Friday, January 27, 2017

Brief Thoughts 19

Libra by Don Delillo

Delillo is an author who I've heard mixed things about. I've heard some regard him as embodying the worst of contemporary "high brow" literature while others have praised him. Since Cronenberg, one of my favorite directors, adapted one of his books, I figured he was worth checking out.  My library didn't have Cosmopolis, so I decided to check this one out instead.

Libra is a historical novel about Lee Harvey Oswald. It speculates that Oswald was a patsy in a CIA scheme to shoot John F. Kennedy, however that the assassination was supposed to fail. Oswald is portrayed as something of a fuck up. Which seems to be somewhat accurate to how he was in real life. He was an outcast in school, he was a wannabe revolutionary that defected to the Soviet Union, only to come back when he couldn't fit in. Even here, he becomes a CIA patsy picked specifically because it seems like he's a terrible shot. However, he succeeds in killing Kennedy when he wasn't supposed to.

The books is pretty solidly structured, going between Oswald and the CIA conspirators plot to shoot Kennedy. It reads like a solid thriller and still manages to go through most of Oswald's life from childhood. It does a good job at showing how someone like Oswald could become the kind of person who would shoot a beloved president.  There's also an interesting aspect where a "Curator" tries to sort out all the facts of the Kennedy assassination, concluding that the full truth of the case will never be known. It gives it a nice postmodern touch that isn't too alienating or overbearing.

One of my biggest problems with the book is that there are several times where the dialogue is very stiff and unnatural. It feels like Delillo didn't know how to properly steer the conversations where he needed to and just forced them. Jack Ruby's story line (the man who killed Oswald) also felt very rushed and underdeveloped.

Even though I've been to the Kennedy museum in Dallas, I don't actually know that much about the case. This novel was helpful in teaching me things I didn't know about Oswald or many other figures surrounding the assassination. Obviously, since this is fiction I had to check to see what was true, but it's a helpful guide.

I enjoyed this book and I'll try some more of Delillo's in the near future. I'll also probably try find more non-fiction work about JFK's assassination since this got me just as interested in it as visiting the Kennedy museum.

Buy Libra by Don Delillo here. 

Songs in the Key of Z: The Curious Universe of Outsider Music by Irwin Chusid

I've been fascinated by "Outsider Music" for a long time now. WMFU's website is a good resource for it, especially Irwin Chusid's effort to collect and archive fringe music. When I found he had written a book on the subject, I had to pick it up. Though it took me a while to actually read it, as I have a bad habit of doing.

As the title suggests, this book attempts to define "Outsider Music" as a genre and goes through the artists that fall within it. The genre includes music that's both outside of the mainstream and (usually unintentionally) ignores most conventions of making music. Often, the creators suffer from mental illness, or at the very least, exhibit unusual behavior. Of course, Chusid himself points out that this is a very slippery genre. He includes a chapter on Captain Beefheart who was both on a major label and made a lot of conventional music in addition to his weirder albums. Also, he wasn't mentally ill or errat ic, he was just a dick.

While his attempt to define the genre doesn't quite work, this is still a fascinating book. Chusid recounts figures who worked all over the map, from complete amateurs to trained composers, who all made odd music. I was familiar with some artists here like Jandek and Wild Man Fischer, but I learned a lot about some who'd I never or only only vaguely heard of like the Cherry Sisters and Robert Graettinger. Chusid writes with a mixture of insight and humor, delving into artists in an engaging way even with artists he clearly doesn't enjoy.

Some of his choices for who he writes about are a bit odd to me. Beefheart for the reasons I previously mentioned. It also seems odd that he gives two sentences to the Chipmunks but only mentions Anton LaVey at the end where he names some other artists that might fit in the genre. It seems like music by the founder of the Church of Satan would be worth more than a mere mention. I also noticed the complete absence of Y. Bhekhirst and JW Farquhar. Though I'll grant it would be impossible to name every artist who could possibly fall in the genre. The book is also somewhat dated. It was released in 2000 and some of the artists mentioned have died.

Despite that, this book is a great read and valuable as a reference. If I ever want to find some weird music, I can just pull this out and look up the artists listed. Highly recommended.

Buy Songs in the Key of Z: The Curious Universe of Outsider Music by Irwin Chusid here. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Top Ten Favorite Reads of 2016

The year that everyone hated is over. So that means it's time to countdown my favorite reads of 2016. It was hard to narrow these down to just ten with eight honorable mentions, but I promised myself I would stick to that this time. Remember, these are books I read in 2016, not necessarily books released that year. 

10. Kanley Stubrick by Mike Kleine  

This novel was a departure for Kleine in that it's more narrative driven than his previous works. I'd say he succeeded well. He maintains his surreal style while telling an odd but compelling story about a man searching for his missing girlfriend.

Full review here.
Buy it here.

9. Mistah Kurtz! by James Reich

Reich explores one of the most mysterious characters in the English literary canon through this story. He sheds a whole light on Conrad's novel while creating an excellent one of his own.

Full review here.
Buy it here.

8. Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z. Brite  

Several authors I know list this as one of their favorite horror novels. It's easy to see why. This is a highly disturbing and emotional read. Among some of the best horror I've read myself.

Full review here.
Buy it here.

7. The Best of Joe R. Lansdale

A mixture of absurdism, horror, and Southern Gothic by an author who writes all of them equally as well.

Buy it here

6. Three Plays by D. Harlan Wilson

Wilson's foray into plays is funny, entertaining, and thought provoking. It's just as good as any fiction he's written.

Full review here.
Buy it here.

5. The Columbine Pilgrim by Andy Nowicki

This novella ranks with Selby's The Room and Thompson's The Killer Inside Me as of the best examination of a disturbed psyche I've ever read.

