Tampa by Alissa Nutting

Book: Tampa

Author: Alissa Nutting

Type of Book: Fiction, Ripped from the Headlines, hebephilia

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Well, because I had to create the category “hebephilia” just for this book…

Availability: Published by Harper Collins in 2013, you can get a copy here:

Comments: My friend Jessica and I have very similar reading tastes in fiction so when I saw her mention on Facebook that she was left uneasy by this book, I knew I needed a copy. Jessica is not one to be nonplussed, so I was intrigued. I have to say her reaction was on the mark.

Before I begin discussing this book in earnest, here is a brief synopsis: Celeste Price, who is definitely a stand-in for the real life hebephile Debra Lafave, is sexually attracted only to fourteen-year-old boys, preferably before they start puberty. This is especially problematic because she is married to an older man and has just begun a job teaching 8th grade English. Celeste is in her early 20s, quite attractive, and a complete sociopath, wearing her mask of sanity and passing muster with other adults but engaging in risky behaviors, like very public masturbation. Preying on the children in her classrooms, she soon has an adolescent boy in her grasp. I don’t think it is a spoiler to reveal that Celeste eventually is hoist by her own petard (or rather busted out because her lusts make her sloppy) and comes to a very bad end because that should pretty much go without saying. In a sense, it doesn’t matter how this book ends because the reason to read this book is to get a good look at the inner workings of a sociopath.

I feel very much like this book hits a discordant note, but it also occurs to me that I feel this way because Nutting got Celeste absolutely right. She nailed Celeste. And that is why the book was fascinating, forcing me to read it in two sittings, and left me feeling empty and disturbed. Read the rest of this entry »

Published in: fiction, Hebephilia, Ripped from the Headlines | on October 24th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

The Necrophiliac by Gabrielle Wittkop

Book: The Necrophiliac

Author: Gabrielle Wittkop

Type of Book: Fiction, necrophilia

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Self-explanatory, I think.

Availability: Published by ECW Press in 2011, you can get a copy here:

Comments:   Finally!  A new book to satisfy the imaginations of all the people who land on my site via Google searches for “necrophilia!”  Not being flippant because there are a surprising number of you.  I was directed to this book by a commenter to this site, “Bad Tara.”  Tara is not a big fan of Peter Sotos and recommended this book as an example of the literature she believes to be truly sexually transgressive. (When I look back on what I’ve read these last few months, I realize that for me this was the Summer of Sexual Deviance.  It was not intentional, but my reviews are going to be a bit perverse for a bit.  Just a heads up.)

I have to admit that I was completely surprised by this book.  When I was a young woman I had a definite affinity for the gothic, especially the gothic obsession with death and decay.  Poe and Baudelaire were favorites for me, as were Flannery O’Connor and Shirley Jackson.  I read plenty of splatter, too, just foulness for the sake of foulness, but it was not until I read the book Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z. Brite that I experienced a true marriage of splatter with a love of the Word. (Poppy Z. Brite now lives as a transgendered man, Billy Martin, so while I will call him “Brite” as I discuss his earlier work, I also will use male pronouns.)

Brite created a Southern Gothic splatter that pushed boundaries so far that it took me a long time to understand what I thought of the book.  He borrowed from serial killer culture and used the creepiness in New Orleans to excellent advantage, but the most important element of this book to me was that, aside from a far too early brush with Hubert Selby, it was the first literary wallow I ever read.  As so many of my extreme horror discussions here indicate, good extremity is rare, so while I had read lots of extremity, I had never read extremity as good and purposeful as Exquisite Corpse.  Brite’s novel, about a Dahmer/Nilsen-like desire by killers to keep a corpse with them for as long as they could, employed every sense as he wrote about evisceration and necrophilia.  The tactile experience of intestines in the hands, the sweet, cloying smell of rot, the visceral sensation of, well, viscera – it was all fabulously crafted.  Murder, necrophilia and corpse desecration read with a sickening beauty.  The novel was deeply disturbing on almost every level, which made my enjoyment of the gorgeous decadence all the more questionable to me.  Think about it – what does it say about you when you admit, “This depiction of a terrible murder, evisceration and subsequent decomposition of a raped corpse was some of the most sensual prose I’ve read?”

