Archive for the 'Bizarro Fiction' Category

The Bizarro Story of I by Wol-vriey

Book: The Bizarro Story of I

Author: Wol-vriey

Type of Book: Fiction, bizarro

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: There are many reasons…

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

Comments: This book may not be the best bizarro book I have ever read, but it employs one of the best mindfucks that I’ve encountered in this genre. And it’s amazingly simple. The protagonist is named I and the book uses a third person narrative. That really is a pretty simple device, but it forces the reader to pay attention because if your mind wanders the slightest, you find yourself reading a first person novel. But it’s not a first person novel. And you will lose track of that several times as you read this book.

It’s such a strange way to write a book yet so perfect I’m surprised I haven’t seen this before.

Here’s a quick synopsis, as well as anyone can summarize a book like this: I is married to a woman called Anorexia, who is the secret daughter and heir to a kingdom run by horrible, body-building weirdos called the Steroid Cowbiys. She is kidnapped one day and I goes on a quest to find her. He loses his mouth early on and is forced to type out his end of the conversations he has. The plot, like the name trope, is simple – man goes in search of his lady-love, who is in peril. As with all bizarro, the bizarro is in the details. There’s almost an Alice in Wonderland thing going on in this book. I genuinely do not have a chance in hell of explaining the details of this book with anything approaching brevity – they are just that involved and bizarre. I meets a weird little mouse thing called Chocolate Mousse, who corners the market on rat poison and warehouses it so it can’t be used to kill him. I meets a weird fish-woman hybrid called Girlzilla who helps him but also proves to be a bit strange in her own right. He does battle with the family of body-building weirdos and sort of saves his wife but his quest doesn’t end the way you would think. And of course, there is a whole lot more to it than that, but just think of it as a love quest sprinkled with characters that would have deeply disturbed Lewis Carroll.

This book is horribly edited. It would not have made my ten error cut off, but I had read it before I made that declaration, hence this review. But this was also one of the first books released by Bizarro Press. More recent offerings show a vast improvement in regards to editing. But still, this book has a lot of errors. I have to mention it because that’s just who I am. But those who tend not to notice these sorts of things are unlikely to find this book any worse than any other bizarro offering. Just getting this out of the way so I can discuss the rest of the book to my satisfaction.

The use of “I” as a name really is quite interesting because it forces the reader to interact deeply with the text. It reads completely naturally but in the middle of sentences I found myself wondering who the “I” referred to and remembered, “Oh yeah, it’s the protagonist’s name.” In a third person narrative, it should be all the clearer that all those mentions of “I” are referring to the title character but even as I read the last pages, I still had difficulty remembering that simple fact.  Read the rest of this entry »

Published in: Bizarro Fiction, fiction, Uncategorized | on August 13th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

TV Snorted My Brain by Bradley Sands

Book: TV Snorted My Brain

Author: Bradley Sands

Type of Book: Fiction, bizarro

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: It’s a retelling of the Arthurian myths using a sullen teenager, a sleazy wrestler, and a mystical television remote.

Availability: Published by LegumeMan books in 2012, you can get a copy here:

Comments:  This is a book you will either love or hate.  I don’t think there can be much gray area.  The reason for this is because this book relies on a teenaged narrator, a particularly stupid teenaged narrator whose brain is given to repetition.  Lots of repetition.  I suspect a real teenager would find this book interminable.  But if you can remember yourself when you were annoying as the day was long, yammering about ANARCHY and hating everyone around you because they were norms, you may find Artie Pendragon as funny as I did.

This book is a retelling of the King Arthur story using ridiculous suburban schmoes in the place of heroic figures.  Excalibur is a remote control and Camelot is inside a television.  When Artie’s father dies and his mother marries his uncle, no one can work the television until one night Artie uses the Excalibur 3000 to navigate the TV and his entire family finds themselves sucked into a netherworld wherein actors really are inside the television.  Artie has to engage in a struggle against his stepfather and little sister as he hunts for the Holy Grail.  Can he save the land in the television?  Can he achieve his goal of anarchy?  Can he get his wife back from his stepfather and take his place as the rightful ruler?  Will his struggles be so silly that it makes the mythos of Arthur seem like little more than the backdrop to a Bill and Ted film?  The only question I will answer for you is the last one and I think you know what the answer is.

As I mentioned earlier, this book is told from the perspective of an irritating and somewhat uninteresting teenager, a teenager upon whom fate has thrust greatness of sorts.   Through showing examples of Artie’s thought processes, I can demonstrate how simple and repetitive he is and, in my opinion, utterly hilarious.  Here’s a scene wherein he is watching his younger sister playing in a soccer game:

I sit in a folding beach chair on the sidelines, watching my little sister play out on the field.  The chair is uncomfortable.  A strip of polyester fabric is poking me in the ass.  I do not like to be poked in the ass.  But it is worth being poked in the ass.  It is a really great pee wee soccer game.  It is total anarchy, super-retardo anarchy awesomeness.  It is the most anarchist thing on Earth.

Oh wait, I forgot about riots in the streets.

But riots in the streets don’t have little girls picking up clumps of grass out of the ground instead of defending their goal, little girls chasing butterflies instead of the ball, little girls tripping over the ball, little girls kicking the ball into the wrong goal, little girls calling their opponents cuntbags, little girls screaming as they run away from the ball.