Full review here.
Buy it here.

4. Consensual by A.D. Hitchin 

Hitchin's exploration of perversity and misanthropy is a powerful read.

Full review here.
Buy it here.

3. The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea by Yukio Mishima

A disquieting and beautiful existential novel.

Buy it here.

2. The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays by Albert Camus 

A highly readable essay collection on the absurdity of every day life.

Full review here.
Buy it here.
 
1. The Ego and Its Own by Max Stirner

This book is a wrecking ball through the foundations of every belief system. That's an entirely good thing It wouldn't be number one on this list if it wasn't

Full review here.
Buy it here.

Honorable Mentions

- Arafat Mountain and The Mystery of the Seventeen Pilot Fish by Mike Kleine
- Anarchism by George Woodcock
- Spiritual Instrument by M Kitchell
- In Their Arms by Thomas Moore
- Answers of Silence by Geoff Cooper
- Deathtotheworld: an interracial racist love story by HAarlem VEnison
- The Maimed by Hermann Ungar

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Brief Thoughts 18

Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z. Brite

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

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

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

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

Buy Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z. Brite here. 

The Maimed by Hermann Ungar 

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

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

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

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

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

Buy The Maimed by Hermann Ungar here.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Update: A New Review of My Chapbook and Another Story

Recently, writer HAarlem VEnison of Acid Right. Did a video review of my chapbook, "the sky is black and blue like a battered child." You can watch it below.


I also have another story up at CLASH Media. Another creepy short story called "Please File Under Adult Contemporary." They had also published another short creepy story of mine called "The Soda" as well.

Don't forget that I'm also writing a lot at Cultured Vultures. Here are the last three articles published.

Book Review: Slasher Camp for Nerd Dorks by Christoph Paul 
13 Halloween Books You Should Read (If You Dare) 
How to Get Book Review Copies

Friday, September 30, 2016

Book Review: Towers by Karl Fischer

Civilization is threatened with destruction by sea monsters. Defense towers that require the operators to meld their conscious with them are erected with the promise of eternal bliss to the volunteers. Alti and Quatra, seduced by the promise of being together forever in heaven, volunteer to operate the Towers. Alti wakes up to discover he's been tricked. He sets out to escape the Tower and be reunited with his darling Quatra.
We were three hundred meters tall, anchored to the bedrock mammoth monopile roots. We were carbide skeletons on which steel and lead and graphene plastic matrices were layered to oblique, unbreakable skin. But most of all, we were the Gods of Fire and War and Thermonuclear Destruction. When we unleashed Atomic Hounds upon the night's void, every kingdom shuddered and every mortal knew why were built.
The best part about Towers is easily the prose. Fischer has a way of writing that reads as both intense and dreamlike. This is the kind of book that can be read in one setting and finishing it is just like waking up. Despite the disjointed narrative, the novella remains engaging and moves along at a good pace.

Ultimately, Towers is a love story. Alti spends most of the book attempting to reunite with his beloved Quatra. An intense longing runs through the book that only occasionally feels schmaltzy. Fischer builds their relationship convincingly and the pain of Alti's separation from her comes through.

The biggest flaw in the book is the abruptness and unconvincing neatness of the ending. Most of the novella uses the short length to its advantage, but the ending comes along and the book feels more like it just stops than properly ends. Not to mention the fact that after everything that happens in the book, the fact it wraps up as easily and neatly as it does feels forced.

Towers is a strong debut. Despite the disappointing resolution, its masterful prose, strange imagery, and pathos make it well worth reading.

Buy Towers by Karl Fischer here. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Book Review: Satan Burger by Carlton Mellick III

I thought the act of kissing became extinct long ago, even before the walm, people just stopped caring enough to kiss before fucking. Love is a dead performance. Only the hardcore fuck job is required.
I discuss bizarro fiction in a lot of my reviews. It's taken me some time to get to Carlton Mellick III's first novel from 2001, though. What Neuromancer is to cyberpunk, Satan Burger is to bizarro.

It's difficult to summarize the plot of Satan Burger. It's not an especially plot-driven book and there is a lot going on. The main story line is that a door to alternate dimensions, called "the walm," opens up on Earth. It lets beings from other worlds in but it's powered by sucking the souls of people, leaving them hollow shells. To keep the walm from putting him out of business, Satan opens a burger joint where people trade their souls for burgers. The narrator, Leaf, gets a job at the Satan Burger along with his friends to avoid losing their own souls.

I'm not kidding when I say a lot is going on. Take the narrator Leaf, for example. His eyes are very unusual. In his normal vision, he sees the world as a rolling ocean. Everything his distorted and it makes life difficult for him. However, he also has what he calls "God eyes." These granted him omniscience to a certain extent. Because of this, the story flips between first person and third person.

This novel is billed as an "anti-novel," but unlike most books called that, there isn't much formal experimentation. There's the switch between first and third person (which is explained in the story) and some odd spacing, but that's it. The weird story itself and the difficulty of pigeonholing it is what separates Satan Burger from most novels.

Despite the plot line I described of the walm and Satan's burger joint, the vast majority of this book focuses on Leaf and his friends. They're a group of young people who have a band and are struggling to get buy in a
world full of people turned into zombies by the walm. One could argue that this is a novel of Generation X disaffection at its core.

Mellick has gone on to write so many books, I've honestly lost count. This first novel of his shows that he had a wide imagination and it hasn't dissipated. It's a strange as hell book, but I enjoyed it a lot. Anyone looking for an entry point into Mellick's work or into the bizarro genre couldn't ask for a better book than this.

A quick note: Mellick recently released a 15th anniversary edition of this book. The version I read is the original paperback, which now seems to be out of print.

Buy Satan Burger by Carlton Mellick III here.