Over at the second annual magazine for Neutral Spaces, I have a one act play up.
Friday, January 8, 2021
Sunday, January 3, 2021
After a whale falls from the sky and dies on impact, the film industry, now a practically all-encompassing industry since simulations of reality have become more real than reality itself, immediately begins working on a movie adaptation of the event. A borderline washed-up actor, the unnamed narrator of the novel, takes the role of the whale as possibly his last shot at maintaining fame.
“Everything outside of the unconscious is just another exercise in artifice and subjectivity. The only difference between mammals and reptiles is body heat. Otherwise we are morbid equals.”
That plot summary is the best way I can summarize the basics of the book, but it would be pretty deceptive on its own. The book is full of digressions, philosophical pondering, meditations on film, reality, and Moby Dick, and humorous routines. The book is divided into three sections, with short intermission sections between the first and second and the second and third. Each “chapter,” if they can be called that, consists of a single paragraph preceded by titles such as “Stage” or “Return, or, 'History' (Vol. 3).” Having originally found Wilson through his short stories and flash fiction, I found this structure suited the book very well.
The whale falls during the first intermission section, the actual first section mostly following the unnamed actor through his various antics while filming. Wilson's fiction that I've read is always hilarious, and his humor his just as good here. One chapter has the actor having to repeatedly drown himself and be revived for a scene, all the while the director of the film changes hands several times. Another chapter has him finding his film career no longer brings in enough money for his lifestyle so he takes a side gig as the Vice President of the United States.
When the actor takes the role of the whale, studying for it by interviewing a simulation of Herman Melville and reading Moby Dick multiple times, he's put through a process that transforms his body into a whale. There's an element of body horror as he describes his transformation and a sense of a loss of identity, an identity he barely had a grasp on in the first place, as he's required to live as a whale for the duration of the film.
Throughout the book, there are other reoccurring themes (it doesn't feel right to call them subplots) such as the mishaps of a has-been actor named Donny Ennui, The Vice President controlling the country while the President is nowhere to be found, and letters from a character who signs his name as “D.” who believes himself to be a gang stalking victim by various celebrities.
Despite the multiple digressions and the often slippery sense of time in the book, the main story is relatively easy to follow. This provides an anchor for people more used to traditional narratives while still experimenting with the form an structure of the story. Some may still find themselves lost while reading it, but even then, I believe it's enjoyable as a hallucinatory trip.
Outré is a funny, strange, insightful, and entertaining look at film and its relation to reality. People new to D. Harlan Wilson's odd and unique style may want to start with some of his short fiction, but this book is well worth reading.
Tuesday, December 22, 2020
I talk about my reasons for these choices a bit more on the latest episode of The Quiet Place. Watch it here.
Thursday, December 3, 2020
I recall that when I was a child, a religious relative of mine was angry at Disney claiming that they hosted “Gay Days” at their parks. These were apparently days where large groups of gay men would come to the park and parade their, in the eyes of my religious relative, deviant lifestyle in front of families. It would only be until years later that I would learn that these were not something actually sanctioned by Disney, but events organized by gay rights groups and they simply consisted of visits to the park by these groups. Looking back, I wonder what they actually believed these events consisted of. I can only assume it would look a lot like Derek McCormack's Castle Faggot.
“Funland's for fun, Futureland's for futures, Fantasticland's fantastic—Faggotland's for faggots.”
Castle Faggot consists of three parts. Part one is a fictional flyer/brochure for a theme park called Faggotland. The titular castle is the center of the park and is described as being full of the bodies of “faggots” who have committed suicide and every surface smeared with shit. The scatological examination of homophobia hits one immediately when you open the book. The visitors of the park are always described as “faggots.” The word is repeated so often, copying the repetition of real marketing materials, that it would lose meaning if McCormack's prose didn't maintain a sarcastic, angry energy throughout.
The bodies of suicide victim “faggots” as the decoration of the theme park attraction is an evocative image. There many ways that LGBT+ people passed in the struggle for their rights, suicides due to being cast away by family and society among them. Today, many companies will use a display of sympathy towards gay right struggles as a means of marketing despite never giving any meaningful contribution. The bodies of victims become décor in the neoliberal theme park.