Riots in the streets don’t have soccer moms.  Riots on the streets don’t have soccer dads.  Riots on the streets don’t have riots between soccer moms and soccer dads over pee wee soccer games.  Riots in the streets are over real world issues.  Real world issues are fucking lame.

I say it out loud, “Real world issues are fucking lame.”

This is a long quote but I throw it out here because it’s a litmus test.  If you find this particular style of writing annoying, you will want to stop reading here and give this book a miss.  But if you find this strangely charming and exactly like the tiresome kid you sat next to in health class, the one who scrawled Anarchy! symbols all over his Trapper Keeper and quoted Metallica lyrics back before they “sold out” and totally did not give a fuck, you’ll enjoy the rest of this book.  And this really is the bulk of the book – the Arthurian myth as filtered through the mind and life of a kid who will remind you a bit of Dermott from The Venture Brothers.  There are the usual fantastic elements that accompany bizarro books but this book is quite simple in its execution – teenage dirtbag as King Arthur.  And because it is so simple, I think the best way to show how great this book is is by quoting passages. Read the rest of this entry »

Published in: Bizarro Fiction, fiction | on July 23rd, 2013 | 3 Comments »

A Town Called Suckhole by David Barbee

Book:  A Town Called Suckhole

Author:  David Barbee

Type of Book:  Fiction, bizarro

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Dude…

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

Comments: Poor David Barbee. He has the decidedly bad luck to have his book come up for review when I am bizarro-ed out. I don’t think I can be as enthusiastic about this book as I would have had I not been reading so much bizarro that not even the strangest bizarro trope seems the least odd or outre anymore. But even as I am thisclose to eliminating bizarro from my reading diet until I can enjoy it again, I can say that I found Barbee’s novel amusing. I have a fondness for southern-culture-on-the-skids and this book totally delivers on that front.

Excuse me as I try to summarize this book, because it’s pretty heavy, plot-wise: Suckhole is a degenerate Southern town. It’s pretty much The Hills Have Eyes, Two Thousand Maniacs! and The Dukes of Hazzard with a dash of Matlock if Matlock was a genetically mutated abomination. It’s white trash, Mad Max and the Land the Civil War Forgot. So it’s going to be nasty and offensive. Sheriff Jesco Ray Bledskoe becomes the law in Suckhole upon his father’s death/murder. Suckhole’s denizens have been falling victim to a killer and what with the Hell-Yeah Heritage Jamboree coming up, he has to find the killer and quickly. Because he is an inbred simpleton, Bledskoe knows he must get help to solve these murders so he finds a horrifying mutation named Dexter Spikes ,who is the only creature smart enough to be of any use to him. Together, these two characters explore a really foul, post-apocalyptic landscape to find a killer. There are subplots with feral children that seem to hark back to Children of the Corn and there are succubi that are out to thwart Bledskoe and Spikes, but mostly you want to focus on the sheriff and his strange buddy-cop configuration.

Despite not being wholly “into” extra bizarre bizarro at the moment, I was still very pleasantly surprised to see how Barbee’s writing has progressed. His NBAS book, Carnageland, was a good first attempt, but it had its problems. A Town Called Suckhole has its problems too, but far fewer, and the narrative in the book is far cleverer and absorbing. It’s nice to be able to see a writer’s style and skill improve from book to book. Barbee has definitely shown himself interested in the craft of creating a good book, as well as creating a good bizarro book. Read the rest of this entry »

Published in: Bizarro Fiction, fiction | on June 30th, 2013 | 8 Comments »

House Hunter by S.T. Cartledge

Book: House Hunter

Author: S.T. Cartledge

Type of Book:  Fiction, bizarro, action, novella

Why Do I Consider The Book Odd:  Because it appeals to my animist tendencies to see inanimate objects as living creatures.

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

Comments: We end NBAS week with S.T. Cartledge’s House Hunter.  I am torn about this book because it has so much going for it yet pings a lot of problems I have with female characters in fringe literature.  It’s almost become a cliche to me that when a badass female character is introduced and she has an unnatural hair color, I’m gonna hate her because her hair serves as her personality.  Imogen, the heroine of this book, has blue hair and is not my cup of tea, so my dayglo-hair theory is still intact.  The characterization in this book, as a whole, isn’t great but it’s also a plot-driven book.  In fact, it’s a pretty decent plot, but like so many NBAS books, it suffers from being novella-length.  This is another one that really needed space to expand and develop its plot.

The gist of House Hunter is this: Imogen is a House Hunter.  Houses, in this novel, are living creatures, some domesticated for human use, some still running wild.  Imogen is a very good house tamer and is pulled into a plot wherein a cabal of architects are trying to use a legendary house called the Jabberhouse that can destroy homes and create new ones, entire communities, that will permit the architects to take control of the houses and control all the communities and the people who live within them.  The wild houses will be stamped out and liberty will be lost.  Imogen is drawn in by a man named Clint and they engage on a quest to stop this from happening.  Clint is not who he says he is, and that plot twist really doesn’t change things as much as you might think.   There are interesting details, like cockroach people and pygmy houses and overall, this is a pretty good first effort.

