Sunday, July 27, 2014

Book Review: Suffer The Flesh by Monica O'Rourke

This book drew me in at first with its premise and with its reviews comparing it favorably to Stephen King's short story "Quitter's Inc." I was happy when I learned that Deadite Press was reprinting it and sent me a review copy. It ended up being a fun read, but still a huge let down.

The story seems simple enough, but I found it to be an intriguing premise. Zoey is an overweight woman who's struggled with her size all her life. One day she meets a woman who tells her about a program that's guaranteed to get her to lose the weight and keep it off. Unfortunately for Zoey, participation is not voluntary.

Given the premise, you'd think this short novel would be a commentary on beauty standards in the modern world or a psychological thriller about the lengths one will go to make themselves better. Unfortunately, it turns out to be neither. In fact, it throws the whole weight loss premise out so fast that I had to re-read the blurbs to even remember that it was supposed to be a central part of the book.

The book really has two parts. It starts off as BDSM porn. I don't mean that in a good or bad way. It's porn, and I can't really say that it's bad porn, but it's porn. I would have been okay with this, except it decides it wants to have a plot in the last 40 pages. The plot's a little cheesy (I'm avoiding spoilers here), but it does turn into a fun thriller towards the end. It just doesn't mesh with everything that came before. Had the book been shortened by close to 90 pages, it might have worked. Except for the epilogue. The epilogue is easily the worst part of this book. It's tacked on and seems designed to piss off the audience for no real reason. If I had a physical copy instead of an e-book, I would have thrown it to the ground and stepped on it.

All of this and the fact that the bonus short story, "Nurturing Type," works far better as a piece of fiction makes me think that O'Rourke works better in short form rather than long. So while I didn't like this novel and don't recommend it, I will check out some of her short stories in the future.

Buy Suffer the Flesh by Monica O'Rourke here.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Book Review: Humanity is the Devil by Jordan Krall

This review was originally meant to be posted on Adventures in Sci Fi Publishing, but the guy who runs it decided that this book didn't fit there. I'm not entirely surprised. This book is basically horror, but it's experimental to the point that a lot of speculative fiction fans might not get much out of it.

Hey, they took me on as the weird book guy, but I guess the stuff I read can get a little too weird for them. So let's take a look at Jordan Krall's Humanity is the Devil.

Giving a plot summary is difficult, because the plot is rather loose and scatter shot. The best summary I can give is that it revolves around a scheme by a Gnostic cult lead by a man named Seth to destroy all of humanity and, ultimately, the Demiurge. They engage in bombings, mass shootings and other terrorist actions.
Most of them could be defined as "acts of terror" but Seth wouldn't agree. They were his acts, yes, but he didn't consider them terrible.
In between the activities of the cult, we get glimpses into Seth's psyche in the form of his interactions with other members of the cult, his personal rituals and his visits with his therapist. For all the literary experimentation in this "anti-novel," Krall still manages to give significant development to his main character. It gives the book a center for those more used to conventional story-telling something to latch on to.
"Is that what you're afraid of? Being viewed as not being a good son?"
"I don't think so. I mean, I already know I'm not a good son. I just don't want to fight about it."
Many times, the narrative shifts focus to other characters who justify the claim made by the book's title. One of the more alienating parts readers may find in this book is Krall's short narratives about the worst that humanity has to offer. Rapists, child molesters and underground pornographers all make appearances. The stories within the larger story about these people would almost have you rooting for Seth's cult, but Krall doesn't go that route. Krall doesn't shy away from showing the pain and horror that Seth's cult inflicts on people, giving the book a heavy moral ambiguity.
You are but a clay vessel. You exist only to hold what is given to you by the Designer, the Grand Builder, the Demiurge. I will empty you of your broken light.
There are also several chapters that consist of free associations. These chapters contribute to the oppressive, disorienting and pessimistic mood of the book. They assault you with (seemingly) random words and phrases that are sometimes ugly, sometimes beautiful and often beautiful in their ugliness.
defiant disorder behavior disorder a weight reactions black to pain low animal lack of remorse strangers lack of ritalin clallam classical oppositional cruel and father operant release
I personally loved Humanity is the Devil. I found it to be a powerful attack of language on modern values, but it's a difficult book to recommend because of it's subject matter and because of how different it is from most books. I'd recommend it to any readers feeling particularly adventurous. If you've enjoy books such as William S. Burrough's Naked Lunch or JG Ballard's The Atrocity Exhibition, you'll definitely enjoy Jordan Krall's Humanity is the Devil.

Buy Humanity is the Devil by Jordan Krall here. 

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Book Review: Down Where the Devil Don't Go by Paul Bingham

Down Where the Devil Don't Go is Paul Bingham's first published work. Based on the interviews I've read with him, the stories were written during the Bush years but weren't published until this year. What's scary is that these stories are just as relevant as ever.

