than I'm buying. I'm still buying a lot of books (I've got five on order at the moment), but I'm getting through the new books while also chipping away at a few that have been sitting on my shelf all too long.

So anyway, the last book that I read that I haven't reviewed yet is D. Harlan Wilson's Peckinpah.

I read Wilson's Blankety Blank right at the start of the year, and instantly found myself drawn to the writing. Now, I've got a few notes worth mentioning here; that I don't watch as many films as I'd like to, and the films of Sam Peckinpah (where the title of this book came from) have eluded me thus far. The symbolic significance of the title, to me, is fleeting. In comparison to Blankety Blank, I think Peckinpah is of similar substance; comical violence, a radical aggression towards suburbia, and chapters shaped in the form of microfictive snapshots (I'm hesitant to use the term "vignette" as my understanding of the word is somewhat vague at the moment), however, I personally prefer Blankety Blank over Peckinpah. Perhaps it's an issue of substance. But I am by no means saying that this is a bad book.

Each page is brimming with Wilson's strange (quite alien) brilliance. I'm wishing I wrote the review for this while the image were still fresh in my mind. Right now, all I can do is thumb through the book and try to remember what that initial reading was like. Peckinpah is subtitled "an ultraviolent romance", and while the book is brimming with ultraviolence, Wilson seems to tackle images of shock violence, blood and gore, with a sort of whimsical nonchalance. As with A Clockwork Orange, the ultraviolence in Peckinpah is extreme. However, A Clockwork Orange shocks its audience, whereas Peckinpah humours it.

I think the key to getting the most out of this book is just to let go of any expectations you may have for it. It's violent and absurd and punchy as fuck. Where else are you going to find a book where characters rip pigs in half just for kicks? And I'm sitting here and looking at the title, and I'm thinking, the only romance that occurs in this book that I can grasp at, would be between the author and Peckinpah. The book is littered with references to filmic techniques. At moments it seems like Wilson has forgotten about a plot and just decided to toss the reader in a completely different direction.

Some people may find this style frustrating. If you flick through the book, it looks like a total clusterfuck. There's one chapter in there that just says "pigshit". But that is precisely why I think D. Harlan Wilson is the shit. It looks like the book is just thrown together while on some sort of drunken bender, but when you sink right into the core of it, you're actually inside a densely constructed chaos. The madness is doing something to you, it's getting inside your head. It's unsettling you. It's making you question what the fuck is going on and why, but it's not hinting at any sort of answer. It's making you laugh at something that's not traditionally considered "humour".

It's wild and sporadic and violent and funny. It's genius. Next up on my D. Harlan Wilson reading list is Dr. Identity, and next up on my reviewing list is The Egg Man, by Carlton Mellick III.