This is a very action-oriented book, and when Cartledge gets into a tight action scene, you can see his strengths.  However, action-oriented books are hard for me to discuss because one has to be an excellent storyteller to pull off an action book.  Storytelling is not necessarily the same as wordsmithing and as a result storytellers tell amazing and interesting stories without engaging in the sort of writing a reader wants to quote.  Rather, the reader who loves the book is more likely to recount the plot than the beautiful writing.  Think of most Stephen King books – though King is, in my opinion, a very good writer and one of the best horror writers ever, one generally does not find oneself quoting him at length, outside of trenchant one-liners that often come up.  I explain all of this because I want it to be clear that my failure to quote much is due to this being a plot-driven novel.

This is also a book that is an homage to others authors, yet draws on influences without becoming a pastiche.  There is some clear Mark Danielewski-love in this book, with sentient houses and a character with the last name of Davinson (House of Leaves hinges on the Navidson record, this book involves the Davinson Initiative).  There are shades of Palahniuk in here, too, with a character identity revelation at the end that makes sense and is interesting but doesn’t really change much (think Invisible Monsters). There is also a video-game feel to this at times, especially during the scene wherein Imogen uses a controller of sorts to have a house duel with another house hunter.  I am not well-versed enough in video games to be able to assign scenes like this to a specific game but gaming is undeniably there.

While I don’t really like Imogen that much – blue-haired heroin who complains more than the average action heroine and isn’t particularly interesting –  I can admit that my distaste for her at times is strictly personal.  However, there are some concrete problems.  This book achieved a new editorial issue for me.  While it was peppered with editorial problems here and there, most notably with word repetition (“and and”), it had a glaring continuity error.  A character loses an arm and then throws her hands up in the air in a moment of anger.  Now she’s not throwing her severed arm up in the air – this sentence is written as though all limbs are still connected.  Very shortly after she tosses her arms into the air, another character notices her missing arm.  Sigh…  Another problem is that the novella length forced Cartledge into the dreaded “telling” rather than “showing.”  There was a lot of plot handled via conversations between characters.  I generally think telling and not showing is a garbage complaint – all science fiction requires this, especially books with this much world building, which Cartledge handles admirably.  But toward the end, it happened enough for me to notice and it became a bit tiring.

But even as I found Imogen lacking and despaired at some of the editing problems, there is a real kernel of fun in this book. The concept is unique and can easily be seen as an allegory to modern farming wherein corporations are using patents to destroy independent farmers and eliminate crops that are not genetically modified, but this connection is made without any preaching. As I mention above, the world building in this book is quite something and Cartledge creates a world the reader can immediately focus in on without feeling forced into the sort of heavy-duty otherworldliness that I find so wearying about a lot of fantasy and science fiction.  He really does give us details about the world almost effortlessly:

Imogen followed Mary around the side of the house and across a paddock of funnel web ponies.  They stopped at the gate to a paddock with a big acorn tree and at a two-story farm house behind it, standing about a foot off the ground on hundreds of matchstick legs.

Funnel web ponies may not make sense now but in the context of the story they will not trip up the reader.  It is in his worldbuilding wherein Cartledge really does show and not tell, and he’s able to create an at times sweet other world full of rich details that never verges into the outlandish.

Because this is an action bizarro novel, here’s a passage of some excellent action writing:

The old farm leapt and quivered.  Imogen’s head slammed into the porch. Sparks flew from the lightning cannon and danced across the timber deck.  She banged her fist hard on the steps.  A hoof flicked up on to the porch, brushing over her shoulder.  Imogen squeezed the trigger on the cannon and punched it into the steps.  The front legs buckled then flew up, throwing Imogen into a puddle of pigs’ blood on the sloppy ground.

The house came at her with frantic, toothy legs scraping and ripping apart the soil.  Imogen switched the cannon to scorch and fired at the front of the house.  She held her arm up in the general direction of the centipede legs and held her fire until she could no longer feel the feet clawing at the blood-soaked ground.

This is some pretty decent action writing, I think.  Action writing does best when it is simple, without a lot of flourishes.  When a character is wrestling with a house with centipede legs and brings a cannon into play, we don’t need a whole lot of extraneous details.  And to be perfectly frank, I was never one for overly descriptive novels.  I love the mystery novelist Ruth Rendell but tune out whenever she goes into great detail with plants and architecture and the arrangements of high streets.  I am partial to writing that is less baroque and Cartledge appeals to me on that level.

But that is not to say that this book is wholly without some pretty writing.  This scene comes from when Clint and Imogen are in a labyrinth and realize it is alive and is moving.

They came out of one passage into a wide room filled with plants and trees that flickered with light instead of fruit and flowers and leaves, and filled the room with the scent of peaches and roses and eucalyptus.  The plants grew from little islands of red soil that were surrounded by a black liquid sea. Along the walls, eyes watched them.  Imogen went out into the sea, knee deep.  Ellis followed.  In the centre of the room, a tree spiraled like a staircase, disappearing into a hole in the roof.

Overall, there was enough good in this book to distract me from what I didn’t like.  There was little in the way of character development, Imogen’s got the dreaded blue hair that often serves as a place marker for personality, and there were editing issues that were really distracting.  But the world-building, the action sequences and the plot were spot-on.  I recommend this book and hope that if you read it you come back and tell me what you think of it.  But as I have mentioned before, the New Bizarro Author Series writers have a limited window in which to sell enough books to be offered a writing contract.  If this book sounds interesting to you, then get a copy sooner rather than later.

