Archive for the 'Extreme Horror' Category

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 »

Necro Files, edited by Cheryl Mullenax

Book: Necro Files: Two Decades of Extreme Horror

Editor: Cheryl Mullenax

Type of Book: Fiction, short story collection, extreme horror

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: This anthology contains some really rough content, content so extreme that one of the stories bypassed Ed Lee’s “The Dritiphilist” as the most disgusting piece of fiction I have ever read.

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

Comments: Woo, boy, this is going to be a bumpy review. As I mention above, this extreme horror collection has a story that tops Ed Lee’s “The Dritiphilist” as the most disgusting, horrible, nasty, upsetting piece of fiction I have ever read. But unlike Lee’s story, this story is well-written, which, oddly enough, very nearly rendered it unreadable. When the worst is presented using the drek writing Lee employed, you can get through it because bad writing can render the nastiest subject cartoonish. Bad writing is a buffer, because bad writing makes you focus on the terrible style or inept usage. You don’t get a buffer in this repellent little story. You get the whole of the horror and disgust right in your face.

I’m going to discuss these stories in the order in which they appear in the collection. Given the number of big names attached to this book, I was expecting quite a bit more in terms of stellar content. There were a few stories I thought worth reading but, for the most part, the writing in the collection was mediocre. It happens. These are older stories that have appeared elsewhere and perhaps they just haven’t held up well. But whatever the reason, it’s never a good thing when someone who reads as closely as I do doesn’t remember so many stories in an anthology a month after reading it.

But that amorphous “I find the stories mediocre” aside, there were two concrete problems in this collection. First, there is no overarching theme in this collection other than extreme horror. Not a problem in and of itself, but in a book that has only extreme horror uniting the stories, when several of the stories take place in fringe sex clubs, there has been a breakdown in the editorial selection process because several stories that take place in a fringe sex club makes it seem as if the central theme in this book is bad or grotesque sex in thoroughly unlikely and generally unsexy settings (to paraphrase the awesome Dave Attell, air fresheners are the unsung heroes of the sex club). So that was a bit much, all the strange sex in sex clubs in one collection that supposedly had no unifying element other than extremity of content.

The second problem is difficult for me because I am not a woman who interrogates texts from a feminist perspective unless the book demands such treatment. For example, feminism came up hard in the discussion of the Norway shooter’s manifesto because the document was riddled with anti-feminist, anti-woman (and anti-human, really) assertions. When I read horror or raunch, I read it with a completely different eye than when I read political texts. But in this collection, there were so many times when the writing annoyed me deeply as a reader with two X chromosomes. Were I someone like, say, Requires Hate, this would, in fact, be another 8,000 word diatribe on why some of these stories are an affront to God and woman (actually, this clocked in at almost 5,000 words, so be warned that I will mock mercilessly anyone foolish enough to invoke tl;dr on this, of all sites). So while I will keep myself in check (to an extent), please know that as a woman who pretty much can handle a lot, there had to be lot of really shitty, woman-hating, misogynist, nice-guy stories for me to comment upon it. I can’t even imagine how the average man with any self-respect could read some of this and not want to burp with embarrassment.

I sometimes wonder if I am too light on egregious misogyny when it comes up. Maybe I’ve gotten used to it? If that is the case then what I encountered in this collection had to have been all the more egregious if I found myself disgusted.

The collection begins with “Meathouse Man” by George R.R. Martin. This is a “nice-guy” story. It is an excruciating “nice-guy” story. I don’t even begin to understand the mechanics involved but this story revolves around men who can control the minds of what sounds like non-rotting puppet zombies – humans who have some sort of chip in them that allows them to be controlled and a really good handler could control many of them at once, using them to do various jobs. Trager, the hero of this pathetic story, falls in love with Josie, but alas when he declares himself she is not interested. He then falls in love with Laurel. His love for Laurel is IMPORTANT because he no longer needs to have sad sex with skull-chipped zombies whose bodies he could control the way he controls the other dead meat puppets. Yay for Trager, he can have sex without resorting to a form of passive prostitution with human husks who cannot consent and have no will yet can clean his pipes six ways to Sunday because he controls them with his brain. But sad Trager, Laurel leaves him for his best friend in a particularly bitchy manner that makes absolutely no sense but is totally a good look at the fickle, wily, yet victim-like mentality of women. So Laurel splits and after loving and losing out a whole two stinking times, Trager retreats back to brain controlled zombie puppet sex toys and these musings happen:

Her name does not matter. Her looks are not important. All that matters is that she was. That Trager tried again, that he forced himself in and made himself believe and didn’t give up. He tried.

Yep, nothing matters about women except that they are there, y’all. Poor sad, Trager. It gets worse.

The words were the same.

How many times can you speak them, Trager wondered, speak them and believe them, like you believe them the first time you said them? Once? Twice? Three times, maybe? Or a hundred? And the people who say it is a hundred times, are they really so much better at loving? Or only at fooling themselves? Aren’t they really people who long ago abandoned the dream, who use its name for something else?

TWICE! THIS MAN LOVED AND LOST TWICE! And actually since Josie could not have cared less (though she was kind to him), he really only loved and lost once. This sort of entitled attitude of “WAH, the womens don’t love me the two times I actually tried. I don’t even care about them, I just need a hole that isn’t a puppet sex zombie and also I am so deep because I believe in the dream of love, love, lurve!”
This ridiculous story ends with this line:

Of all the bright cruel lies they tell you, the cruelest is the one called love.

It may seem like I am being hard on poor Trager, who fucks sex puppet zombies whom he can control and had one girlfriend leave him, but I pray that Martin wrote this when he was 19 and had no idea that one dates, one finds a potential mate, one dates some more and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but that when it doesn’t, one does not have to descend into back-patting, self-congratualtory deepness as one contemplates how it is women are just mean and destroy noble images of love with their utter perfidy. This also goes for women who pull this stuff on men, lest I get the usual cries of misandry. And far be it from me to say that creating a gross story around such teenaged-nice-guy-bullshit was an unwelcome degradation to a genre of horror that many find it hard to take seriously in the first place. (check out the comments for this entry – there is a pretty good discussion about this story that offer different and valid counterpoints contrary to mine and are worth considering)

Moving on. Read the rest of this entry »

Published in: Extreme Horror, fiction, Short Story Collections | on February 15th, 2013 | 20 Comments »

Carnal Surgery and Brain Cheese Buffet by Edward Lee

Books: Carnal Surgery and Brain Cheese Buffet

Author: Ed Lee

Type of Books: Fiction, short story collections, extreme horror

Why Do I Consider These Books Odd: The extremity of the content.

Availability: Republished by Deadite Press in 2010 and 2011 respectively, you can get copies here:

Comments: I have not come close to reading all of Edward Lee’s books but, as I have mentioned in the past, I really enjoyed his “Infernal” books. I loathed the execrable Teratologist and I think my negative opinion of Portrait of the Psychopath as a Young Woman is quite clear. It’s not often that I have such diverse opinions about an author’s works but looking at the original publication dates of Lee’s works clears up some issues. Though Teratologist was written roughly around the same time as the “Infernal” series, the Ed Lee books I truly loathe were written in the same three-to-four year time frame.  It may seem like dirty pool to analyze so harshly books that may have been at the beginning of Lee’s career and don’t demonstrate his career arc, but these books were recently released by Deadite, and were new to me when I read them.  If a publisher is going to release old books and the author has no problem with it, then claims that these stories were early in Lee’s career and should not be read closely hold no merit.