Lucky for me that was two decades ago and the Internet came along and made everything far less shocking.  But there was no avoiding that Brite’s prose was sensual, a delicious wallow in the forbidden and revolting.  Exquisite Corpse is beautiful because of the revelation that the horrible can be so very beautiful and emotionally satisfying.  It’s the book version of casu marzu and balut.  It’s a delicacy, and that which is a delicacy is often that which is the most outrageous, harmful, foul or upsetting, when you consider all the details.

While The Necrophiliac is not so sensual, not so visceral, had I not read Exquisite Corpse all those years ago, I might not have had a proper frame work for Wittkop’s book.  What I know of necrophilia doesn’t lend itself well to romantic looks at those whose love for the dead extends beyond a sexual compulsion.  The Molly Parker film, Kissed, touched on the subject of romantic necrophilia, but it was very artsy and refined, never really discussing the cold, messy realities of loving the dead.  The grotesque story of Dr. Carl Tanzler, who stole the dead body of a young woman who had died of tuberculosis, mummified it and equipped it with a special “channel” so he could have sex with her for seven years, comes close.  But it wasn’t like Tanzler loved all the dead – rather, he was obsessed and fixated on one specific body.  He didn’t want to make love to corpses.  He wanted to make love to this young woman and, since he could not have her in life, he had her in death. Read the rest of this entry »

Published in: fiction, Human Sexuality, Necrophilia, Transgressive (sort of) | on October 2nd, 2014 | 5 Comments »

Tool by Peter Sotos

Book: Tool

Author: Peter Sotos

Type of Book: Sotos-esque

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Because Peter Sotos is the sort of writer whose prose is so indescribable that I have to call it Sotos-esque.

Availability: Published in 2013 by Nine Banded Books, you can get a copy here:

You can also get a copy directly from Nine Banded Books.

Comments: I finished reading this book at 3:00 in the morning and didn’t really sleep that night. I read it in one sitting and though it only took a few hours to read, when I was finished I felt hollowed out. Sick. Queasy. Not unlike how it feels when you crash after a speed bender. Jittery and empty yet all too aware that sleep is not coming. Parts of this book were like being flayed.  I think anyone who was ever victimized finds Sotos a daunting read, but of all the books he has written that I have read thus far, this one was the most upsetting to me.  And the reason I was so upset was because that which is wrong in this book is often wrong in me.

Of course we all know that I read upsetting books because I like being upset (or sickened or awakened or whatever happens to me when I read really difficult content). But even within that paradigm I take a beating when I read Sotos.  Without engaging in too much self-analysis, I can only assume that at the end it was a beating I needed or truly wanted in some way.  This is why I read Sotos.  Because on some level we have similar thoughts – a book like this could only be devastating to a person who has already been down this road.  To the unaffected reader, it might just come off as vulgarity or pointless obscenity.  Despite being trained to analyze literature in an academic manner, I prefer to react in an emotional manner to the books I read.  I don’t really care about the schools of thought and the tradition of transgression that many attempt to apply to Sotos’ work.  When I read him I care only about my reaction, how he pokes at my own obsessions, how he knows so much more than anyone else about the will to harm and the will to survive harm.

I don’t know how this fact had not jumped out at me before, but in every book, keeping in mind every little bit of genuine autobiographical data he gives, Peter Sotos is playing different roles and channeling different people.  He is exploring humanity by speculating about the worst things that go through the minds of the worst people.  Because he is taking on the roles of other people, Sotos, in a very real sense, is engaging in psychodrama. And that is why I am so wrung out at the end of each book he writes. His psychodrama speaks to my own worries, neuroses, experiences and fears.

This is purely incidental. Peter Sotos is not writing for you or for me. Never forget that. Any meaning you take from Sotos’ words may have nothing to do with his intentions as he wrote the book. He’s not trying to relate to us. His psychodramas are his own. They are so deeply personal and unintended for purgation of others that it’s very interesting to me the extreme reactions his writing creates, especially in those who find themselves angry at what they consider Sotos’ wickedness.

That having been said, no matter how incidental any connection I have to this book may be, this book was a great emotional purge for me. Even in the extremity of another person’s psychodrama I found little pieces of my own experiences, most of them unpleasant.  Clearly something in me is perverse enough to enjoy being poked psychically.  It’s a useful pain, I think. Read the rest of this entry »

Published in: Sotos-esque | on September 9th, 2014 | 8 Comments »

Tales of the Macabre and Ordinary by Chris Mikul

Book: Tales of the Macabre and Ordinary

Author: Chris Mikul (longtime readers here may recognize his name – he is the publisher of the excellent ‘zine, Biblio-Curiosa)

Type of Book: Fiction, short story collection, horror

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Because Mikul actually does manage to combine the macabre and the ordinary in each story.