Having reached the end of my NBAS week,  you guys have until 6:00 P.M. PST to leave comments in order to enter my giveaway.  I am giving away a copy of each book I discuss this week OR I am giving away an Amazon gift card in the amount that the paper versions of these books would cost.  All you have to do to enter the drawing is to leave me a comment in each of this week’s entries.  One comment on each discussion is an entry into the drawing.  Leave a comment all five days and you will have five entries into the drawing.  Only one comment per day counts as an entry but don’t let that prevent you from engaging in conversation about the books.  For all the details of this contest, visit this entry.

I will announce the winner of the contest in a separate entry and will contact the winner via e-mail.    Thanks for all the support for this endeavor and happy reading to you all.

Published in: Bizarro Fiction, Bizarro Week!, fiction, Novella | on May 10th, 2013 | 13 Comments »

Avoiding Mortimer by J. W. Wargo

Book: Avoiding Mortimer

Author: J.W. Wargo

Type of Book: Fiction, bizarro, novella

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Just take my word for it, it’s odd.

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

Comments: This subtly weird little book is perhaps my emotional favorite of the bizarros I’ve read for this themed-week. It’s got its gross moments – vomit, biting into insects and earlobes – but even the grossness was sweetly restrained given what I have come to expect from the Bizarros. But it must be said that sweetly restrained bizarro is not going to be awesome in and of itself. No, I’m far too sophisticated to be taken in by sweetness. But I do have to say that it is nice to be able to read a bizarro book that I can describe to my mother without making her cry. (And Mama Oddbooks is no lightweight. She was the chief text editor for Deutschland Erwacht when it was published in the USA in the 70s. She knows some stuff. She’s seen some shit. And I still hesitate to share most bizarro plots with her. In short, most of you are monsters.)

The main reason I like this book so much is because I get Mortimer. I’m an Avoider, though I don’t experience anything close to Mortimer’s level of neurotic and thanatotic depression. I love avoiding people. Not because I’m mean or cruel but because I am introverted on a genetic level. It’s actually considered a psychological disorder on my part but I sort of don’t care, even though I enter therapy for it every few years. I prefer not to leave my house and, interestingly, “I prefer not to” is a perfect way to sort of ground yourself when reading this book. There is something very Bartleby about this novella. Though Mortimer ultimately finds a way to stop preferring not to, at least when it matters, folk who just feel tired and itchy around other folk have a hero in Mortimer, whose essential nature is eventually how he manages to become a hero.

I kind of lost the thread in the plot near the end where the exact mechanics of Wargo’s world were concerned, because there were sort of Kafka-esque layers of bureaucracy that I sort of refused to absorb (and I really hate to use the word Kafka-esque because it’s so woefully misused, but there were definitely elements of Kafka in this book, and now that I think of it, I don’t really like Melville or Kafka so it’s surprising I like this book as much as I do). But the gist of the book is this: Mortimer is born to schizoid parents. His sister is avoidant, and as the most socially normal member of a really abnormal family, Mortimer resists when his family undergoes a process that is sort of a living suicide that puts them in a realm between life and death. He eventually gets a factory job that is sort of gross, he has an ant-farm as a pet, and before long he sees no reason to live on. After he cracks in a magnificent manner, he commits suicide and ends up in a bureaucratic hell-hole of an afterlife. Mortimer finds himself with a job in a factory exactly like the one he had in the living world, down to the same boss. He recognizes a woman in the hereafter whom he saw die in the living world and with her he discovers that all is not right in the hereafter. Ultimately Mortimer stages a confrontation with God himself and helps the woman solve some very troubling problems and he ends up in a sort of heaven of his own, a place wherein his essential nature is loved and embraced.

There were some scratchy places in the plot, as I mentioned. But there was enough silliness, even in this novel of a depressed avoidant who loathes being around others, that I didn’t feel too pressed or upset that at times I had no idea what was going on. For example, before he dies, Mortimer eats his ant farm and then barfs it up. The ant farm puke forms a mutant ant-blob that becomes integral to the plot. Ant farm puke saves the day! When there were not enough strange details to absorb me, I just sort of grooved on Mortimer’s avoidance.

In my honest assessment, I fear I may be turning you bizarro extremists off with my wallow in the mild, so let me share some of the more awesome prose in this book. This is from the first page:

To understand Mortimer’s death, we must first focus on his life.

Simply put, Mortimer’s life was shit. It was pure unadulterated liquid feces in which he swam daily -rarely, if ever, coming up for air.

Whether or not this ocean of excrement came from outside forces or was created by Mortimer himself is a moot point. Rather, it is important to ask why Mortimer so insisted upon drowning in a world of filth when he could have just as easily swam to shore, toweled off, and worked toward removing even the very smell of shit from his life.

Read the rest of this entry »

Published in: Bizarro Fiction, Bizarro Week!, fiction, Novella | on May 9th, 2013 | 12 Comments »

Janitor of Planet Anilingus by Andrew Wayne Adams

Book:  Janitor of Planet Anilingus

Author:  Andrew Wayne Adams

Type of Book:  Fiction, novella, bizarro

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd:  With a title like that, how can it not be?