The first story is "Population I." A writer finds himself unable to work on his novel. He starts believing himself to be fake, and he resents his promiscuous, smut-writing roommate. Eventually, he finds inspiration in a convict he's mentoring. 

   My mind goes blank and Jamal thinks of another word.

The writer becomes more and more fascinated with Jamal until his feelings turn sexual.
Neither of us are homosexuals, but if I were sentenced to the penitentiary I would allow Jamal to fuck me; I would bend over and let him fuck me in exchange for protection and the right to touch his muscled biceps and to let him know someone other than this mother cares for him. 
This darkly comedic story is a funny and disturbing satire of the modern literary scene and establishes the themes that run through all the stories very well.

Next up is "What Dead Men Fear." John Wayne Cash Brazil is a body guard for a young country singer. When she's kidnapped, her grandfather puts the responsibility of finding her entirely on Brazil.
There is an art to pain. Overwhelming kills you, knocks your mind out. Too little, and you forget you’re nothing. Just the right amount and you’ll hurt bad like everybody else. It’s all in the application—how you manage it.
This noir story is probably the most fun to read. It's like a classic pulp story that also mocks the modern country scene and the celebrity culture around music in general. The passage I quoted above is also one of the best in the book. Like a lot of great noir writers, Bingham's prose is straightforward but hard hitting.

The next story, and probably my favorite in the book, is called "The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Hollywood." That title alone would probably get some people shaking their heads. Mort Schnellenhammer is a network executive who finds himself the target of a massive protest after canceling a popular TV show. To save his own skin, he hatches a plan to get rid of the creator of the show.
"Could I do that?"
Reassurance came quickly.
Of course you can, you're Mort Schnellenhammer, Executive. You make things happen; people die. It has a purpose. Your fucking neck is on the line this time.
Like the previous stories, "The Protocols..." is a dark satire, this time on modern media culture. Mort is a completely despicable man, yet Bingham paints him in such a way that he can't simply be dismissed as a caricature. Bingham also manages to use the story to comment on the plight of Palestinian Christians, without it feeling preachy or out of place, through Mort's friend Hasan.
"They talk of Zionist oppression while they kill Christian children and collect the moneys on them, because it is a democracy and we are the minority too minor for anyone to care. God I hate the fucks. They speak in platitudes and fuck democracy in the ass."
The final story, "I Feel Alright", stands out in that it doesn't have the humor or satirical aim of the of the rest of the book. It's just as powerful though. A veteran of the Iraq war returns to Texas and tries to adjust to civilian life again.
Alienation, that's what was missing.
"You just gotta get used to what you was used to before," Sandy has said at the very last minute, before Josh drove away
Sandy had never been to Iraq. Sandy had never left Texas.
Josh soon finds himself involved with his old drug-dealing friends which leads to a violent confrontation with a cop.
Got all satisfied. For the last time in a lifetime. I’ll lose that later, but right now, I feel alright. Better than I ever felt.
This collection of stories is a hell of a debut. Bingham's prose is amazing, and he creates insightful and entertaining looks into the lives of lost and broken people searching for meaning and direction in the cultural wreckage of modern America. I can't recommend this book highly enough, and I can't wait to see what Bingham will be coming out with in the future.

Buy Down Where the Devil Don't Go here.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Eleven Questions from Ann Sterzinger

So I haven't been writing here much because my reviews are going up on Adventures in SciFi Publishing, but I just saw that Ann Sterzinger tagged me in this chain posting thing. I haven't done one since Myspace was still something people used, and I'm not in the mood to repeat the experience. That said, the questions she asked were interesting enough that I decided to answer those.

1. Why are you still alive?

A mixture of luck (both bad and good) and stubbornness.

2. Why are you still trying to write a blog?

It's a good excuse for not working on other writing. 

3. Just who do you think you are, anyway?

Just some asshole in a tiny apartment in Iowa. 

4. What do you think about when you have insomnia? Just give us the five most persistent topics if the answer is "Holy shit, everything."

I almost never get insomnia these days. On the rare occasions that I do, I usually just think about what I need to do the next day. Boring, yes, but it gets me to sleep just fine. 

5. In order from least awful to most dreaded, which are your ten least favorite ways you could die?

- In my sleep.
- Being run over by a car while riding my bike.
- Being hung and choking to death rather than my neck snapping.
- Dehydration
- Starvation.
- Drowning.   
- Freezing to death.
- Having my throat cut. 
- Being castrated and bleeding out. 
- Outliving everyone I care about and then dying alone. 

6. Do you believe in God? If so, how can you tolerate His apparent indifference, even hostility, to your happiness and well-being? If not, how can you tolerate the void of your meaningless universe?

I don't. As for the universe being meaningless, I don't really see how the existence of a God necessarily gives the universe meaning. How do I tolerate the universe being meaningless? Pretty well.