Availability: Published by Ramble House in 2009, you can get a copy here:

Comments: The book does what it says on the cover. It delivers macabre (and gross) tales that are also very ordinary in some manner. It’s a very interesting way to tell stories, to permit the narrative to fall flat in some manner, or to tell a story most people know and do it in such a creepy way you make it your own, or to tell a very simple story that seems like it is telling you everything but is really telling you just enough to ask more questions.  At times Mikul denies the reader the catharsis often expected at the end of a tense story because he doesn’t spell things out, and in other instances the narrative ends in a manner that is blunt and horrible. Sometimes the simplest subversions of the traditional story-telling method are the most effective, and each of these stories in some manner are indeed macabre and indeed very ordinary.

The collection has nine stories, and I want briefly to discuss each one. I’ll do my best not to spoil the endings but in a collection like this one, avoiding spoiling endings may well be impossible. Metaphorically, how do you spoil a door slamming in the middle of a sentence? Still, I’ll be careful.

First story, “Dead Spit,” is Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley dropped into the Outback. I don’t think I have spoiled it by describing it this way because, again, the ending will deprive you of the momentum you think the story is gathering. The best part of this story, for me at least, was when I realized that I had created a big mystery clue/red herring due to my own ignorance. I don’t use canola oil because the word canola disgusts me, so I was not aware it comes from plants that collectively are known as canola. I guess I thought canola oil was a mixture of crappier oils and that the trade name for such oil was “canola.” Who knew? Well, evidently everyone else on the planet knew, but that is a detail in this story – working in a canola field and it distracted me from what was really happening.

Jesus, “A Cut Above the Rest” is  Peter Jackson’s earlier films with a touch of “Evil Dead” thrown in. Gross, sort of dumb, quite funny and also gross because I need to emphasize how gross this story was. This story also brings to mind Richard Olen Butler’s Severance, which I should mention I have discussed on this very site. Quick synopsis: fat man tries to win maiden fair by losing weight the hard way.

“Meet Me at the Shot-Out Eye” is a great sort of gritty mystery. Too international for noir but still has that grimy, double-crossing dame feeling. Hero goes to Prague and meets up with a lovely Czech woman with a penchant for sketching people, even during the most inappropriate of moments. Given the length, it’s surprising how layered this story feels when finished. Excellent writing in this one.

Those who regret bitterly their goth years will despise “Blood Sport” but, if you just concentrate on the story instead of your own deep embarrassment at having worn the same Bauhaus t-shirt for years while denouncing Love and Rockets as total sellouts, you can find this story pretty funny at times. Heroine is a teenaged goth with a terrible home life who meets a self-proclaimed vampire (who does not shimmer or glimmer or whatever it was Edward Cullen did) who betrays her. She takes revenge in a very organized manner, killing two birds with one stone, as it were.

“Deddybones” is my favorite story in the collection and I don’t really know why. Les is hired to clear out a creepy old house after the owner dies. The owner had left the home as a sort of unclear monument to a life that never happened when his wife left him. The house is filled with small details that never knit together to form a coherent picture of what awaits Les, and that makes it all the more disturbing. Les falls victim to the house (and takes others down with him as he falls) in a sort of insanity that left me wondering exactly what it was that happened. I mean, we know what happens in a physical sense but never quite get what it is that makes Les go mad, what made the previous tenant go mad, and in turn, that made me feel unsteady, groping for a reason for why things happened as they did. It could be mystical, it could be that sometimes single men lose their bearings. This story is enjoyably frustrating and comfortably familiar in how Les handles the problems that come up as he deals with the fall out from his decisions. I was certain a search on “deddybones” would show me some aboriginal lore that would explain it all but to no avail. Ninety percent of all search results led to this story or to a freelancer in Indonesia. Nope, I am left to wonder what exactly drives Les mad, or if anything drove Les mad.

“The Petrol Run” is an effective story with an abrupt ending. A cult leader goes to prison for child molestation and the cult member left in charge stages a disturbing public reaction to the sentence. This one was probably more effective to me because I had been reading The SCP creepypasta just before reading this story, most notably the notorious SCP-231. Sometimes the external influences are what make a story disturbing, and that was certainly the case for me with “The Petrol Run.”

