Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Book Review: The Collected Works of Noah Cicero Vol. 1

The Collected Works of Noah Cicero Vol. 1 collects Noah Cicero's first three books The Human War, The Condemned, and Burning Babies as well as some other short stories. The first book review I did for this blog was The Human War, so it seems appropriate I cover this as well.

The first story in the book, "I Clean in Silence", stands out in that it's one of only two pieces in the book that's written in traditional paragraphs, rather than in the style of each sentence as a paragraph like most of the book. It certainly has all the other markings of a Noah Cicero story with its crude humor, its neurotic narrator, and its existential pondering that is never pretentious. As the title suggests, the story is about a woman's thoughts as she quietly cleans the house. She thinks about her boyfriend, her body, her self-loathing, and how hopeless everything seems.
I want the beauty of the west, the mountains, rocky coasts, sea urchins, long strips of highway, endless fields and clear rivers. But all I have are these dishes. Dirty dishes that must be cleaned. Everything must be cleaned.
"Bedroom Scene" is the other story in the book that uses traditional paragraphs. A story about pillow talk between two people with no feelings for each other. This story could be a play with very little re-writing. Not that that's a bad thing.
"No one does anything for themselves. People do it for their parents, to make other people think they're great, to get laid or make money, but they don't do anything for themselves. I don't have anyone to impress and there's nothing I want. I don't care if I'm happy.  People can go fuck themselves. And that includes you and me."
"That's a good attitude. You'll get far in life acting like total bitch."
Speaking of sex, there's a lot in this book. The story "Gratutious Kink" from The Condemned is the stand out in this area. The narrator recounts his sexual encounters from losing his virginity in a church, sleeping with a shemale hooker, sucking dick in an adult theater, to pissing on his girlfriend and watching her fuck other men.
The impact of an orgasm on the human body and mind is the only experience that can remotely relieve the existence of all the bleak shittiness of human reality.
Wise words. And believe me Noah Cicero is full of them. Take this aphorism from my favorite part of this book Burning Babies.
There is no reason to care what people think about you. Because seeing how this world is, it is obvious humans are not good thinkers
Noah Cicero knows how to boil a sentence down to its bare essence for maximum impact. His stories are funny, cruel, insightful, and just a joy to read. I highly recommend you pick up Collected Works. It is well worth a read.

Buy The Collected Works of Noah Cicero Vol. 1 here.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Book Review: Tool. by Peter Sotos

This is not going to be an easy book to review. At least part of that is because of who the author is. Peter Sotos was the first US citizen to be convicted of possession of child pornography. That alone will be enough to get most people to write this off. I'm not going to try convince you otherwise if you feel that way. If there's one thing Sotos makes it obvious he hates in Tool., it's apologists.

Tool. was first published by Jim Goad in the compilation Total Abuse in 1995, which collected this novella as well as the zines Sotos published Pure and Parasite. It was again published in another compilation called Proxy: Peter Sotos Pornography 1991-2000 in 2005, which collected five of the books Sotos had published up until then. Just this year, Nine Banded Books published Tool. as a standalone volume.

While Tool. is billed as a novella, it's tempting to see it as more of a short story collection, because the chapters stand by themselves as narratives. Though they are connected by theme.

The first chapter relates the kidnapping and abuse of a ten-year-old girl from the perspective of the abuser.
You're such a pretty girl. You shouldn't cry. Such a dear. Those tears aren't pretty, are they?
Needless to say, it's a very unpleasant read. Between this and his conviction (which is recounted in chapter five of the book), it's easy to think Sotos is simply a violent pedophile. I don't think he is. Sotos seems far more interested in the suffering and loss of the parents of the victimized children than the actual act of abusing children. Much of the first chapter is spent ruminating on the pain the girl's parents will feel from finding that she's been raped and murdered.
Your parents are going to miss you for the rest of their ridiculous lives. They're going to be hurt and be miserable human wastes from this day forward. They are going to grow to hate the very thought of you.
This is even more obvious in chapters four and eight, which are written as letters to the parents of children who have been murdered. Chapter four is a letter from a man who murdered a woman's son. He recounts to the mother how her son was a drug addict and a prostitute and tells the mother that she needs to admit this to herself. As cruel as this is, it shows a deep concern for the humanity of the victim.
Well, I know I've taken up too much of your time, and if I might be so bold, one last time, I suspect your time with Danny was always a mite strained and difficult for you. Hopefully, next time you talk to the press or the parole board, you might mention less about what a great kid gone awry he was and more about how he was pretty much dead before I even got near him.
I think that would be the honest thing to do and more in keeping with a real love for Danny. No use in tarnishing your personal photo book even more than it already is.
Sotos refuses to canonize the young man as a saint because he was a victim of a murder. He demands that the young man's flaws not be swept under the rug simply because of the crime inflicted on them.