One can see some commonalities in Lee’s works that I dislike.  He was on a pedophilia, child porn, mafia kick not unlike some of the works of Andrew Vachss, though Lee’s works are quite a bit less sophisticated. And, interestingly, I find myself disliking some of Vachss’ works for the same reasons I dislike these two collections of Lee’s, as Vachss, in seeming defiance of all of his goals in writing, sometimes presents a moral ambiguity about all the sickness in his content that left me wondering what the point was, to have endured all of that nastiness and have no conclusion, no relief from all the horror. Not every Vachss book was that nihilistic, but Vachss has a tendency to often end his novels in such an unsatisfying manner that I have thrown one or two against the wall when I finished reading it. Had these two Lee short story collections not been on my Kindle, I suspect they too would have been tossed in a similar manner.

Don’t get me wrong. Writing from the id is generally a commendable thing to do because it’s a sign of bravery. You are letting the world in on your subconscious as you ruminate on taboo subjects. It’s all the more brave when one is a horror writer because the author is showing some real darkness and asking the reader to be affected by the content yet not be repelled by the author. I respect people who show their darkness when they write. I just need the darkness to have a point so that it is worth dragging myself through the content. If one is going to write of decadence and sickness in such a way so that the decadence and sickness are the sole points, one must write in a manner that is absorbing, penetrating, or even beautiful. Lee’s writing is banal at best in both collections. So no beauty, no point, no catharsis. And that sucks. This is a problem that plagues most splatterpunk stories. If one just wants to wallow in sickness with no greater point or catharsis – something I enjoy doing from time to time – the writing must be good enough to make the wallow worth it. Otherwise we can all just go to grue sites and view crime scenes and watch suicide videos.

Additionally, as I read these stories, it became clear that Lee had no real focus in his story telling.  I have no moral issue with writing or reading gore. Splatterpunk is not always my cup of tea but, when written well, it can be a lot of fun. But it’s best to decide what the story is going to be. If one is going to incorporate fat women puking down a man’s throat, prostitutes made into living human stumps and forced into exploitative porn, an old man keeping, mutilating and raping women in his basement, and similar images into one’s stories, then perhaps the stories should have a simple plot.  The horror or camp of extreme images make most plots difficult to stomach and to follow.

I decided to discuss in depth the first stories from these two collections because both collections are more or less interchangeable in content as well as the problems that plague them. Then I’ll just pull the most egregious examples from stories from both collections to illustrate in micro the major problems I encountered.

Carnal Surgery and Brain Cheese Buffet were repellent collections so gorehounds will like some elements of these books.  Additionally, at times both had some clever or funny content. But the pluses were outweighed by the following minuses:
–Terrible, pompous, or unlikely dialogue
–No characters, just caricatures or characters who are extremely unrealistic
–Unlikely or fuzzy plots
–Inappropriate word usage and writing that verges on gibberish
–Grotesque imagery that in no way fuels the stories but isn’t well-written enough to enjoy on its own merit
–Puerile humor
It should be mentioned that one of these stories, possibly the worst of the bunch, was nominated for a Stoker Award. So, like, you know, this is just my opinion, man…

By the way, this is a very long discussion. Very long, and hopefully entertaining, but mostly very long. I’m telling you this so you don’t have to click the “more” link and be surprised by the length. And if you click that link and then get all “tl;dr, you verbose bitch,” I will mock your hair and slut shame your dog. Cool? Read the rest of this entry »

Published in: Extreme Horror, fiction, Short Story Collections | on October 30th, 2012 | 17 Comments »

Population Zero by Wrath James White

Book: Population Zero

Author: Wrath James White

Type of Book: Fiction, novella, extreme horror

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: The extremity of the horror makes it odd by my calculations.

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

Comments: For reasons that I have discussed in the past, I have been watching Wrath James White’s writing for a while. I was introduced to him via a collaboration that was so bad it remains in my top ten category for worst books I have ever read (Teratologist was the book, the sort of book wherein the protagonist’s name is spelled three different ways in one paragraph). So I sought out White’s web presence and his well-written, interesting blog did not mesh with the hot mess I had read so I gave him another chance. I next read Book of a Thousand Sins and saw that in some respects, my belief he was a far better writer than Teratologist presented him was justified. There were problems with that story collection, but White got enough right that I was heartened.

Population Zero is pretty much a vindication that my instincts were correct. All the issues that I saw in Book of a Thousand Sins were reconciled. Whereas characters might rant for pages on end in BoaTS,  in Population Zero the protagonist’s issues were woven into the plot and showed a character arc. White’s at times baroque writing style was a bit more restrained in this book and his characterization was excellent. The villain in Teratologist embodied Dean Venture when he declared, “I dare you to make less sense!” (Dean also had a terrible problem with his testicles, and the applicability of me telling you this will become clear as you read my discussion.)

There were some small problems in Population Zero that I am going to get out of the way before discussing all that was fabulous. First, the ending left much to be desired and that may just be my feeling on the matter. But the ending felt rushed and given the amount of energy others expended to get the protagonist to the end point, the ending felt wrong. Additionally, as the protagonist goes about his job, he delivers information that become obsolete with the Welfare Reform Act of 1996; tiny little points of social policy that I suspect only I would nitpick because they aren’t too glaring and because they flow well with the story White is telling. There are some small typos, as well. Someone tries to score “heroine” and a character “grinded” his teeth. They’re minor and not that intrusive, but they’re there.

(And it should be mentioned that if you are a social justice warrior, you will not like this book. The protagonist is very unsympathetic to the obese, to the poor trapped on a social treadmill of bad choices, and pregnancy in all forms. The protagonist is also a mentally disturbed, increasingly unhinged killer. In the past, when such a character had very unpleasant ideas, it was called characterization. In some quarters these days, it is a sign of a greater misogyny and class prejudice. I hardly think it so, but I have now given some of my more socially progressive readers clear warning that this book may not be to their tastes.) Read the rest of this entry »

Published in: Extreme Horror, fiction, Novella | on February 6th, 2012 | 4 Comments »

Jack’s Magic Beans by Brian Keene

Book: Jack’s Magic Beans

Author: Brian Keene

Type of Book: Novella, short story collection, extreme horror, zombies (kind of)

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: There are some scenes in this book that classify as extreme horror, which I always consider odd when compared to mainstream tastes.

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

Comments: Let me begin Day Four of Zombie Week by reminding everyone that I am giving away a free copy of every book I discuss this week to one lucky reader. That’s right – five books, one box, you could totally strike it book-rich. How do you enter to win? Easy as pie. Just leave me a comment on any of my Zombie Week book discussions. If you want to increase your chances to win, leave me a comment on each of the five book discussions. I count each comment each day as a separate entry, with a maximum of five chances to win. All you have to do is make all those five comments (or two of four or however many) by 9:00 pm CST, 4/1/11.

Now, let me begin this discussion by saying outright that this book very likely cannot be considered a zombie book by purists, and even I, a zombie novice, am reluctant to call the characters in Jack’s Magic Beans anything but berzerkers. If you have read One Rainy Night by Richard Laymon, you might consider its rain-demented characters to be very similar to the violence-bound, utterly mad characters in Keene’s novella. People acted upon by an unseen force become unspeakably violent, and while the character motivations and victim/hero situations are different, that was one of the best references I could think of in trying to explain the lunatic berzerkers in Keene’s novella.