“Mountain Devils” is close to “Deddybones” in terms of excellence. An older widow paints children’s faces at a local fair, and one boy asks to be painted as a devil. That boy is later a victim of a terrible crime, and the crime doesn’t end with the perpetrator’s death. This is a relatively disturbing story, and the heroine’s end seems abrupt, but when you consider what happens in the story, it actually makes perfect sense when you realize the only person who was affected by the criminal and who did not die was a man in the throws of dementia.

“Barbecue at Nev’s” is some heavy stuff, gentle reader. This one has a pretty solid ending, but one that left me asking all kinds of questions. Family and friends gather for a cook-out and mete justice to one of their own who has stepped outside the boundaries of moral behavior. There are some pretty loathsome details in this one – putting cigarette butts out on cockroaches, for instance. And I don’t think I am giving too much away when I say this story isn’t told in third person, despite all initial appearances that it is. This story is really disturbing in its implications and was skillfully written.

The last story in the collection is “The Wonders of Modern Medicine” and it’s also pretty disturbing. A young woman sleeps through the last stop on her train and finds herself with a dead cell phone and attacked by strange men. And it just gets worse for her from there. This story borrows heavily from urban legend and what is happening is telegraphed pretty clearly but at the same time it’s a nasty little story.

All in all, this was a solid short story collection. Mikul tells you exactly what he plans to do from the outset – he mixes very obvious and at times pedestrian story-telling with extraordinary details, plots and characters. The result is generally that even as you think you know what is coming, you really don’t. And when you do manage to guess, you end up second-guessing yourself. This is a maddening, interesting, entertaining, at times gross and at other times even grosser collection. I liked it a lot. Highly recommended.

Published in: fiction, Horror, Short Story Collections | on July 23rd, 2014 | No Comments »

Hibernation

I think by now all readers here know I am subject to periods of cyclical depression and torpor wherein this site goes silent. I’ve been struggling this year with various issues that have made it hard to concentrate but one of those issues is clearing up (passing a website I ran on to another person) and the fog is lifting. Perhaps it is a sign that my depressions aren’t as terrible as those others face because, lately, when they happen, I don’t really feel hopeless because I remember that wonderful feeling that comes when the depression fades. It feels like Spring. It feels like a small rebirth, a shedding of old, psychic skin. I just have to hold on until my brain chemistry relents.

As a result of my current Spring-time zeal, I have some discussions of interesting books in queue, among them books by Chris Mikul, Dennis Cooper, Peter Sotos, Bradley R. Smith, David Paulides, Alissa Nutting, Hollister Koop, Gabrielle Wittkop, Andy Nowicki, Karen Russell and Michel Faber. (edited because I borked Alissa Nutting first go around, and then edited again because I messed up Bradley R. Smith’s name because the suck is strong with me this entry…)

I’m currently dealing with a minor obsession with mutualism and have been struggling through Kropotkin, which I don’t really recommend to anyone who doesn’t have intractable insomnia. I’ve also found myself spending way too much time reading Brandon Darby’s Twitter feed and his articles over on Breitbart’s site and wondering exactly how much the human sphincter can stretch. I’m not linking to them because I also cannot recommend reading them to anyone except those who really like the taste of vomit in the backs of their mouths. So Google with caution.

What have you guys been reading, investigating, or doing. Share it all, no detail too small. See you Tuesday-ish.

Song of my week, and god bless Laura Jane Grace!

Published in: Uncategorized | on July 19th, 2014 | 8 Comments »

This Is Not an Odd Book Review – What the Hell Is Going on in France?

Last year on Houdini’s Revenge, I wrote about how the media worldwide completely mishandled the details of the arrest of Varg Vikernes in the summer of 2013.  Seriously, it was a complete mess, and the hearing that occurred on June 3rd of this year was chilling in what it revealed and the implications for anyone in France who may espouse ideas that are contrary to a particular party line.