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

Comments: We begin day three of my New Bizarro Authors Week with Andrew Wayne Adam’s Janitor of Planet Anilingus and, in all honesty, I started this book with no small amount of trepidation.  As it is, about 35% of the search strings that bring people to my site involve necrophilia and horse dildos.  I wondered what legacy this book would leave behind in the searches I view daily in my site statistics.  Moreover, the title itself is enough to give one a bit of pause, I think.  Planet Anilingus was likely to be a place wherein a tired woman would find little solace as she read late into the night, her husband snoring lightly, the suburban street silent as the normal people slept on, unaware that there was a place in the literary landscape dedicated to anus-licking.

Luckily for me, Janitor of Planet Anilingus is not the utterly ass-centric debauch I thought it would be.  It has its moments of sexual lunacy but this is mostly a quest novel wherein a man loses everything as he tries to save the woman he thinks he loves.  It has some atrociously gross moments, don’t get me wrong, but one of bizarro’s secrets is that the stories are the same as those you will find on the best-seller list.  The stories differ only because they are peppered with unusual sex, weird species, grotesque details and strange and over-the-top humor.

The hero of this novella, Jack, as the title implies, is the janitor of Planet Anilingus.  Planet Anilingus is a sort of destination spot, a DisneyWorld of sorts, for people deeply involved in butt-licking.  Jack is completing a 40-day period, a time of Lent, wherein the planet is closed to visitors, spending his time tidying up and doing a deep clean before the revelers return.  He is the only person on the planet, until a hairless, humanoid woman with helicopter blades that shoot up from her back lands on the planet.  Someone is trying to kill this hairless woman, Nimue, and Jack does his best to protect her.  In the course of his interactions with Nimue, he stops going to work and his boss, Bishop Eichmann, replaces him with his nephew Tommy.  Tommy and Jack enter into a rivalry for Nimue’s attention and both end up, god help me, pregnant after her sexual ministrations.  What the pregnancy does to the men is easily the grossest part of the book but I enjoyed it because poopy stuff makes me laugh.  Nimue ultimately is not what she seems and even knowing of her sexual perfidy with Tommy, Jack still wants to save her from the rocket launching lunatic chasing her.  Jack is not a man given to much in the way of emotion, probably because all the ass licking he witnesses has numbed him, and it’s an interesting choice on Adams’ part to insist that Jack be so removed emotionally because in the midst of all the chaos, any one else would have freaked out.

Before I begin telling you why this is a very good, funny, gross quest novella, I need to say that hallelujah, kiss the ground, this book is cleanly edited.  I mean, there are a few errors, but this is the cleanest Eraserhead Press book I’ve read in at least two years.  I swear on all that is worth discussing, half the battle with me is editing.  I hate to seem like my standards have been lowered so much by the small presses that just reading clean copy makes me want to give a rave review but it’s getting to that point.  However, I am going to show why this book is a good read on top of being edited well enough that nothing distracts the reader from the text.  (Well, the content can distract a certain kind of reader, but it won’t be because the comma usage is maddeningly bad.)

Jack enjoys his time alone on the planet, except that being the only person around makes him the sole target of the cupids, a mutant insect.

One more week and Lent was over, and then the cupids would not bother him.  His only trouble then would be the hundreds of thousands of people licking each other’s assholes day and night.  They blanketed the planet, an orgy visible from space.  Nonstop until next Lent.

At first there is nothing exceptional about this passage until one finishes the book.  Jack is not a man who exaggerates and the third-person narration in this story follows suit with flat and earnest descriptions.  After finishing this book, I realized the orgy likely was visible from space, and as a result, I felt extreme despair alongside Jack.  A week of that sort of thing?  Might wear thin after a few days.  Months and months of so much butt-licking it is likely affecting the cosmos?  Poor Jack.

And it just gets worse.  Poor Jack, indeed.

His normal uniform consisted of nothing but a pair of lace underwear and a bow tie.  It was crucial that no irregularity should sully the planet’s atmosphere of total debauchery and a stinky janitor intruding upon the middle of an orgy would certainly do so.  The job even required him to practice erotic body language as he went about his work, movements choreographed to make dusting and mopping look sexy.  And if some random reveler stole a lick of his ass, he had to pretend to like it, then extricate himself as expediently as possible.

What would OSHA make of that? I can’t help but think that a lot of the bizarros held very difficult menial jobs, or perhaps still do.  If the above description involved dealing with feet and far less sex, the mental impact would not be too different from selling shoes.  Kissing asses, handling feet – it’s all so demoralizing.

In addition to being inappropriately groped at work while mopping in a sexy manner, the rest of Jack’s job sucks as well.

“These men and women haven’t licked an asshole in six weeks,” the Bishop continued.  “All they are dreaming of now is a return to Anilingus.  They’re drooling for paradise, and we must deliver.  I’m talking true Eden, Jack – as in, not one goddamn dust bunny on the planet, and every cobblestone, every leaf, shined to look like a scale from the reptilian skin of God.  Can you handle that?”

Jack said, “I’m on top of things.”

“If you fuck up, I’ll have you peeling potatoes on Vore.”