Why did I read this and include it, then? Well, couple of reasons, really. I had Zombie Week planned out for about a month in advance, only to realize that one of the books I had selected was so short and shallow that, even in my most verbose state, I would have to pad a 200 word discussion. Okay, replaced it at the last second with another book. Then I went online to buy the copies I am giving away and realized the Keene book I wanted to discuss, The Rising, is out of print and I needed to read something else fast or I would be screwed. I had a copy of Jack’s Magic Beans on hand already, so I just decided to go with it. I do these “weeks” for my own benefit, so don’t imbue much nobility in what I am about to say, but I infinitely prefer it if my efforts here produce sales for the authors whose work I discuss. That won’t happen with The Rising because of Keene’s travails with Dorchester Press/Leisure Books, which have made for horrific reading in and of themselves.

If I discussed that very excellent zombie book of Keene’s, a book that is most decidedly a zombie book, he wouldn’t have received a cent if anyone bought it, and he wouldn’t have received a penny if I managed to find a new copy for my giveaway. Worse, there is every likelihood a e-book sale could in some manner enrich Dorchester Press because despite restoring his copyright, even for electronic books, Leisure Books still continue to sell his e-books illegally across various venues. Keene is not the only author who has been exploited by Dorchester. In fact, Brian Keene got his rights returned to him in exchange for unpaid royalties and yet Dorchester continues to sell works they no longer own the rights to. Because of this, I will not purchase another new book or e-book released by Dorchester Press or any of its imprints and I urge others to do the same. I generally do not participate in boycotts because it all too often only hurts those who can least afford it. But this time, it’s pretty clear that those at the bottom, the authors themselves, will not be receiving any money anyway. Dorchester’s been stiffing their writers since 2008 and any money given to the press cannot be relied upon to make it into the writers’ pockets. This is one of those boycotts where the people who get hurt are going to be hurt either way, and in such a case, why give the company a dime?

Much of the recent news of Dorchester’s wrong-doings came out after I decided just to discuss berzerkers under the wide banner of zombies, because as I perversely maintain, my site, my judgment call, but it also felt good to do this one little thing to help out an author whose work is excellent and who, by my own personal experience, is a good man. Yes, I met Brian Keene and if he remembers it, it is because he either feared for his well-being or just has an excellent memory. Read the rest of this entry »

Dead Bitch Army by Andre Duza

Book: Dead Bitch Army

Author: Andre Duza

Type of Book: Extreme horror, zombies, fiction

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: This is one that would have been discussed here whether Zombie Week happened or not. It’s a strange book and it’s published by an Eraserhead imprint.

Availability: Published by Deadite Press in 2005, you can get a copy here:

Comments: First, let’s get my site business out of the way. This is Zombie Week and there are five free books to be won by a single, lucky reader. How do you enter the contest to win the five books I am discussing this week?
1) Leave me a comment on any of the five Zombie Week book discussions.
2) You can increase your chances of winning by leaving a comment on all five discussions because each comment on each entry counts as an entry to win the books. Only one comment per entry counts, but that still means you will increase your chances of winning if you comment each day.
3) There is no time frame on when you must comment except to say that you must have all your comments posted by 9:00 pm CST on 4/1/11. So if you wait until the last minute or don’t get wind of Zombie Week until the last minute, you can leave comments whenever you like as long as you make them all by the end of the contest cut-off.

Any questions, don’t hesitate to ask.

Now to the book. Dead Bitch Army is an excellent follow up to Monday’s zombie offering because it violates, alters and subverts the zombie canon. Duza’s book may cause purists to argue over his use of zombies (or rather one zombie), but fans who love a good, nasty tale of revenge, blood, guts and just plain nastiness will love this book.

I am torn, and this is one of those reviews that I hate giving because there is nothing worse for me than seeing the amazing potential of a book, recognizing clear talent, but feeling as if the potential was not realized and the talent needed a bit of redirection. There is also nothing worse than damning a writer with faint praise so let me just state plainly what didn’t work in this book and what did.

Brief plot summary: Natasha Armstrong has been tracking the Dead Bitch, a woman named Mary Jane Mezerak, also known as Bloody Mary, and her small but creepy collection of hangers-on for years. She believes the Dead Bitch Army kidnapped her son, and after years of brutal entanglements, Natasha is framed for some of the Dead Bitch Army murders and ends up in prison. She is exploited by a reporter, a sort of dogpatch Barbara Walters named Linda Ludlow, who is later shown in an extremely brutal way that Natasha, “Tasha,” was not deranged and that she especially was not a murderer. Linda helps Tasha break out of prison and Tasha confronts the Dead Bitch Army at a gothic gathering on New Years Eve, 1999. The confrontation does not go as planned, and the end of the book is both sad, sobering and a good set up for a sequel.

Now, in terms of zombies, Mary is not a zombie Dr Dale would recognize. She does not attack people to eat them, though her clan does eat the bodies. She does not use her mouth as a weapon. Rather, her murders are for revenge, though some appear to be the result of just the desire to mindfuck because she is a deranged, otherworldly creature. She is very much capable of higher thought, as she organizes and runs her small army, uses weapons and, of course, is fueled by vengeance. She did die, and came back from the dead for reasons that are not entirely clear to me (and more on that in a moment), so in that she is a typical zombie. And while she is rotting and eventually may fall to pieces, her rot has been slow and she seems more mummy-like, with bones protruding from dry skin, and tissue like fragile silk falling away from her face. Of all the novels I discuss this week, this one presents the least amount of zombie for your buck, and we end up understanding far more about Tasha, Linda, and Mary’s ex-husband than we do about Mary herself. I am unsure if that is a problem, as keeping Mary enigmatic is sort of creepy, but keeping so much of that information from the reader makes it hard to really understand the point behind Mary needing the army or her desire to see the world end. We get tantalizing clues, but none of it ever pans out in terms of cold, hard explanation.

There are many instances wherein I wanted to just find Andre Duza’s phone number and call him up and ask him to explain. Here are some plot issues I had:
–Mary’s father was a high priest in a religion called the Church of 1000 Earthly Delights, an “Ergeister” religion and her father inculcated Mary in tales of violence, hexes, and Armageddon, and so we get a sense of where she gets her desire for revenge and her desire to see the world end. The church is mentioned also as the place where Mary met her right hand man, Griff, a telepath. So the church is important but it is never explained why. The beliefs of the church, how it might be linked to Mary rising from the dead set on vengeance, are never explained aside from a sort of primal anger that her ex-husband lived while she and their unborn child died. If her rage is something no one is expected to understand, there are too many potential explanations that go no where.
–Mary died in a fatal accident (and god help me but I don’t recall how she died) when she was pregnant. She was married to a football star, who is not gonna set the world on fire with deep morality but didn’t seem like such a bad guy. But Mary rises from the dead with a rabid desire to track down Carl Mezerak and kill him, which she does in a scene that is quite gory and sickening and will satisfy any gorehound. But why? Why did she hate Carl so much? Carl smokes way too much weed, has a wandering eye and is kind of a cad but I don’t ever see him doing anything to create a need for beyond the grave vengeance. If so, it isn’t supported by the text. So Mary’s deep need for revenge against her husband is odd. Add to it that it took her years, and I mean years, to finally kill Carl, and her psychotic drive for vengeance makes even less sense.
–We find out in the book that Mary and her army wanted Natasha to follow them. Griff, whose mind can alter reality for an entire crowd of people, implanted ideas in Tasha’s head, letting her know where they would be. Why? Why did they need this one woman, who is not believed, to follow them for years? Mindfuck? If so, that was one of the more pointless mindfucks I have ever read.
–There are political side plots that, in my opinion, sap the Dead Bitch of her power, or at least the implied power that I assume is there because of the strange church and her unrelenting violent tendencies.
–There are so many peripheral characters with deeply interesting but truncated stories that it’s hard to know if you are meant to absorb their part of this book because it is going to be important later or if it is just a throwaway with a tiny bit of relevant information. This is all the more distracting and disconcerting because two of those side stories wherein you wonder, “Who the hell is this person, where did he/she come from, and what the hell does any of this mean,” you are also reveling the utter creepiness and nastiness.