Before I begin to discuss the situation with Varg, I need to make a couple of statements, one for clarity and the other just because it always comes up and it’s tiresome.  First, let me tell you how I know Varg.  I met him when I was working on a project I started before 9/11 that eventually fell apart because I am sort of chaotic and was even more so back then.  I consider him a friend, and I assume he considers me one, too, though we frequently butt heads.  Second, despite considering Varg a friend, I don’t share all of his beliefs.  I mention this because I get shade from both sides of the fence and it’s annoying, when it isn’t amusing.  Some people assume I am an anti-Semite because I like Varg and that makes them angry.  Interestingly, some remain angry when I explain I don’t hate Jews because they think I should revile Varg for being an anti-Semite.  But then some people who agree with antisemitic ideas find out that I like Varg and that I am not an anti-Semite, and they get angry.  Not long ago some dude who thinks he’s like Charles Martel because being anonymous on the Internet is evidently pretty empowering was so annoyed by me that he social media snarked me with, “Oh, you are a multicultural white genocide supporter?”

Isn’t that how journalists used to know they were on to something – when everyone was pissed off at them?  That’s what I tell myself these days.  So please know I don’t want to hear your opinion about my beliefs, unless you feel that freedom of speech is a bad thing and then I will totally be willing to throw down with you in comments.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Man Who Saw His Own Liver by Bradley R. Smith

Book: The Man Who Saw His Own Liver

Author: Bradley R. Smith

Type of Book: Short story collection, semi-autobiographical

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Smith, as a writer, has an interesting writing style and Smith, as a man, is a polarizing figure.

Availability: Published by Nine Banded Books in 2007, you can get a copy here:

You can also buy it directly from Nine Banded Books.

Comments: Bradley R. Smith may be the only Holocaust revisionist who writes about topics that have nothing to do with the Holocaust.  And that’s good because while I know just enough about the Holocaust to hold my own in such conversations, I also am not invested in the topic enough to want to read books along the lines of what one expects from David Irving and Ernst Zündel. Admittedly, I haven’t read Smith’s book about his journey into Holocaust criticism, so perhaps then he concentrated exclusively on revisionism to the point of minutia, but I don’t think that’s the case. We’ll see when I read it.

Perhaps he has more to write about because Smith has led a far more interesting life than Irving or Zündel, once you remove the legal drama.  But then again, Smith has had his own share of law troubles, and not the kind you might think.  In 1962, Bradley R. Smith was convicted under California’s obscenity laws for selling a copy of Tropic of Cancer.  In 1963, he appealed the verdict and the higher court sent the case back down to the lower courts in light of the California Supreme Court having determined Tropic of Cancer was not, in fact, obscene. Taking this anti-censorship stance bankrupted Smith.  Regardless of how you feel about Holocaust revisionism, it’s impossible to deny that Smith is more than the one-topic obsessives who are often attracted to Holocaust studies because such topics feed their antisemitism and loathing for institutional intellectual authority.  Smith has suffered financially and socially supporting freedom of speech – even speech liberals respect.  He has gone on record as saying:

I do not believe in thought crimes, in taboos against intellectual freedom.

Perhaps that is what makes this book so odd – Bradley R. Smith is a living intersection of ideas that, on their surface, may seem mutually exclusive.  But people and ideas are never wholly black or white.  This played out vividly for me in terms of Smith’s personal politics because I generally have little patience for most libertarian ideas yet could see at times where Smith was coming from and could sympathize with his point of view.  I think that was because Smith didn’t cloak himself in Randian-superiority.  He mostly just wanted to be done with intrusive influences in his life.  I can respect that.

This book of vignettes was initially conceived as a one-act play.  When you read it as a dramatic piece, it feels much more powerful than a series of remembrances, but the book still carries a lot of power as a series of short stories.  Through a proxy narrator called A.K Swift, Smith discusses his life and his ideas in a manner that is confessional, almost Beat-like in style.  Though Smith does have this proxy narrator, the details in this book closely mirror his own life enough that I am just going to refer to the narrator as Smith, but that choice is also just to make things easier for me because I tried to refer to the narrator as “Swift” initially and ended up calling him “Smith” so often that I just gave up and switched to Smith.  Read the rest of this entry »

Stupid Children by Lenore Zion

Book:  Stupid Children

Author:  Lenore Zion

Type of Book:  Literary novel

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd:  Children are tortured with nasal balloons and animal entrails.

Availability:  Published by Emergency Press in 2013, you can get a copy here:

Comments: The cover of this book drew me in.  A white little girl – white skin, white underwear, long blonde hair – is standing behind a rope in a ragged backyard in late fall, or early winter.  The look on her face is unfathomable to me, but the confrontation is undeniable.  She is standing there, in her socks and underwear, unprotected in the wind, literally holding on by a string, and staring at you, the reader.  Her expression could be anything from veiled disgust to melancholy to vague interest in the camera as a break in the bleak boredom of the landscape.