7. Go back to question 6. Imagine that you believed the opposite of what you do, and then answer the second half of the question accordingly 

If I did believe in God, I would just tolerate his indifference by being indifferent back to him. I leave Him alone, He leaves me alone. Seems like a good deal to me. If He turned out to be actively hostile, I guess biting the pillow and dealing with it would be the only thing I could do. 

8. Are there any really amazing new bands you think I should know about?

I really like The Limousines. There's a band from here in Des Moines called Gloom Ballon that's really good too. I've also been listening to a lot of vaporwave lately, as much of big fat hipster as that makes me seem like. Saint Pepsi's Hit Vibes album is awesome and it's free to download. 

9. Is painting a dead art? How about the novel?

No and no. I honestly don't understand what people even mean when they say that these things are "dead." 

10. Come up with a worldview which is completely rational, based on evidence rather than wishful thinking, but which is also not a nuisance to one's mental health. You have 200 words.

I don't think it's possible to come up with a completely "rational" worldview that a person could hold while still maintaining mental health. Emotionally driven thoughts are a central part of the human mind, for better or worse. I don't think someone would be able to function as a human if they refused to come to terms with that.

11. What does it mean to you to be one of seven billion human beings? You may want to have some whiskey on hand for this one.

Not a whole lot. I can't really comprehend "seven billion human beings" on a deep level. It's just too big that it's just an abstraction to me. That's probably just my survival mechanism kicking in or something. I think if were to really comprehend my own insignificance on every level, my brain would force my heart to stop beating.

I'm not going to tag anyone. If you feel like answering these questions too, take a shot at it. 

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.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Top Ten Favorite Reads of 2013

So it's been some time since I've updated. I've got a bunch of books I plan on a reviewing and a few that were sent to me by authors and publishers I need to get to. Life and the holidays happened, so I didn't get to them as soon as I planned to. I'll try to get to them sooner than later. For now here are my favorite books that I read in 2013.

10. The Association by Bentley Little

An excellent horror story about the loss of privacy that mixes dark and absurd humor with creeping paranoia. I instantly became a Bentley Little fan after reading this. An honorable mention also goes to his short story collection, The Collection. That one convinced that Bentley Little is overrated as a horror author, but is also the most underrated absurdist writer working today.

9. Crash by JG Ballard

A trippy novel about a man stumbling on an underground cult of car crash fetishists. Is it science fiction, pornography, or high literature about man's relationship to technology? Whatever it is, it was a hell of a read. An honorable mention also goes to Super-Cannes. I recommend reading that if Crash proves to be too heavy for you.

8. The Collected Works of Noah Cicero Vol. I

Noah Cicero remains one of my favorite authors working today. Full review here.

7. Apocalypse Culture edited by Adam Parfrey

I confess that I'm still reading this one, but I had to put it on here. This book has pulled me in too much to not put it on here. Essays on the fringes of life in the 20th century, from an interview with a necrophile, to a case against agriculture itself, to Parfrey's funny as fuck essays on self-castration and Michael Jackson as the Antichrist. Seriously, this book is awesome. I can easily see why it's regarded as an underground classic.

6. The Bizarro Starter Kit (Blue)

A collection of short stories and novellas from the biggest names in the "Bizarro" scene. This and the Orange edition are essential reading for fans of unusual literature. Stand outs include Cheesequake Smash-Up by Bradley Sands, Shamanspace by Steve Aylett, and the short stories of Ray Fracalossy.

5. The Talkative Corpse by Ann Sterzinger

This bitterly funny novel perfectly captures the angst of being a working American in the 2010's. Full review here.

4. Filth by Irvine Welsh

A sociopath cop with a talking tapeworm growing in his gut. That's all I have to say.

3. The Story of the Eye by Georges Bataille

Funny, surreal, erotic, disgusting, and beautiful. Everything that a novel should be. 

2. Journey to the End of the Night by Louis Ferdinand-Celine

The picaresque story of a doctor and World War I veteran who travels the world to discover that no matter where you go, no matter who you meet, life still sucks. 

1. Whatever by Michel Houellebecq

“I've lived so little that I tend to imagine I'm not going to die; it seems improbable that human existence can be reduced to so little; one imagines, in spite of oneself, that sooner or later something is bound to happen. A big mistake. A life can just as well be both empty and short. The days slip by indifferently, leaving neither trace nor memory; and then all of a sudden they stop.” 

Honorable Mentions

- Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
- With Charity Towards None: A Fond Look at Misanthropy by Florence King
- Tool. by Peter Sotos 
- Mad by Jonathan Bowden
- Lolita and Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
- Lint by Steve Aylett
- My Work is Not Yet Done by Thomas Ligotti

Go out and read all the books I mentioned above in 2014 if you haven't already, they will enrich your life.