It took me much longer to read this book than I would have liked because I, being the sort of person who is certain there is order in the universe, was certain that there was an explanation for all these plot dead ends, that all those characters who popped up with no explanation, that all those asides about the church, Carl and his girlfriend, hallucinations, people kidnapped, a shootout, must play a part in the plot or Duza would not have wasted so much time. So I backtracked and tried to find the link I felt I missed and of course, I never found it. While I am not going to go so far as to recommend that anyone buy and read this book, if you do, I encourage you to handle the book in this manner: Read the parts with Mary, Tasha, Griff, Carl and Linda as the novel. Had I been the editor for this book, all those side plots of the train car going missing, the shootout at the end, the kidnapped people, the girls hiding in the bathroom would have been cut out and run with the last few strange chapters in the book called “The B-sides.” Or I would have cut them and the B-sides out entirely and encouraged Duza to flesh them out slightly and put them in a collection of short stories that were all strangely linked together. So if you read this for the gore and the at times damn excellent writing, just ignore that which is not Mary, Tasha, Linda, Carl or Griff and read the rest later as bonus short stories.

And my common Eraserhead lament of less than stellar editing comes up again. Sorry. I know that many who come for the gore and foulness may not care if a nauseated character “wretches” and frankly, as I also always say, mistakes happen. They happen. Even in the best edited books released by the largest publishers who have tons of money to pay lots of copy editors. But this one was really problematic because there weren’t just usage issues. Sentences ended in the middle and never picked up again anywhere else. Words in the middle of paragraphs were missing the first letter. There were spacing issues that defied any logic as to why a human being didn’t catch them and, frankly, these problems were distracting.

But there are some reasons why you might want to read this book about a Dead Zombie Bitch and her army of freaks and their quest to bring about the end of the world so they can rule the Earth. First, it is a book wherein a completely different kind of zombie rampages. She is in complete control of her faculties, despite the violence that dominates her mind. She doesn’t shamble. She moves in stop motion. She isn’t mindlessly attacking people for food. She may eventually eat her kills but for Bloody Mary, the confusion and terror she creates, the sort of theater she produces around her kills, is the point of the hunt. She is rotting slowly, but very slowly, reminding me more of an undead, demented Miss Havisham more than she reminds me of anything you will see in a Romero movie. There is something very Biblical to her rage and there is something very Victorian to her rot. She died and came back for reasons that are not entirely clear to me but she is a mythos unto herself. When you read this book, for all its flaws you will not be reading anything derivative.

Second, despite the fact that the book often read like a short story collection got spliced into a novel, within the totality of each story, side story and character, Duza creates interesting characters, creepy situations, unsettling scenarios and some outright terrifying, disgusting prose. I won’t spoil the plot points of what happens to Linda Ludlow, but the way she is finally shown that Tasha is not a delusional spree killer is absolutely sickening, a profoundly disturbing scene. For those who want a fix of nasty, this scene may be worth the price of admission.

But there are other examples of some very good writing. That Duza can write horrific content this well is one of the reasons I didn’t dismiss the book as I muddled through the plot. Take this section where Mary has finally attacked Carl, finding him in the middle of kinky sex with a new girlfriend.

The second blast blew Sharlene’s head apart. The bulk of it ended up all over Carl’s face and in his mouth. The impact threw the remaining flap of Sharlene’s head to the right, where it smacked her shoulder and bounced back. The whole thing happened so fast that poor Sharlene never knew what hit her.

[...]

Tightening her hand around the sawed-off, Mary watched in silent ecstasy as Carl bounced from wall to wall, bound to Sharlene’s body, which twitched uncontrollably. His massive arms worked frantically against Sharlene’s flailing limbs. Her fingers grabbed his face and forced their way in and out of his nose and mouth.

“Git her off me! Git her off-a-me!” Carl kept his face turned as far as he could from Sharlene’s and promised himself that he’d never take another breath, not if it meant tasting one more drop of her saline blood. He pretended not to hear the flatulent bursts that accompanied the blood that oozed from her cranium.

Yeah, this may be the worst conclusion of consensual bondage sex I have ever read. Just the horrific implications of being bound, in mid sex act, to a person who got a shotgun blast in the head and is suffering from pre-death brain flailings, is bad enough. Then add in the fact that the sheer indignity of it all, while horrific, is just a little funny, just makes me uncomfortable, and I like it when I am made uncomfortable.

This is not a case of a writer trying to create a horrific scene and having it verge into the ridiculous. Duza, for all the plot failings in this book, has a tight grip on his characters and on the things they do. His horrific slapstick was intentional, to make the reader feel sort of sick as they fight a small grin. There is another example of this, in one of the subplots that was only tangentially related to the rest of the book. Tasha has taken shelter on the run from the Dead Bitch Army in the basement of a bar, where there is what appears to be the dead body of a young black man, shot by the racist proprietor of the bar after he found his daughter having sex with the young man. A couple of days after being shot, the kid, merely brain damaged, rises and goes after the man who shot him. Joe, the racist dad and tavern owner, has greased back hair, really bad aim, and a series of events set his hair on fire:

He knew that it was all over if he fainted. The flames were halfway down his back. STOP! DROP! AND ROLL, YOU IDIOT!

His mind began to wander as it struggled to overcome the pain and fear, both of which worked together to bring him down. Joe tried his best to get a grip on the situation.

1. Need water.
2. The sink behind the bar is broken. You’ve been doing the dishes in the bathroom for the past week.
3. Gotta find something big enough to… God it hurts so bad… something like a toilet…

Joe broke from his daze and sprinted into the bathroom.

Will Joe get the water he needs? Uh oh, his friend Paul is tripping balls on acid in the bathroom, peeing sitting down, when his friend aflame rushes in.

Paul lowered his head to get a look under the stall door.

“Joe?” Paul said, curious. Paul recognized the worn boots and jeans that Joe wore every day.

Paul smelled charred meat. He was hiking his pants up, preparing to stand, when the stall door flew at him and found his teeth.

And that’s where we leave Joe and Paul and are certain Joe’s likely gonna cook some more.

But there are moments of utter creepiness that don’t invoke humor or even attempt to be anything more than just a look at the delirium of horror that Mary’s army can dish out. Again, not discussing it in depth but the torture scene and the aftermath when Linda learns Tasha was telling the truth all along is an upsetting, repellent, effective scene. But being able to marry such mayhem with a sense of the absurd helps when reading a book like this.

So this is how this zombie book boils down: An atypical zombie, a hardcore woman, has a thirst for vengeance I am unclear about and the narrative is muddled with an often unclear plot and irrelevant characters. However, had an editor cleaned this up, Duza’s prose is excellent and with a buzz-killing hellbeast of an editor keeping his active imagination from running amok, I can see Duza’s next book being sound in all respects. But the interesting thing about this book is that while a zombie is the impetus of the action, she is just one character in a book teeming with characters. She is a force of chaos but in a completely different way than brain-dead but flesh-seeking zombies are. She wants an apocalypse but must rely on political unrest to get it. She is a cult symbol, and not at all feared the way a traditional zombie would be (though that’s a mistake for those who are unlucky enough to meet her). Her goal is not to munch intestines but to lure people into her army. But it’s interesting to me that Duza subverts the paradigm, creating chaos with one zombie rather than a hoard and makes her just one character out of many.