This book, at turns neurotic and gross, touching and funny, is grounded by this cover.  This book has a strange, over-the-top cult that engages in really nasty rituals.  The heroine of the book is hilarious and neurotic.  The plot-line gets loose at times and the wackiness of the book can occasionally make the reader forget that at its heart this is still a book about a little girl whose mother is dead, whose father is in a mental institution, who ends up in foster care in the home of cultists who marry her off to an old man in a scenario reminiscent of so many stories that came out of the FLDS sects.  Zion handles all of this heaviness with a humor and open-minded acceptance of the bizarre, but the cover ensures you remember a smart little girl in a forsaken place is at the center of the story.  Outside of House of Leaves, I can can’t recall a time when a book’s cover ensures you don’t miss some of the most important details of the book.  The girl on the cover helps you remember that this is a very upsetting book, even as you find the prose quite amusing at times.

Quick synopsis:  Jane’s mother is dead and her father had a breakdown.  He attempted suicide and becomes  a long-term resident in a mental hospital.  Jane is sent to live in foster care and ends up living with a family indoctrinated into the fictional Second Day Believers, a strange cult that merges properties of Scientology (weird ideas about mental illness and its treatment), FLDS (marrying young girls off to older men powerful in the cult) and a very gross, borderline pagan attraction to animal entrails.  Jane becomes close to her foster brother, Isaac, and their relationship takes a dark turn as Isaac becomes rather unhinged himself, a young proxy in Jane’s affection for her unbalanced father.  Jane eventually becomes far more valuable to the cult than the cult is to her but her love of Isaac keeps her from leaving the madness until Isaac forces the issue in an act of numb but horrifying violence.

Let me get the hard criticism out of the way before I sing this book’s praises.  The ending was rushed and, in a way, a bit contrived.  It all happened too fast.  The reader doesn’t get to see what happens and because it is so rushed, we miss out on some catharsis. The reader needs that catharsis because this book, as funny and sarcastic as it can be at times, also has some hard and upsetting content.  We need to have that BAM! moment and it gets lost in the rush.  Not entirely – you won’t be left feeling like doors were left open, but you also don’t get the satisfaction of hearing those doors slam shut.

With my main criticism out of the way, let’s dissect why this book is worth reading. Read the rest of this entry »

Published in: Cults, Depictions of madness, fiction | on May 27th, 2014 | No Comments »

Thirteen Girls by Mikita Brottman

Book: Thirteen Girls

Author: Mikita Brottman

Type of Book:  Fiction, themed short story collection

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd:  Because it made me feel a bit less odd about my own obsessions.

Availability:  Published by Nine Banded Books in 2012, you can get a copy here:

You can also buy the book directly from Nine Banded Books.

Comments: This book is deceptively simple:  Brottman wrote short stories about the deaths of thirteen young women, some killed by famous serial killers, some picked off like ducks in a row, casual victims in an ugly world.  While this is a work of fiction, the stories in this collection are based on real women and real crimes.  The stories are told from varied perspectives:  police report, perp interview, anguished mother, dieting co-worker, angry boyfriend, sole survivor.  There was a game-like element for me as I read, wondering if I could guess who the girl was and who killed her before I reached the end of the story.  Given my prior interest in serial murderers as well as just murderers in general, it was surprising I only really knew five, though several more rang some bells that didn’t ring clearly until I got to the end of the book.  One I missed was a victim of serial killer Bill Suff.  I should have known that one.  I became obsessed with trying to track down the whole text of a cookbook Suff wrote, all the more interesting because he evidently ate body parts from a few of his victims, going so far as to use a breast from a prostitute he killed in his “famous” chili recipe.  I’m not sure why I wanted a cookbook written by a serial killer cannibal – the late 90s was a weird time in my life (but I still sort of would like to have a copy…).

Shortly, I am going to discuss the two stories I liked best, but before I do, I want to discuss the overall nature of this book.  I enjoyed reading it but, at the end, I found myself feeling like the collection hit a discordant note in some of the stories.  I felt empty after I read them and felt that Brottman had missed the point somehow, that the stories were flawed because I felt flat after reading them, yet felt so engaged with some of the others.  The reason I felt that way was because I was the one who had missed the point.

