Saturday, November 5, 2016

Brief Thoughts 18

Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z. Brite

The first books I had read from Brite weren't his horror work, but books in his Liquor series which followed two chiefs opening a restaurant in New Orleans. Most people who were fans of Brite's work recommended this as his best.

The story follows four characters. An English serial killer named Andrew, a New Orleans cannibal named Jay, a runaway boy named Tran, and a writer and pirate radio show host named Luke. Andrew manages to escape from prison in London and flees to the United States. There, he meets another killer named Jay and the two fall in love. They both become fixated on a runaway boy named Tran who they view as a perfect victim. Meanwhile, Luke, who was Tran's ex-boyfriend, desperately misses Tran and wants to get him back.

I could nitpick certain things in this book, like how Andrew's point of view is first person while the rest is third or some clumsy phrases in the book (marijuana has a "spicy" green taste? what weed has Brite smoked?), but frankly none of that detracted from the book for me. This is an incredibly decadent, colorfully disgusting book. It's full of intense descriptions of murder, sex, disease, and consumption. It has a straightforward story that propels at a good pace but the experience of reading this is more of a draw than the story.

This isn't a book for everyone, but if you enjoy the work of writers like William S. Burroughs and Dennis Cooper, this is a must read.

Buy Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z. Brite here. 

The Maimed by Hermann Ungar 

Franz Polzer is a bank clerk obsessed with order. Neurotically so. Due to having witnessed his father and aunt committing incest as a child and being molested by a neighbor's maid, Polzer hates and fears sex. So when his widowed landlady begins making advances to him, it throws his life into chaos. To make matters worse, his childhood friend Karl Fanta has lost both his legs to an unknown sickness and it seems to have made him lose his mind as well. Karl believes his wife is sleeping around and is planning to have him killed for his money.

This is quite a grotesque novel. It's best described as a psychological horror. Polzer, while he's the main character, is the eternal middle man. He's a low level bank clerk, he acts as an intermediary between Karl and his wife, and he absolutely hates being the center of attention. To him, nothing good can come from being paid attention to. He wants nothing more than for things to be left in order. He hordes his possessions and makes a catalog of them. He constantly worries that he'll be stolen from. He doesn't feel safe anywhere.

Sex and religion are probably the biggest themes in the book. Nearly every character here suffers from a disordered sexual drive. Polzer hates sex due to his childhood abuse, Fanta is frustrated due to his inability to have sex because of his illness, Polzer's landlady is extremely promiscuous, and an attendant hired to take care of Fanta is an extreme masochist who believes injuring himself is atonement for his sins.

Polzer is a Catholic who is not religious, but keeps a picture of a saint above his bed. He believes it protects him. Polzer's landlady is a Jewish woman who can't stand the picture. Fanta is also Jewish, but is completely indifferent to religion, this ends up clashing with his pious attendant.

Ungar is not a well remembered author. He was a contemporary of Kafka and is often compared to him. They were both Jewish writers from Prague who wrote dark fiction, but Ungar is quite distinct from Kafka. Ungar finds horror in the every day and in the repressed psyches of the people around him. While his body of work is not large, this book makes it clear that Ungar deserves to be more well-known than he is.

Buy The Maimed by Hermann Ungar here.

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