So while I cannot unreservedly recommend this book, I think those who like extreme horror will appreciate this book. I also think that rabid zombie fans who must read all zombie books will want to give this a look. I suspect the casual reader may not find this to their liking. For me, I know Duza has other books out there and at least one appears to be a sequel to this book and I intend to check that book out and see if his writing evolved from this effort (and for new readers, I do my best not to know much about authors who are new to me aside from locating their websites to link to them for this blog and I really do my best never to read any one else’s review of a book before I discuss it here). He showed enough raw talent and an eye for an interesting story that bodes well for later efforts.

Tomorrow, I will discuss a book that takes a traditional approach to zombies, and blends it together with plenty of social commentary, literary criticism and the potential frustrations that will come if the only people who survive the zombie apocalypse are vegans. Don’t miss it!

Published in: Extreme Horror, fiction, Zombie Week, Zombies | on March 28th, 2011 | 23 Comments »

Portrait of the Psychopath as a Young Woman by Edward Lee & Elizabeth Steffen

Book: Portrait of the Psychopath as a Young Woman

Authors: Edward Lee and Elizabeth Steffen

Type of Book: Fiction, extreme horror

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: I tend to consider books with this level of explicit violence to be odd. Mileage may vary but in my world, discussions of extreme horror end up with the odd books.

Availability: Originally published in 1998, the edition I read was published by Necro Publications in 2003. You can get a copy here:

Comments: This is one of those times when I hate discussing books. I feel full of angst because I adore Edward Lee. Even when he’s off his game a bit, I still think he is one of the most unsung horror writers out there (Jack Ketchum and Christopher Fowler are in that same category – my heart never sinks as much as it does when I mention Lee, Ketchum or Fowler and people have no idea who I am talking about). I just like him.

But this book sucks. It is bad. Bad as in there is so little redeemable about it that all I want to do is downshift into snark mode but feel conflicted because I really like Edward Lee. I sense my inner sauciness will have no choice but to burst forth but before I explain in far too much detail why this book was a grave disappointment, I need to say that I hope Edward Lee never collaborates on a book again. Teratologist, another book for which he was the coauthor, was even worse than this one. Lee is a man who needs to write alone, I think.

On the surface, this book seemed like it was gonna be great. The presence of Ed Lee was part of it but the descriptions also made it seem like it was a winner. A journalist is contacted by a serial killing female in order to tell the killer’s story. The journalist enters a new relationship that challenges her emotionally and before long, the woman, her new lover and the killer are on a collision course, and the journalist and the killer find a horrifying link between themselves. Add a mean cop, lots of violence, and pow, you got yourself a decent enough serial killer book. And to be frank, the killer herself was at times an interesting character, and the violence she wreaks might be, for some extreme horror fans, worth the price of admission.

So… Why does this book stink a’plenty? The reasons are myriad and glaring. First, you will never read a more cliched book outside of a romance novel or a western, or maybe a romance set in the Old West, preferably written by my mom. You’ve got your neurotic heroine who is hot and sexy but at weight lighter than Marilyn Fucking Monroe feels she is obese and ugly. Also she’s wacky and likes to run around naked all the time, as body-loathing headcases are wont to do, amirite? We have a murderous whackjob who is a caricature of every abused female killer, with an endless mental dialogue with her abusive daddy. And despite the fact that she’s a mentally deranged killer, she still somehow manages to dress up, lure, stalk and kill her victims and hold a day job with almost nary a hiccup.

But there’s more, oh so much more. We have the cliche of the hard ass cop bullying his unhappy witness. We have a man who is evidently a poet who is acclaimed enough to have made it into The New Yorker who is capable of writing poetry that would make a teenage goth misery case ashamed at the turgid purpleness of it all. Also, he falls in love with the heroine after a night of sex, because that’s what poets do – they fall in love with weird women involved in murder cases. And in a novel about tracking a serial killer, despite the fact that Elizabeth Steffen is a federal crime analyst, we have characters who use the words psychopath and psychotic interchangeably, descriptions of mental states that read like gibberish and a character who appears to be largely psychotic who is yet still able to write out scholarly analyses of her torture techniques.

Part of me wants to say read this for the nasty parts, that’s clearly why it exists, this book. Read it for all the blood and torture and do your best not to pay attention to the shitty plot, poor characterization and outright insult offered in the details. But I can’t. There is no reason you cannot get a fix for gore without abandoning good prose, tight plot, and believable characters and details. And as I always insist when I pan a book, I don’t want you to take my word for it. Let me support myself with examples from the text.

So let’s get started. Kathleen is an advice columnist who lives alone, and because all women in novels written between 1985 and 2001 were sexually abused, so was Kathleen. She has family money to back her up as she writes her column, is evidently quite curvy and pretty and is ten times more neurotic than I was when I was in college, perpetually drunk and before I discovered the magic of anti-anxiety meds. Anyway, Kathleen has had sex with Platt, the Dogpatch Ted Hughes of this novel, and here’s a glimpse into her mind:

Platt, though not a physical specimen, looked trim and enticing. There’s no way he could ever love a Fattie like me. This impression of herself did not depress her at all, it made her feel proudly objective, not weighing, of course, the hypocrisy. When readers wrote in, fearing rejection due to being overweight, Kathleen reassured them that looks meant nothing in a real relationship. Dump them, she’d advise.

As a woman, reading Kathleen felt like I was trapped in the girl’s room at the junior prom. I can only assume men who read this book endured just for the blood. Yay, another heroine who hates her ass. Yay, Bridget Jones is getting stalked by a killer.

Oh, but you never know, maybe Kathleen really is a lardy troll completely undeserving of human love and should be shunned for her grossness. But luckily we have this information the killer digs up from her car registration after she runs the plates on her car:

HEIGHT: 5-6
WEIGHT: 135

Sigh… Look, I know lots of women have negative body image. I’m a fucking American woman, believe me, I know this. But I don’t want to fucking read about a gorgeous woman bitch about being fat in an extreme horror novel. And it’s all the more annoying to read a character moan and groan about how fat her ass is and then find out she’s probably a size six or less.

Kathleen’s pointless body hate permeates the book like the smell of bacon grease in a roadside diner. Driving with her poet boyfriend, she humorously barks at traffic but also continues on with her tiresome internal dialogue.

Kathleen caught herself examining girls who waited at each crosswalk, and she dismally concluded that almost every single one was better-looking than her. Most were trim Washingtonians in traditional summer yuppie garb. Sandals, shorts, loose, pretty blouses. I’m a dinosaur, she thought. Why can’t I look like those girls?

Yeah, this shit wore thin.

Oh, but wait, Kathleen is also dense and petulant. Her boyfriend, the poet, is napping and is speaking in his sleep:

“They’re coming to get you, Barbara,” he mumbled.
Barbara, huh? Kathleen faintly smirked. So he’s dreaming of old girlfriends. She couldn’t very well hold that against him, though it irked her just the same. You could at least be polite enough to dream about me, Maxwell. That or keep your mouth closed when you’re off in slumberland.

For the love of all that is not shitty, is Kathleen not the more tiresome heroine outside of a haughty lady-in-waiting in some bodice ripper? Not only is she not familiar with one of the most iconic lines in movie history but upon hearing it becomes annoyed that her new man of under a week is not murmuring her name in his sleep. Kathleen, to put it plainly, sucks. When the hapless Maxwell Platt emerges from his sleep she confronts him about this seductress Barbara and when he explains that he is not lying, that he had fallen asleep to Night of the Living Dead, even after she believes him she lacks the grace to apologize.