If some of these stories don’t evoke emotion, it’s because they aren’t supposed to because Brottman is showing us the different windows through which we can observe brutality.  While I appreciate this collection for attempting to give the back or parallel stories associated with these murders, the casual memory of death Brottman showed in several of these stories is what makes this collection mean something more than standing as a mawkish look at dead young women.  It’s a sad reality that not all deaths are memorable and that all murders do not change those who knew, however fleetingly, the person who was killed.  The hell of it is, in terms of media and social awareness of victims, it can often seem like particular victims do not matter at all.   Sometimes the lack of interest plays out in the form of a phenomenon called “Missing White Woman” syndrome – black female abductees and murder victims don’t get the media time afforded to white female abductees and murder victims.  But on a more personal level, sometimes a murder means little to those left behind.  There is a sentimental viewpoint in some of these stories, but these stories are anything but sentimental. Read the rest of this entry »

Published in: fiction, Serial Killers, Short Story Collections | on March 5th, 2014 | 9 Comments »

Grudgepunk by John McNee

Book:  Grudgepunk

Author:  John McNee

Type of Book:  Fiction, themed short story collection, noir, transhumanism with a smidge of steampunk, horror

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd:  Because it is the first book that contains steampunk elements that didn’t make me want to throw the book at the wall.  And he didn’t screw up the transhumanist elements of his stories.  Believe me, that’s all very odd.

Availability: Published by Bizarro Press in 2012, you can get a copy here:

 

Comments: I first encountered John McNee in 2011 when I read a relatively mediocre extreme horror short story collection.  His story was the best in the book, a dystopian, transhumanist nightmare that made the rest of the stories in the collection seem almost amateurish in comparison.  I wondered how McNee would do in longer form, if he could take the amazing world-building and characterization and keep the intensity of his monstrous characters outside of the limits of a short story length.  Turns out he can.  If I had been in a position to have a “Best of” list in 2013, this book would have been at the top of the list.  I can say with no equivocation that this is an excellent book.

Though this book is released by a bizarro imprint, I hesitate to call it bizarro.  It’s noir.  It’s trans-humanist.  It’s extreme horror.  It’s brutal and intense and at times strangely touching.  It defies classification because it is a perfect synthesis of so many different influences without becoming a pastiche.  This is not an imitation – it’s a creation.  Because I am not a person much given to steampunk or noir, I should not have liked this book as much as I do but it speaks to McNee’s skills that he mixed subgenres I don’t much care for and I still couldn’t put the book down.

Quick synopsis of the book:  In the city of Grudgehaven, we are presented with a place much like Gotham late at night combined with Sin City at all hours, with some side steps into Blade Runner and Repo: The Genetic Opera as run through a Cherie Priest novel.  Criminal syndicates are at war, wreaking havoc.  A gorgeous dame sings at a club and forms a strange friendship with a taxi driver.  A man fights to keep his ailing wife alive during a riot.  A sentient severed hand is on a mission.  Human motels, in that they are motels made of human skin, have relationships with real humans.  A writer finds herself in a sticky situation when she is hired to write the autobiography of a very bad man.  The daughter of a preacher makes a deal with a devil of sorts.  A boy made of clockworks longs to be real.  And all of these single threads weave the tapestry of The Grudge, a town without pity but with plenty of malice.

Because of that pesky second X-chromosome I have, the story of Louie, his wife, Marianne, and the lounge singer Dolores, was the price of admission part of this book, though the stories of Cynthia, the woman tasked with writing a book about the worst man in The Grudge, and Alesa, the preacher’s daughter, are both excellent.  The tale of Louie is such a great story that I am going to discuss it in depth, and mostly spoil it in the process.  I don’t like doing that but if I don’t keep myself focused on one story, I would want to write about every story in the book and this discussion would be about 40 pages long.  But I also must spoil it because spoiling it is the only way to show how excellent it is.

Louie is a cab driver who is down on his luck.  He has a sick wife and he has a lot of trouble making ends meet.  He meets a gorgeous club singer named Dolores, who gets him caught up in a surprising double-cross.  This is a story that has been told so many times that it hardly seems remarkable enough, on its face, to be one of the best stories in the collection.  The delight (and sadness) is in the details.  Read the rest of this entry »

Published in: fiction, Horror, Noir, Short Story Collections, Transhumanism | on February 27th, 2014 | 1 Comment »