A demotion to peeling potatoes on Vore.  Jesus, the implications… This passage made me laugh so hard that Mr. Oddbooks wanted to know what I was laughing about.  I was shocked when he knew what “vore” meant.  I don’t really know him at all, do I?   Read the rest of this entry »

Published in: Bizarro Fiction, Bizarro Week!, fiction, non-fiction | on May 8th, 2013 | 16 Comments »

Her Fingers by Tamara Romero

Book:  Her Fingers

Author:  Tamara Romero

Type of Book:  Fiction, fantasy, novella

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd:  It’s published as bizarro and I will consider it odd on that basis.

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

Comments: Though this book is part of the New Bizarro Author Series, I consider it more fantasy than bizarro. Compared to the other books in this series, the story in this book is far more restrained, with content that would not be out of place on a fantasy/sci-fi shelf in a bricks and mortar bookstore.

I have to engage in full disclosure right out of the gate:  I am not a big fan of the fantasy genre.  I cannot explain why but there you are. This being fantasy means a lot of the details in this book were muddled to me, though I tried to read as carefully as possible, which was difficult because too much is crammed into this book.  I think Romero’s tale, given the lushness of her prose, needs to be a full-length book because the story-building in this novella is rushed.

The story is about witches who have become persecuted and deals with the specific experiences of a witch called Misadora.  Misadora has several other names in this book, and given that several other characters have several other names, I lost the thread of who was who several times, which makes it difficult to write a good plot synopsis.  At any rate, a man called Volatile finds Misadora floating in a river after she is attacked.  He takes her in and shelters her, though he has a lot of trepidation about Misadora that I cannot share because it would be a spoiler. He lives, I believe, amongst what are called the Treemothers, women whom, when called  by the witches, ran into the forests and merged with trees.  These Treemothers exude a sort of sap/jewel called Amalis and only women can touch it.  Misadora was caught wearing an Amalis ring and had all the fingers on that hand cut off.  Friends who also have several names help her out with a bionic hand.  Misadora has to stand up against the ever increasing persecution of the witches and the soldiers who try to kill the Treemothers, but at the end is faced with a horrifying truth that changes everything she thought she knew.

If this description seems very vague, that’s because I often could not get a grip on what this book was about.  That is why it would have been better had this novella been written into a longer novel.  To have multiple characters with multiple names, all the world-building with the towns, the history of the witches and the families, the Treemothers, Misadora and Volatile, and to cram it all into a book under 60 pages, is too much for the reader.   That’s no insult to Romero because even though I have to review the book in front of me, it’s no small compliment to say that a book needs to be longer so that the author has to room to fully show off her chops.  As it stands, this book is a small wave of names and places that will wash over the reader without being understood unless the reader is willing to take notes to keep track of who is who, which names are towns and what exactly being a sleepwalker may indicate.  Finally, when you factor in that this book is told from different character perspectives, characters whose names switch in the book, it’s all a bit too much.

But I have to think this book would have been a better read for me had it been edited properly.  Romero originally wrote this book in Spanish and translated it into English.  I am mono-lingual but I recall vividly the awkward sentences I came up with when I translated Cicero’s De Amicitia into English.  Even though every person in my college Latin class was a native English speaker, we delivered sentences that belied fluency in any language.  It wasn’t until class when we read our lines and smoothed them over with the help of the professor that Cicero’s text had any beauty.  I cannot say this tendency to focus on the translation rather than the prose during the yeoman work of translation is what happened with Romero, because some of this book contains beautiful sentences.  However, large chunks of the text lead me to believe that is exactly what happened.

Regardless of whether or not the beauty of the original story got lost in translation, it is the responsibility of the editor to make sure awkward sentences and strange turns of phrase are polished before they are printed.  Though I am not a fan of fantasy, even I can see that this is an interesting novella and that with some work it could have been so much better.  I’ve talked with a couple of people from Eraserhead and its imprints, and they explained that as a small press they just don’t have the budget for copy editors.  I understand that to a point.  I really do.  And I sort of hate harping on this point.  But even as I despise piling on a small press I still get annoyed because words matter.  If they didn’t matter there would be no sense in publishing anything at all and since Romero’s book is definitely worth publishing, it is worth editing.  I cannot put a number on the times that people have said to me that after one bizarro book they stopped reading because they just couldn’t take the misspelled words, bad grammar, and poor punctuation.  I take books seriously and I take the small presses as seriously as I do big publishers.  The day I stop bemoaning poor editing is the day I stop reading these books entirely.

I initially wrote out several examples of what is wrong with this book but ultimately decided not to publish them because the last thing I want to do is to seem cruel to a fledgling writer, especially one who does not deserve it.  Writing a novella and then translating it into another language means that Romero has already done some heavy lifting.  Moreover there are parts of this book that absolutely sing.  The editing issues in this are not her fault.  I will never tire of saying this – authors are the last people who should edit their works because repeated exposure to the text means they no longer can see the errors.  It is especially hard when you are translating your own work from another language because I suspect at the end of it all Romero knew this book like the back of her hand.  No one can see their own mistakes with that level of familiarity.

But even as I try to be restrained, I have to say the editing issues in this book are serious and affect the way readers enjoy the book.  It’s uncomfortable when a town’s name is spelled differently in back-to-back sentences.  There are some sentences with syntax so garbled I am  unsure what Romero is trying to convey.  Garbled syntax is a common problem with translations – that’s why translators need good editors.  This novella is so riddled with comma and punctuation errors that I stopped making note of them around half-way through the book.  Conversational punctuation is also pretty messy, with commas often placed outside of the quotation marks.  There are several word substitutions, like “were” for “where,”  “than” for “that.” Weird sentences like “I had almost never been to that area before,” stop registering about page 37, or at least that was when I stopped making notes of the problems.