And then we have this unlikely scene that sealed the deal for me as far as the heroine is concerned. Kathleen is in the shower, and finds herself getting turned on as she remembers the conversation she had with Spence, the adversarial officer assigned to the case:

She remembered what Spence had said, about… What word had he used? Parity, she remembered. Similarities between herself and the killer. The whole thing had been a set-up, but why? The killer was abused as a child, you were abused as a child. So what? Does she look like me? she wondered. Does she have a body like me? A face? Kathleen smiled to herself. Does she touch herself in the shower?

Okay, this is… so full of squick I almost quit reading. Some sexual abuse survivors process their abuse in a sexual manner, that is not unrealistic. But this scene ends with Kathleen bursting from the shower and masturbating on a couch, not even bothering to dry off. She is not processing abuse. She is pondering the similarities between herself and a woman who is so deranged she sent her a man’s severed penis in the mail. Instead of wondering how the other woman ended up a violent killer and contemplating the harm the killer has done, she’s musing about her body and her naked behavior in the shower and using it for masturbatory fodder. On no level does this ring true, it makes the heroine of this book look like a fucking idiot and an asshole and it was foul in every implication. Yeah, Kathleen sucks as a character and that’s problematic because as the heroine of this book, I need to want her to succeed and not get killed in the process and it’s hard to root for someone who is this dense, this self-absorbed, this whiny and this bizarre.

In addition to creating a heroine in whom I have little vested, the authors also run into some problems defining their killer. The title of the book implies the killer is a psychopath but the descriptions of the killer are all over the map and at times read like utter nonsense. Here’s information a forensic psychiatrist gives the lead investigator on the case:

“Tell them to go back a year,” Simmons corrected. “This is something more evolved than your typical unsystematized reality break. Take my word for it, Jeffrey.”

Good thing it isn’t a typical unsystematized reality break because if you Google “unsystematized reality break” you’ll find out it evidently doesn’t exist outside this book. So thank heavens they dodged that “typical” bullet. Steffen, who is a crime analyst, presumably knows her stuff but if so, she is using terminology so arcane that a layman cannot run it to ground. A phrase as weird and awkward as “typical unsystematized reality break” should show up in a Google but it doesn’t and that is problematic. And given how unusual this term is, would it have been too much to have explained it?

The forensic psychiatrist continues:

“She probably lives in a house, in a secluded community,” Simmons continued. “She was sexually abused, probably quite heinously, and probably by her father or or other prominent family figure, from a very young age. She’s obviously bipolar enough to function in public.”

Okay, that first part seems standard enough, but then that last sentence takes it all down a weird road. It’s sort of hard to understand how “bipolar” plays into this in any manner. Bipolar enough to function in public? Well, bipolar people do function in public but it generally is not one of those conditions that one would think helps anyone to function in public. Generally, it is associated with a difficulty in functioning well. Is Steffen trying to convey that the killer is both bipolar and psychotic, or that within her psychosis she is experiencing a swing in behaviors that is similar to the condition of bipolar? I’m not sure and it isn’t explained.

But then, despite the fact that the killer is being presented as psychopathic, terminology gets mixed up, as Spence talks to Kathleen about the killer:

“Most of the conversation she sounded very clear-headed, coherent. Then she goes into the bit about the pain, taking her mother’s pain away and all that.”

“Psychiatrists call it word salad,” Spence enlightened her. “A fairly common trait in bipolar psychosis. One minute she acts and sounds normal, the next minute she’s complete dissociated, completely submerged in her delusions, to such an extreme extent that only she can understand herself.”

Okay, in the course of this book we will find out the killer is bipolar, a psychotic, a psychopath and several other things and I am not a criminal analyst like Steffen but all of this seems unlikely. If it is possible that the killer is a psychopathic psychotic going through some sort of rapidly cycling bipolar spectrum that pushes her from coherence into word salad in the course of one sentence, instead of throwing all this shit out there and expecting us to swallow it, mayhaps the authors could have explained how all these terms fit together and how they manifest together because by failing to do this, it sounds like someone is just tossing out a whole bunch of stuff that sort of sounds officially crazy and hoping we buy it.

It continues:

Simmons’ eyes, in spite of their accrual of years, shined crisply and bright as an infant’s. “But you can take heart in some rather indisputable statistics. The Totem Phase always burns itself out, leaving in its wake a catastrophic amine-related depression. It’s called the Capture Phase. Very quickly the falsehood of the delusion is unveiled; the bipolar mental state reverses poles, so to speak, locking the killer in an inescapable feeling of capture. The psychopath’s self-image is reduced to total meaningless… Suicide is the most frequent result.

This verged on gibberish for me and it’s a bit disorienting when I try to piece ideas together using the Internet and my own library on psychology and criminal profiling and come up empty handed. Would the average person have any goddamned idea what an “amine-related depression” is? Google ain’t gonna be much help. Totem and Capture Phase are not that arcane but coupled in there with amine-related depression and the bad line about the crispness of a baby’s eyes and you sense that this is a novel that really didn’t weigh out the meaning of the words used.

And it goes on and on:

“The killer has to know we’re on to her. But she’s psychopathic. Lotta times psychopaths get fuzzy on the dividing line between fantasy and reality. And they make mistakes. That’s what we’re counting on. She might come here in a fugue state, or when she’s deep in one of her delusions. Then we’ve got her.”

It feels weird countering the words that presumably came from a criminal analyst but yeah, while psychopaths often suffer from delusions, do psychopaths go into a fugue state? That sounds far more like the behavior of a psychotic and the mental state of the killer in this book points far more to a psychotic, someone who has almost no connection to reality. Psychopaths, in my education, were characterized by a superficial glibness and complete inability to care about other people. The killer in this book is full-bore crazed, having a dialogue in her head with her abuser, living a life almost completely detached from reality. It seems to me that despite the presence of an expert as a writer, this book uses the words psychotic and psychopath interchangeably.

But descriptions of the killer are not the only time you will read questionable psychological approaches in this book. Here’s some advice Kathleen received to help her deal with the atrocious abuse she suffered at the hands of her uncle:

“There are times when it’s perfectly healthy to redirect the pain in our lives. To transform it into someone else’s pain.” The method worked very well. Whenever a memory popped up… she simply murdered him in her mind. “Rape-Conclusion Substitution is what we call it.”

Seriously, go Google “Rape-Conclusion Substitution” with one hand and shit in the other and tell me which yields the most search results. Maybe this really is a helpful technique but is used under another name? So why include this at all? This part is not so integral to the plot of the book that the authors needed to create a bullshit label for this therapeutic technique or use a technique so arcane and obscure that it is impossible for a layperson to find out about it.

There are some seriously wacky plot devices in this book as well. At one point, Spence knows that they have a line on the killer and the powers that be, called General Command, see fit to send a helicopter to land on the lawn of Spence’s condo complex to pick him up in the middle of the night so he can be on the scene when they catch the killer. At least the authors have the decency to admit this whole scene is dumb:

The neighbors’ll love me, he thought, and then stepped out into what had to be the most ludicrous scenario of his life… The helicopter–a rebuilt white Bell JetRanger–descended amid the chugging cacophony of its props, and a mad wind siphoned about Spence, which nearly sucked his unbuttoned Christian Dior off his back.