The mascots of Faggotland are also cereal mascots; parodies of Count Chocula, Boo Berry, and Frankenberry. The park, the castle, and the mascots are “shown” in a section with blank squares instead of pictures, leaving the actual images to the imagination of the reader. There's also an advertisement for a dollhouse of Castle Faggot, continuing the themes of satirizing homophobia, it declares that “faggots love dollhouses” and tells the ones who buy it to shove it up their asses.
For all the darkness and scatology in the book, it's still very funny. Parodies of French Decadent writers, such as “Stéphane Marshmallarmé,” make appearances. I wonder what it says about my sense of humor that the funniest part of the book to me was when they speak only the word “French” over and over again.
The second part of the book is a narrative called “Rue Du Doo.” This section is a surreal mix of cereal commercials, The Wizard of Oz, Disney films, Rankin/Bass films, and what is likely autobiography from McCormack which also has a surprisingly straightforward story. Count Choc-o-log, the ruler of Castle Faggot, is unable to see himself in the mirror because he's a vampire. However, because he's a stereotypical conceited gay man, he wants to be able to see himself and, believing him to be a wizard, brings Derek McCormack into Faggotland to create him a magic mirror. While McCormack struggles to fulfill the Count's wish so he can go back home, some of the Count's underlings oppose him as they want to keep the vampire dependent on them for compliments.
The narrative has a heavy sense of nostalgia marred by heartbreak and trauma. Films and TV shows are recalled with a sense of humor, but also with cynicism in recognizing their commercial purposes. The fictional Derek McCormack thinks little of his real life before Faggotland due to his sexuality causing severe bullying. There's even a love arc that ends very tragically and maintains that sense of tragedy despite the coprophagia and cartoonish scenes of bats flying into rectums. It speaks very well of McCormack the author that he's able to fit so many emotions into a story so ridiculous and with such a puerile sense of humor.
The final part of the book is an afterword consisting of a dialogue between author Dennis Cooper and director Zac Farley. It serves as a good summation of the themes of the book as well as giving some context surrounding the creation of it.
The day after I received this book in the mail, I was checking for reviews of it and noticed the book had been taken down from Amazon. As of writing this, it's still not up. Whether this is a mistake or whether this was taken down due to the title and the content remains to be seen. This was a book that was always going to push buttons, and it seems to be doing that already. The title alone will be incredibly off-putting to many, and I won't try to convince those who are. However, while a disturbing piece of work, I believe it's an important one. It's a hilarious and insightful look at the effects of homophobia, trauma, and the way sexual identity has become increasingly commodified in the wake of recent civil rights victories.
Saturday, November 28, 2020
Conjoined twins Jackie and Maddie thought they finally found a place to fit in when they joined the Main Event Sideshow, a modern day traveling freak show. When a storm in the Southwest leaves the group stranded at an isolated desert motel, they find themselves under attack by the homicidal owners and discovering the dark secrets of the occupants staying in the other rooms.
“Leslie enjoyed cleaning the rooms. She believed there was a certain way things should be and that keeping things tidy kept the chaos away. When Leslie cleaned a room, she was putting that one little part of the world back in order again.”
Freak Night... is a fast-paced bizarro horror story. It reminds me a lot of Joe R. Lansdale's forays into strange fiction, such as The Drive-In. There's a lot of chaos, vivid action scenes, and a whole lot of blood and guts. The “freaks” are a mix of realistic ones, such an incredibly obese woman and conjoined twins, and more fantastic ones, such as a man with four fully functional arms and a woman with no head. There's also an actual chupacabra. All of it blends well together.
Despite the short length of the story, it still manages to fit a good amount of backstory to many of the characters. The life of the violently bigoted owner of the hotel is especially believable for how they turned out that way. It also manages the flesh out the more minor characters, the other occupants of the hotel, as much as they need to be without stopping the story.
The action is bloody and incredibly entertaining, as is the often dark humor. One could read the book in a couple hours, as I did, like watching a movie. While a mostly satisfying read, the ending does rely on a couple difficult to buy contrivances. I also think it could have added more backstory to some of the other freaks in the Sideshow as well.
Despite that, Freak Night at the Slee-Z Motel is a fun, well-paced slasher novel with a unique cast of characters. Fans of bizarro fiction will certainly enjoy this. Fans of horror fiction who want something off-kilter will want to pick this up too.