Chapter eight is probably the most fascinating, because compared with the previous chapters, it is far less angry and violent and explicit. Yet it is by far the bleakest. It's written as a letter from a stranger to a woman whose child was the victim of a high profile kidnapping, rape, and murder. The letter begins sympathetically enough, but soon he begins to pry into uncomfortable details.
Are your thoughts entirely controlled by this heinous crime and terrific loss? Are even the most menial, knee-jerk tasks now subject to uncontrollable recollections of Lisa? Are all your memories harsh and painful and ugly?
He ends this letter by essentially telling this woman that the best way to cope with her loss is to give up all belief in hope, love, and empathy.
Those things you thought were real before are now too cumbersome and ungainly. Those feelings have to be changed. The lines in your face, the stretch marks on your belly, and the grey in your hair all must attest to something new. Something unplanned and unprepared for. Something that reflects how life truly is.
It seems like in this book of raped children, crack whores, AIDS victims, and gloryhole vistors, you could have no other ending. It also brings us full circle with Chip Smith's statement in the preface of the book that Sotos is best viewed with (in Thomas Ligotti's words) the idea that "the Universe is malignantly useless" as a starting point.

I can't pretend I completely "understand" this book, nor that I read it for reasons beyond a fascination with the subject matter. I don't think Sotos completely understands why he writes what he writes either. He makes this clear in the essay that ends this book called "Mine/Kept".
I need to explain myself and, I swear, I already have.
Though one could argue that there's really nothing to "understand".
I don't think art is a conversation between the reader and the creator. It's an intensely selfish obsession and a personal, internal dialogue. Just exactly like experience.
This is a very difficult book to recommend. Sotos is a powerful writer with a lot of talent, but reading him makes one feel like you've had someone take a shit on your soul. Here is a sample chapter. If you believe it has worth, then you should certainly pick up Tool. If it simply disgusts you and you see no value in it, then skip it.

Buy Tool. by Peter Sotos here. 

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Bride of Brief Thoughts

Yup. We're doing this again.

Sick City by Tony O'Neill

Now this was a fun read. In this neo-noir thriller, a junkie named Jeffrey comes into possession of a sex tape featuring Sharon Tate after his lover dies. Knowing that this tape could be worth millions, he sets about to get himself clean so he can cash in. While in rehab, he meets Randal, another junkie from a rich family with connections in Hollywood. They team up to find a buyer for the tape. All the while being trailed by someone who has it out for Jeffrey.

This book is a fun page-turner, and even throws some entertaining barbs at the Hollywood system and the rehab industry. Easy targets, I'll admit. But some things you never get tired of seeing beat up on. If you're a fan of thrillers or neo-noir in general this is definitely worth a read.

Buy Sick City by Tony O'Neill here.

The Kid by Sapphire

The Kid is the sequel to Sapphire's first novel Push, which is probably better known by the movie Precious.

I think Push showed that Sapphire is a talented writer. However, she has a tendency to pile it on a little too thick. I can take a retarded baby conceived through incestuous rape seriously, but when you name it "Mongo", you start to lose me.

Sapphire works in a similar vein as Iceberg Slim and Donald Goines, in that she paints a nasty and vivid picture of the life of poor urban blacks. Unlike Slim and like Goines, she has the unfortunate tendency to engage in a certain degree of preaching. She ended Push on a "hopeful" note, with Precious learning how to read and her second child, Abdul, being born healthy. Reading the reviews of The Kid was interesting, because that hope is shattered at the beginning of this book when Precious succumbs to complications from AIDS. This upset a lot of people.

Another thing that bothered a lot of people is the stream of consciousness style the book is written in. This book is about Precious's son Abdul and his life from childhood to young adulthood. Unlike his mother, Abdul is intelligent but also plagued by a lot of mental problems. This results in him doing things like blurring the line between his dreams and what actually happens, engaging in mantras to keep himself steady, and jumping between his memories and the present. Especially in the final chapter, it begins to border on Faulkner levels of confusing. That said, it makes for a highly visceral read.

Like Push, Sapphire piles it on way too thick. I'm beginning to wonder if she's capable of writing a character who hasn't experienced childhood sexual abuse. The scene where Abdul is attacked by an older boy is disturbing, but loses it's impact from the boy attacking him being called "Batty Boy". Seriously.

The fact Sapphire tries to cover so much results in things going nowhere. For example, there is a scene where one of Abdul's friends comes out as transgender to him. You think this will lead to something. It doesn't.

In the end, if you liked Push, then The Kid is worth a read. If not, skip it. Personally, I think Sapphire's command of language is strong enough that I'll probably check out her poetry at some point.

Buy The Kid by Sapphire here.