Yeah, no sending a car for Spence. Nope, let’s risk the lives of untold people landing a fucking enormous helicopter on the grounds of a heavily populated area. C’mon, this is a serial killer/police procedural/heavy gore book. We don’t need plots lines from post-Cold War spy novel wet dreams.

Some of the dialogue was miserable. Just miserable. Take this example. Spence the detective has come to Kathleen’s door:

“Hello,” he said when she opened up.
“Damn. I was hoping it was the Fuller Brush Man.”
“The Fuller Brush Man isn’t your ticket to literary acclaim.”
“Oh, but you are?” she said. “A poker-faced cop in a bargain basement suit?”
Spence’s gaze distended. “This suit cost $850. It’s made from some of the finest–”
“Relax Kafka, I was only kidding. Are you here for anything in particular, or just the typical police harassment?”

1) No one under the age of 60 uses the Fuller Brush Man as a reference in actual conversation, even those of us who watch a lot of old television and read potboilers from the ’40s.
2) How the fuck does someone’s gaze distend?
3) Kafka? Kafka? Maybe there was a reference earlier in the book that explains this because if there isn’t (and I don’t think there is) calling Spence Kafka makes no fucking sense.

Then there’s just the bad writing. This may seem picky but if the rest of the book is a clusterfuck, it becomes hard to overlook even little problems. Like this line of dialogue from a scene in the morgue wherein an evidence tech explains things in language we can all understand.

“Three bodies,” he said. “We’ll call them One, Two, and Three.”

Well, thank God that wasn’t… so obvious that it approached pointlessness. Glad we got that cleared up.

Bad writing continues apace. Like this gem a murder victim overheard in a bathroom in a goth club that he entered because, as we all know, goth clubs are the best sort of meat markets for norm guys on the make:

In the bathroom some guys were doing cocaine as they traded jokes. “What’s the difference between Michael Jackson and potato chips? Michael Jackson comes in a can.”

Does anyone even know what this joke means? I mean, aside from the fact that it seems unlikely that such a joke would be common fare, it’s almost as cryptic as the discussion of “amine-related depression.”

While in the goth club, which we know is goth because the future victim thinks one girl looks like Morticia Adams (sic) and because there is Joy Division graffiti written in the bathrooms, we are presented with the victim’s take on the costuming around him:

Brad spotted some class cleavage, a brunette in sequins and earrings that looked like shower curtain rings.

Yeah, goth girls in sequins and enormous hoop earrings were thick on the ground in the late 1990s. Thick, I tell you. You also had to look out for all the feather boas and girls in crinoline looking like Cyndi Lauper. Eh, given that no one noticed they were misspelling the Addams family name, I am probably kicking a poorly dyed horse.

Moving on to weird and heavy-handed descriptives. Take this scene, the quotes taking place within paragraphs of each other:

He wondered what he’d done to her–some obsidian inquisitor in him with no heart.

Followed by:

It all poured out of her–the blackest ichor tapped through the wounds her uncle had lain into her spirit.

Okay, I get that the authors want to imply darkness, a blackness that implies the horrible evil that happened to Kathleen at the hands of her uncle. But why an obsidian inquisitor? A shiny, striated, glossy, brittle inquisitor? Blackest ichor? Blackest blood of the gods? I mean, these words all sound sort of good but mostly these words mean very little in conveying what I assume the authors wanted to make us aware of.

Word misuse does not end there:

Moonlight bathed the room in lucent slants, just like the dream. She lay naked in an ichor of sweat…

An ichor of sweat, eh? What the hell does that even mean? She laid in a blood of the gods of sweat? Or maybe a fluid of inflammation of sweat? And again, Kathleen’s tendency to love being naked in hot rooms feels a wee bit gratuitous.

But we aren’t done with black and blood imagery.

The words seemed to permute the paper until they were no longer words at all, but glyphic scrawlings etched in black blood.

Ignoring the fact that paper cannot be etched, I have no fucking idea what a glyphic scrawling is in this usage since we have no fucking idea what the paper was permuted into. I also wonder about using “permute” because as far as I know, it is a verb used mainly in math, implying order. If the words had been permuted, I could understand that because it would imply the order of the words was being changed. But can a page of paper be permuted? It could be mutated, I guess, but permute was not a good word choice for this sentence. In fact, this sentence can’t stand up to the most basic parsing without verging into gibberish. At several places in this book, it seemed like words were selected for how they might sound rather than what they actually mean.

Continuing on with bad writing choices, there was this bizarre statement:

“Jesus to Pete, Lieutenant. You got yourself a real winner here. This chick knows more about torture than Einstein knew about relativity. Makes Adolf Eichmann look like fuckin’ Dick Van Dyke.”

This sort of hyperbole doesn’t really give definition to the killer by emphasizing how horrific are her actions but rather gives a sense that Eichmann was somehow not all that bad, you know, given that some lady somewhere did really bad stuff to some men. Yes, this serial killer is terrible. She binds men up like mummies so that they cannot move and then does things like blow red pepper up their noses and cuts off their penises. She’s deranged and does vile things. But is she really a rival of one of history’s greatest monsters? Why include a statement like this at all because if one doesn’t immediately laugh, which I guess was the response the authors wanted, the only other thing to do is to look at the statement and realize how bad an idea it is to consider the actions of a serial killer in reference to one of history’s worst genocides. I know this book is over a decade old but even given the round of razzing people receive online when they invoke Nazis in bad arguments, the custom still persists in fiction. It’s annoying and unless one is writing about Nazis, one should not invoke them to make specious comparisons.

There were other issues with the book. A radio shrink telling a caller with sexual issues who was molested by her brother to kill him in with her mind several times a day, a therapy that may be just dandy but seems a terrible thing to be advocating over the radio, an idea that could easily become a murder charge outside of a therapeutic setting. The scene where Kathleen is symbolically confronting her abuser while being molested by a snake was so heavy-handed and dripping in false symbolism that it was a car wreck. Oh, then there was what I have no choice but to call the “butt spit” scene.

Sigh…

The killer walks in on people having furtive sex in the hospital where she works:

She knew the phlebotomy tech was sodomizing her because every few minutes the nurse would whisper, “More spit,” and the phlebotomy tech would stop and his head would tilt and she could hear him expectorate, and then he’d start again.

Somehow that was the foulest scene in the book. Seriously, a head nurse bent over and buttfucked and nowhere in the hospital is there a better lube than some guy’s spit? I mean, the only other place where there would have been more lube options available would have been a lube factory. Just because they spit all over each other in porn does not mean anyone else does it in real life. Use lube appropriate to the sex act. The anal fissures you won’t get later will thank you for it. And if you do so, you might be less inclined to describe anal sex in a manner that sounds like the second take for a shoe string porn script. But if this was meant to be just gross, the authors succeeded well.

Interestingly, in a book where two of the main characters are writers, neither seemed to be able to write worth a damn. Spence, the detective, reads one of Kathleen’s columns and rhetorically asks himself if it is just him or if none of it makes a lick of sense, like it was written in a foreign language. Here’s the column answer he read:

Regarding your former boyfriend, forget him. By saying such spiteful things to you he’s only elucidating his own selfishness and immaturity, not to mention his lack of consideration for your honest feelings. Men like that are best left out with the garbage. And as for your current emotional perplexion, I think you need to reverse your methods of anticipation. …

No, Spence, it’s not just you. I know the authors were trying to make an “Aren’t men and women different” statement, plus a little, “Hey, gay men don’t get women,” sort of riff but it mostly read like nonsense.

