Thursday, March 13, 2014


I will now be writing reviews for the website Adventures in Sci Fi Publishing. I'll mostly be reviewing bizarro, horror, and magical realism. You can read my introduction here. Stay tuned to the site for my review of Andre Duza's Techincolor Terrorists.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Book Review: The Mustache He's Always Wanted but Could Never Grow by Brian Alan Ellis

While I was reading The Mustache He's Always Wanted but Could Never Grow at work, someone asked me what it was about. I told them it was a short story collection about drunken losers. That's a pretty good summary I think.

The stories all feature people whose lives are on the brink of falling apart, are falling apart, or have completely fallen apart. All of there stories are related with a dark and dry sense of humor that keeps things from getting too depressing.

Things get off to a strong start in the first story "The Crumbs of Love". A struggling poet tells his girlfriend how he feels about her, only for her to take the opportunity to remind him how stagnate his life is, and how close to the end their relationship is.
"You write about how all love sours, then you expect us to be together forever? Forget it. What makes us different from anyone, huh, Harry?"
A simple yet sad story that sets the tone perfectly.

Ellis continues in this vein in the next story "Eulogy for Johnny Thunders". Another melancholy story about a loser and his broken relationship. After splitting with his girlfriend, his life falls completely apart. He finally puts it back together again, only to have his beloved cat (who was living with his ex while he was homeless) die. He finds having to deal with his ex and her mother almost as painful as the loss of his pet.
Part of me wants to believe that Johnny committed suicide. I'd like to think that having to deal with Phoebe and her mother for so was just too much for him. I know it sounds silly, but that's the only comfort I have. 
The theme of losers having the last of their comforts taken away is explored again in "Jerry's TV". The narrator's neighbor, Jerry, has his TV stolen. It was all that Jerry had left, and he can't afford to replace it. The narrator tries to help, but realizes he has nothing either, so there's not a lot he can do.

My favorite story of the collection is probably the last one, "The Sailboat/Hatchet Painting". A man recalls the days with his former roommate and his sister's ex-husband, an awful painter named Gerard.
"Isn't funny," I said. "Our conversations, as sporadic as they are, tend to always revolve around Gerard? In fact, I've often thought of him as the glue holding our relationship together all these years."
"God I know," she said. "Except it isn't funny. It's sad. It's very sad. It isn't funny at all."
Not all of Ellis's stories work. "Loco Mask II" is a story about a man with an Oedipus Complex. It's forgettable and Ellis pulls off a similar subject much better in a later story called "Rosewater". The titular story is an okay prose poem, but just seems like a summary of everything that's been written about up to that point. In fact, the longer stories tend to be better than the flash fiction. I say this as someone who thinks flash fiction is a very underrated writing form.

Overall, The Mustache He's Always Wanted but Could Never Grow is a solid collection of sad short stories about sad people with sad lives. I would recommend this book, especially to fans of Charles Bukowski, Noah Cicero, and alt-lit in general.

Buy The Mustache He's Always Wanted but Could Never Grow by Brian Alan Ellis here.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Book Review: Beauty and the Least by Andy Nowicki

Andy Nowicki is one of those writers who's been on my radar for awhile, but just never got around to reading. His publisher, Hopeless Books Uninc., was kind enough to send me a review copy of his latest novella, Beauty and the Least.
I am a dying man. I have consumed poison, which is killing me slowly, eating me away from within as surely as cancer.
That poison is beauty 
The unnamed protagonist of Beauty and the Least is an average middle-aged man. He goes to work, cares for his wife and kids, and goes to church on Sunday. One day at Mass, after a young girl smiles at him, he develops an obsession with her. He becomes fixated on finding out her name, where she lives, and everything else he could possibly know about her. Things take a turn for the worse for both of them when he thinks he's found a way to have the young girl without her even knowing.
What, after all, do you do with Beauty? She is, to be sure, a grand thing to possess, but to what end? This, it turns out, is a foolish question to ask, since it is of so little relevance; the crux of the matter is rather: what does Beauty do with you?
The protagonist finds himself in the same confused state that many do when confronted with great beauty. On one hand, he is drawn to it, in awe of it. In his case, to the point of obsession. The young girl's beauty is a religious experience to look at for him.

On the other, he is resentful of the fact it makes him feel this way, he is jealous of the beauty he can't have, he is frustrated he can't have her, he knows these feelings are leading him to sin, and he is saddened by how fragile her beauty is. Being a middle-aged man with a wife whose beauty has long faded away, he's all too aware what an ephemeral thing beauty is, how it's presented to us for a short period of time before it's destroyed or yanked away by time or other circumstances.

Beauty and the Least is a very short read at only about 30 pages, and I find it a bit odd it's being billed as a novella. It's barely longer than a short story. Still, this seems like a good introduction to what Nowicki's all about.

I'll be picking up more of his work. Nowicki's prose is wonderful, his protagonist is painfully human, and it's an excellent, thought provoking horror story. I recommend to everyone, even those who will disagree with his Catholic worldview.

Buy Beauty and the Least here.