This sucks.  This sucks righteously because this book has such beautiful moments, places wherein you realize that this book, for all its rushed narrative, confusing names and poor editing, is actually a cut above much of the bizarro prose out there.  In a way, it reminded me of Grace Krilanovich’s The Orange Eats Creeps, another jumbled novel wherein the reader was occasionally blinded by moments of literary brilliance.  With all my complaints about the amount of story crammed into under 60 pages and the poor editing, Romero’s talent salvages gold from the wreckage and the beauty of her prose is why I found this book worth reading.

Read the rest of this entry »

Published in: Bizarro Fiction, Bizarro Week!, Fantasy, Novella | on May 7th, 2013 | 25 Comments »

Gutmouth by Gabino Iglesias

Book:  Gutmouth

Author: Gabino Iglesias

Type of Book:  Fiction, novella, bizarro, body horror

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd:  Well, because a man’s life is ruined by the sentient mouth that appears in his stomach.

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

Comments:  I decided to kick off my New Bizarro Author Series week with Gabino Iglesias because he is a fellow Austinista.  Shallow, but hopefully my discussion will redeem me.  Gutmouth is the story of Gut Dedmon and the sentient and often hungry mouth in his torso, a mutation that began as a pimple on his stomach and turned into a mouth that Dedmon has to feed.  The mouth, named Philippe, interferes with Dedmon’s life in pretty interesting and foul ways, demanding food and engaging in oral sex with his girlfriend without Dedmon’s permission.  Dedmon’s reaction to this latter act of betrayal lands him in jail, and the story is told in flashbacks as Dedmon experiences prison life, often with his own shit in his hand.

In this novel, Iglesias creates a perverse dystopia that can best be described as 1984 with extreme body modifications and mutations.  Extreme pain is pleasure, pleasure is demented and everyone is amoral and marginally insane.  There is a Church of Albert Fish, Carlton Mellick V is writing brutal fiction, people can genetically cross themselves with salamanders and a body modification expert deconstructs his ex-girlfriend into a motorcycle. This is a fun, perverse and at times really gross dystopic book, and it even has something for the paranoid types who like to visit here from time to time.  The dystopia is a capitalist hell hole and Dedmon plays his part as a “hunter” for MegaCorp.

The job, as the name implies, involved hunting down people who refused to comply with MegaCorp rules and regulations and bringing them to the local Consumer Rehabilitation and Punishment Center.  I would usually get a call or text with a crime, a name and an address and then I would track down dissidents – folks that refused to buy their allotted quantities of products each month, stubborn citizens who wanted to grow their own food, horny individuals that raped someone else’s pleasurebots, things like that.  From the inside of the cell, that life looked like paradise.

Dedmon loathes the stoma-mouth that penetrates his abdomen and you can’t really blame him.   Philippe forces Dedmon to interact with him and if ignored Philippe chews up whatever is in his way, including Dedmon’s clothing. Philippe also puts a lot of financial and emotional pressure on Dedmon.

Philippe was misogynistic and racist, which made me feel guilty about having him.  Plus, his extravagant tastes clashed with my financial reality. A hunter couldn’t afford a steady diet of bipolar midget brains, Angora cats and chocolate-stuffed olives.

Philippe is demanding, respects no boundaries, and speaks, inexplicably since Dedmon is American, in a British accent.  This is a pretty good distillation of their relationship, a scene from when Dedmon is in jail.

“Shut up, you fucking aberration.  You’re the reason we’re here in the first place,” I said.

Philippe smiled a crooked grin in response.

“I’m hungry, mate.  You think we can get some curry in here,” asked the toothy hole.

“I’m going to let you starve, you snaggletoothed prick,” I said.

“For a bloke who couldn’t satisfy his lady, you sure sound like a macho man ready to take on all comers.  You muppet,” responded the mouth in his British accent.

“You know what?  The best thing about dying is taking you with me,” I told him, pulling my shirt down.

I found the interactions between Dedmon and Philippe to be the best parts of this novella.  It’s impossible to miss the implication that Dedmon is a man truly at war with himself, with Dedmon as the ego, Philippe as the id and a superego nowhere to be found.  Plus I just like quarrels that verge into the ridiculous. Read the rest of this entry »

Published in: Bizarro Fiction, Bizarro Week!, fiction, Novella | on May 6th, 2013 | 19 Comments »

As I Was Cutting by L.V. Rautenbaumgrabner

Book: As I Was Cutting & Other Nastinesses

Author: L.V. Rautenbaumgrabner

Type of Book: Fiction, noir, horror, extreme horror, borderline bizarro, humor, short story collection

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: This collection is all over the map, covering so many genres of short fiction that it almost defies discussion.

Availability: Published in 2010 by New Pulp Press, you can get a copy here:

Comments: I haven’t had much luck with extreme horror over the last five years or so. There’s the occasional gem but for the most part the genre is a toilet into which many otherwise fine writers crap their id. Which would be fine if the crap was at least well-written crap. Crap can be fun if it doesn’t insult your intelligence. So believe me, I picked up this book fully expecting to have my intelligence insulted as the same old, same old substandard verbiage was cloaked behind horrible details that would hopefully hide how substandard it truly was.