And Kathleen isn’t the only shitty writer in this hot mess. Remember her boyfriend, the poet? The one so good he’s in The New Yorker? This is a poem of his Kathleen finds. Also note that he calls every poem he writes “Exit” for reasons I am sure are too deep and poetical for the likes of me:

EXIT by Maxwell Platt
Resplendence is truth, yet it’s escaped me somehow,
And I don’t even remember what you look like now.
But in the trees, in the clouds, in the heavens above
even the angels are burning up with all my love.

Well, it’s not Tennyson. It’s not even Cummings or Plath. It’s barely a Nickelback lyric.

There is another poem, the only one not called “Exit” but is instead called “A Keatsian Inquiry.” Here’s a snippet:

Dare he wake her beauty in the moon?
For what he spied–such love–and in
that precious moment didst nearly swoon.
Yet on she slept a lovely sleep;
here is the image his love doth reap.

Could no one have looked up an actual poem by Keats or a modern love poem and at least tried to ape it a bit? Because asking us to accept this as anything but the work of an overwrought high school freshman is a bit much.

So. What have we in total? We have a spunky but self-loathing hot chick who thinks she’s fat and writes a shitty self-help column that brought her to the attention of a psychotic, psychopathic, bipolar killer who slips into word salad and sends the columnist dicks in the mail. We have a detective who largely does not grate, but we also have a poet who cannot write poetry. We have words that don’t fit together well. We have scenes so utterly dumb they would make a normal person curse their dog when they read them. Bad analogies. A girl killer worse than Eichmann. Butt sex with spit.

We also have some top notch, methodical and yet over the top extreme violence. So weigh things out. Can you take all that I laid out and so much more in order to get to the heinous parts? If not, may I recommend Edward Lee’s Infernal books. Some pretty foul content, extreme horror, and though these books likely have all kinds of issues, the content is lively, engaging, disgusting and funny enough that I didn’t really notice. And with so much extreme horror, that’s the goal, to be so wrapped up in the content that the meta of the reading experience doesn’t intrude. This book didn’t come close to achieving that goal.

Published in: Extreme Horror, fiction | on January 17th, 2011 | 7 Comments »

Vile Things: Extreme Deviations of Horror, edited by Cheryl Mullenax

Book: Vile Things: Extreme Deviations of Horror

Author: Various, edited by Cheryl Mullenax

Type of Book: Extreme horror, short story collection, fiction

Why I Considered This Book Odd: My arbitrary criteria tells me that I need to review and discuss extreme horror over here. And extreme horror does often fall under the auspices of what is odd because true foulness is often very weird.

Availability: Published by Comet Press in 2009, you can get a copy here:

Comments: I don’t know. Extreme horror just isn’t that extreme for me anymore except in what seems like the pervasive poverty of concept. I’m unsure if I’ve just read so much real extreme horror, meaning nastiness with a real plot and real characterization, and splatter, which makes no pretense about being simply an attempt to gross-out, that it takes a lot to move me. Perhaps I just lucked out in the beginning of my literary life and read good horror, good extreme horror and now little measures up. I mean, you have writers out there like Jack Ketchum and Edward Lee, who write hard content in the course of telling one mean story. The horrific content happens because the tale itself is horrific but you get a plot, you get characters you give a damn about, you get a tight story that draws you in even as it appalls you. Then you have collections like Excitable Boys that are meant to be grotesque and nothing else and present no pretense otherwise. And then you have collections like this, wherein the stories which were meant to be actual stories were poorly written vehicles in which to deliver a gross-out, and not very gross gross-outs at that.

I know, I know, some are going to be tempted to say, “Look, Sugarpants, you just don’t get extreme horror. It’s not meant to be good fiction.” To which I say, “Feh.” Too many writers manage to get it right, marrying excellent story-telling and fabulous gore, for this argument to hold water. Accepting the mediocre because it is gross demeans the whole genre. This collection was neither good stories with extreme content nor a straightforward nausea-fest and as neither fish nor foul, it occupies an uneasy nether land, all the more uneasy because the stories were so… nothing. Nothing to them. It never bodes well when after reading a collection of short stories, I find myself rereading the whole thing because I can’t remember it. Sometimes you need a refresher when you want to discuss a story. You can jog your memory by reading a few lines. Not here. I had to reread entire chunks of many of these stories to recall what they were about, so unimpressive were they as a lot. A few were decent, three were quite good, but the rest were terrible and one so bad I could not get past the first few paragraphs.

It is not too much to ask that a story decide what it wants to be. Be a good tale with nastiness or nothing but nastiness but don’t waste the reader’s time with poorly constructed drek passed off as characterization and plot so you can include some cannibalism or butt-related content. Write something a person can remember after reading it, dammit.

Yeah, this is gonna be one of my harsher reviews.

Published in: Extreme Horror, fiction, Short Story Collections | on May 13th, 2010 | 2 Comments »

The Book of a Thousand Sins by Wrath James White

Book: The Book of a Thousand Sins

Author: Wrath James White

Type of Book: Fiction, short story collection, extreme horror

Why I Consider This Book Odd: This book is not odd in the way many of the quirky, weird, off-beat and off-kilter books I review here often are. This book is only odd in that it is of an extreme, and that extreme is horror. This ain’t a book for the squeamish and the extremity of the content is what I think makes it fodder for my odd mill.

Availability: Published by Two Backed Books in 2005, it appears not to be in print any more since the imprint itself is no longer in business. You can, however, still score a copy on Amazon if you don’t mind paying at least twice cover price:

Comments: Wrath James White interests me on a personal level. Admittedly, all I know of him is what he puts online about himself and what he reveals about himself in interviews. He is someone I can see sharing a beer with, and talking religion and philosophy into the wee morning hours. He’s an interesting man with an unusual life arc and based on what I had seen of him and what others writers say about him, I bought blind three of his books. Not unusual for me. Before Richard Laymon died, I knew nothing about him but bought five of his paperbacks I stumbled across in a used bookstore based solely on the covers. I am a bibliophile and the -phile part makes me take chances on the unknown.

So, I had three White books, and one was his collaboration with one of my favorite horror writers, Edward Lee. The book, Teratologist, was possibly the most disappointing book I read in 2008, and I paid an arm and a leg online to get a signed, hardcover copy. I had not read a single review of it when I bought it and likely would have bought it even had I read a few but even so, I did not enjoy it. The book couldn’t even keep the names of the characters straight, sometimes getting the names wrong, as well as misspelling them (“Michael” frequently became “Micheal,” sometimes in the same page). I am a picky reader – every book on the planet has a couple of errors, and I am that snotty reader who generally notices them – but the grammar, spelling and punctuation in Teratologist were egregious to the point of distraction. Problematically, the topic was also a miss for me, a contrived and unlikely attempt to force a confrontation with God via the creation of human monsters using a vile drug that mutates the human sex drive. The grandiose and philosophically questionable nature compelling the book’s plot put me off. I bought my White books in 2008 and after reading Teratologist, I put the others away. I recently discovered them in the back of my nightstand cupboard, pulled them out and decided to give it a go. The Book of a Thousand Sins was strike two.

I always feel odd giving bad reviews on fiction, even when I emphatically think a book is not good. It is one thing for me to pull apart non-fiction books on conspiracy theory and new-age nonsense that asserts the soul of Einstein is on the planet Marduk. It is another to find fault in fiction because all fiction comes from a place of inner experience and not to like fiction is, in a sense, finding fault with the author him or herself, even if that is probably not the best way to look at things.

But however odd I feel giving a thumbs down, I didn’t much care for this book.

Published in: Extreme Horror, fiction, Short Story Collections | on February 17th, 2010 | No Comments »