Thursday, January 25, 2024

Brief Thoughts 33

 Spaniels by Jukka Siikala 

Jukka Siikala is primarily known as a visual artist. Throughout the years, he's done cover art mostly for black metal and power electronics artists. His work is wide-ranging, covering painting, collage, photography, music, and video. Spaniels, as far as I can tell, is his first work of fiction. The first few pages even includes some photographs by Siikala that capture the mood of the text. 

This slim novella follows several days in the life of an unnamed man. He goes to the movies, hangs out with friends, goes on vacation, fails to get laid, fails to masturbate, and indulges in violent and perverted fantasies. He meets a woman at a flea market who he develops a fixation (it feels wrong to call it a "crush") on and fails to make a real connection with her. 

The novella reminded me a lot of Michel Houellebecq. It's a bleak portrayal of masculinity in the modern world. The man, as the book calls him, is completely alienated from everyone around him. He believes himself to be unattractive and can't connect romantically or sexually with women, substituting with fantasy and pornography. His relationship with his friends is indifferent at best and antagonistic at worst. There are also moments of great dark humor, such as the man creating a rift with his aunt while fixing her computer because he accidently leaves behind a flash drive with porn videos on it

The deeper glimpses into the man's life reveal an even bleaker picture. At one point, he visits his father, only to find he's a drunk, non-verbal stupor and there's little he can do. One of the first things the man thinks about is how, years ago, a friend of his called his face "dog-like" and that he would never get a woman with it. This insult haunts him. The title comes from the man envisioning his superego as the face of a Spaniel dog; a whiney, submissive thing. 

The man spends time with friends of dubious character, but seems to have no one else to go to. At one point he hangs out with another man who he describes as being so openly sexist, he's surprised women don't just immediately beat him with their purses. He insists on talking about immigration and how horrible Muslim men are to women. 

The book switches from third to first person when the man indulges in his fantasies, usually of a violent nature. These often involve graphically murdering people in public for perceived slights and sometimes for no reason at all. At one point, he even replays a fantasy of beating two young men with how it would probably really go, ending with him bleeding on the floor. 

At one point, the man sees a woman working in a flea market and is instantly attracted to her. His admiration of her is not at all subtle, and after to returning to see her again, it becomes obvious what he's doing. He does manage to strike a conversation with her when he offers to help with a printer the store is having trouble with. While the narrative doesn't state so, it's very likely this doesn't go anywhere. 

The entire final chapter of the book is one of the man's fantasies. It's an almost pornographic description of an encounter with the woman at the flea market in the store's bathroom. However, the unrealistic fantasy is accompanied by the man nearly failing to have the encounter due to his own hesitation. It even ends on a sour note of the man's climax being ruined when her gaze reminds him of a Spaniel.

Spaniels is a dark, often funny, and often depressing look at modern life. It examines desire and how one is forced to navigate it with frustrating and unsatisfying results. Much like Siikala's other art, it's not for everyone, but it's a rewarding experience. 

Buy Spaniels by Jukka Siikala here.

Sweet, Sour, & Spicy by Bridgett Nelson 

This is a collection of three horror stories corresponding to the title.

"Sweet: Bark Off" - A young man fights ghosts haunting him and his family with the help of his pugs. This is a cute and fluffy story. Pretty sentimental, but still a fun read.

"Sour: Giggly" - A therapist finds her patients are being targeted by a serial killer who loves torturing his victims with a Gigli saw. Man, I did not like this one at all. It does have some vivid and brutal murder scenes that are well done, but I didn't buy the plot at all. Especially the final twist. It also, unintentionally, I'm pretty sure, plays into some very ugly and dated attitudes. 

"Spicy: Rewards" - An erotic horror tale about two couples who go to a cabin for a weekend of naughty fun when things take a nasty turn for the worse. This one had some good build up and went in a different direction than I was expecting from the cabin in the woods set up. A much better extreme horror story that the previous one.

To nitpick a bit, there were also several word and dialogue choices I found awkward throughout all three stories. I did, however, enjoy this enough that I'll probably pick up one of Nelson's other books in the near future.

Buy Sweet, Sour, & Spicy here.

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