This book is a gem, a gem that is all over the map. It’s noir. It’s horror. It’s extreme fiction. It’s literary fiction. It’s a really good book. And it’s edited very nicely, though there are problems wherein wrong words are used. It’s a weird place for me to be, to say that a book wherein the occasional word is misspelled is finely edited, but it’s all a matter of comparison. In comparison to most small press books, this book is immaculate.

Rautembaumgrabner, to be called LVR for the rest of this discussion, divides his book into two sections: Murderers and Lunatics. Within those two divisions, the reader is treated to stories that, while united by LVR’s style and sly humor, spread across a lot of genres. LVR’s stories really are quite something because in some cases you think you are reading a basic noir or a character sketch of a murderous loser and suddenly you realize you are in the middle of some very gruesome horror. Some of the characters are peppered with instincts and interests that make no sense, bordering into bizarro, but the human pathos and disgust they generate are all too understandable.

See? It can happen! It is possible to write excellent extreme horror without treating your readers like you think they are a bunch of assholes who don’t care about plot, characterization, spelling and grammar! It can be done. After reading this book I suspect I will be all the harder on authors who flog mediocre extreme horror because it will be harder to make excuses for the poor writing that seems to dominate the genre when this unlikely-named author has pulled it off.

Every story in this collection is good, which in itself is amazing. But some are better than others, so I will limit myself to the stories that I found the most gripping, interesting, or disgusting. Read the rest of this entry »

Editorial by Arthur Graham

Book: Editorial

Author: Arthur Graham

Type of Book: Fiction, bizarro

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Because the narrative is so strange I almost put it aside but Graham’s snarky cleverness made me continue reading until that magical moment when it all made sense.

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

(check out the Kindle version – as of this posting it is $.99, which makes taking a risk on a new author a bit more appealing)

Comments: This is going to be a hard book to discuss because half of the pleasure (and aching frustration) of reading this book is the revelation you experience when it all makes sense. I don’t think I will be giving too much away, however, when I tell you that the e-book I read had an ouroboros preceding the first chapter. This is a clue of sorts. Actually, it’s not a clue of sorts – it’s a big, honking clue – but in such matters, I admit, I often have to be hit with a shovel before I understand that an illustration is not just an illustration.

Here’s a quick synopsis that I hope gives nothing away. This book is a series of stories and it is your job to put them all together. The book features an orphan who tells his life story. It also features a strange drifter who turns into a snake. There’s also a horrifying dystopia a thousand or so years into the future wherein global warming is no longer questioned as a valid reality and, most interesting to me, some meta wherein an editor interacts with a book, which may or may not be this novel.

I really didn’t like this book at first and almost set it down around page 40 because I seriously had no idea where it was going. But even in the initial seeming-chaos of the plot, Graham’s engaging writing style kept me going. I am also not generally the biggest metafiction fan because meta as a plot device has lately become tiresome. Writers need to have a good reason for using meta elements and need to be good enough at their craft to pull it off. Writers like David Foster Wallace (whom I find very nearly unreadable and I receive a lot of flak every time I reveal this opinion) and Charlie Kaufman have spawned a lot of imitators who mistake endless snarky self-reference for fine writing and invoke meta rather than write a good novel. I am happy to say that Graham’s meta – if it is meta – works.

So with that caveat out of the way, let me share some of Graham’s fine and interesting writing. Here’s a bit from the very beginning, wherein the orphan is describing his very strange yet hum-drum life with his aunt and uncle, a life that can be summed up as eating, reading and masturbating. Were it not for his guardians’ behaviors, his life would have been boring.

It wasn’t that aunt was a particularly bad cook; she just wasn’t very imaginative. In fact, the only way I could tell the difference between breakfast, lunch, and dinner was by observing the behavior of those providing my board. For instance, I could always tell that it was breakfast time when uncle would ignore the food in front of him, opting to lift a newspaper between us for the duration of the meal, before hurrying out the door and off to work. Lunchtime came when only aunt and I were present at the table, and just in case I forgot that uncle never came home for lunch (working far away as he did), aunt would always make sure to weep quietly across the table from me, so as to prevent any upsetting confusion.

One could usually tell when it was dinnertime by the piercing shrieks and deafening bellows emitted from aunt and uncle, respectively. These periodic outbursts were sometimes punctuated by long periods of silence, but occasionally their alternating high and low frequencies would reverberate throughout the entire meal without pause.

This is a good representation of what you need to expect when reading this book. This little sample of the story sets the reader up nicely – a teenage boy in a boring house with an uncle who, like some 1950s sitcom parody, checks out at breakfast, hiding behind a newspaper. But then we get the aunt who weeps every afternoon, followed by the aunt and uncle fighting all night long, which is so common to the narrator that it isn’t even distressing or tiresome. It’s just part of the landscape of his life. This sort of bland acceptance of the strange or upsetting happens often in this book. There is always something just a bit off about everyone. It is that unsettling characterization combined with a touch of lunacy in Graham’s storytelling that will keep you going when you get frustrated by the plot. (And you will get frustrated by the plot – I promise that will happen. You just have to stick it out.) Read the rest of this entry »

Published in: Bizarro Fiction, fiction | on February 12th, 2013 | 4 Comments »