The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Saying Goodbye by Ben Arzate

Book: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Saying Goodbye

Author: Ben Arzate

Type of Book: Fiction, short story collection, flash fiction, bizarro

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Increasingly I wonder why I continue with this explanation for each book.  If I am discussing it here it’s odd, that’s a given.  But I think, for the time being, you should consider this book odd because one story features a landlord strapping thick books to his head and goading his tenants into punching him when rent is due.  Also a house gets cancer, and the cancer isn’t a horde of stray cats moving in and destroying everything the humans love.

This collection also contains the line: “Hank walks home with the neck of his guitar shoved up his ass.”  You need to buy the book to find out why this happened to Hank.

Availability: Published in 2018 by Nihilism Revisited, you can get a copy here:

Disclaimer: Ben Arzate is a frequent commenter on this site (and I should return the favor but I sort of suck lately, you know how it is), and I consider him an e-friend. We’ve never met in person but who does actually meet in person anymore since the Internet has come to ensure we can have friends without ever leaving the house?  At any rate, you run the risk of being called a shill if you don’t disclose such things so be aware that I e-know Ben and approve of him as a person.

Comments: Ben Arzate is a very good writer, but in addition to being favorably inclined towards him because he keeps my morale up over here in Hell’s Half-HyperSpace, I really like this collection because it is filled with the kind of strange little stories that have made me a fan of Hank Kirton, Jon Konrath, and Andersen Prunty.  These stories cover a lot of literary and psychological ground in very few words – 33 stories in 104 pages of text.  I find such stories remarkably detailed because their spare nature causes me to fill in any blanks with my own life, sort of modifying them to fit my experiences.  I do that with everything I read, to an extent, but it’s all the easier when writers like Arzate give me a perfect framework upon which to build my own literary reaction.

Most of these stories are flash fiction, more along the lines of vignettes. A few of the stories are longer form, like “Meth-Lab Nursery,” which sadly does exactly what is indicated in the title, and “The Arranged Marriage,” a strange story about a young couple forced to marry by their intrusive parents.  The couple eventually find a way out of their predicament when they meet the girl’s ex-boyfriend, who works for a side show because he has what sounds like a cinematic form of progeria.  We also get snippets of the miserable, post-apocalyptic, life of Alex, a protagonist who, in the course of three stories, gets coffee at a terrifying cafe located in an utter hellscape, is forced to fetch his mail from a locked cuckoo clock, and watches what appears to be the televised version of Best Gore punctuated by ballet performances. They’re unnerving stories, the Alex tales.

My favorite story in the collection is “The Rent is Due.”  A lunatic landlord wakes all his tenants on the day rent is due.  At 3:30 a.m., he lines them up, uses a belt to attach a large book to his head, and forces his tenants to punch him.  If they don’t punch hard enough, he makes them hit him again.  I don’t know why this story delighted me so much.  Another of the shorter pieces I appreciate features a man dying after eating literal doughnut holes – like he has regular doughnuts but does not eat them but eats instead the void in the center.  It kills him.

The above stories are all entertaining, but evoke less of my verbose need to fill in the blanks. Not the case with “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Saying Goodbye,” a story that spoke directly to my largely unexplored animism.  I am that person who is sure the pair of shoes she never wears feels slighted, or that her carpet is sad because the cats have been puking a lot lately.  The last time a story pinged this tendency to imbue the inanimate with spiritual and human traits happened during S.D. Foster’s bizarro story about a piece of fruit that never gets eaten.  In Arzate’s story, a house literally gets cancer.  It’s an old house, and the owners kick themselves for not getting it checked out sooner, making sure it was healthy before the lumps formed on the stairs and under the carpet.  Maybe they could have prevented the cancer, and they struggle in much the same way a person might when the dog they’ve had since they were a child becomes terminally ill.

There are things I don’t like about our house, and I hate saying any of it out loud because I know the house can hear me.  It’s not the house’s fault that the cats have wrecked the carpet and baseboards, that Sally (whom we have to nebulize in a weird crate Mr OTC made out of stuff he got at Home Depot) has coated every surface from the knees down with snot, that Boo Radley has scratched large chunks of frosted glass off the front and back doors as he tries to catch moths outside the house and on and on.  So when I criticize the house or complain about the amount of time I spend crawling around with a magic eraser in one hand and enzymatic cleaner in the other, I am certain to make it clear to the house that I don’t blame him for all this mess. I also worry that when we finally move or die the house will be bereft.  It has had a weird time in its short life and I sense it is sort of happy with us living here.  The dude who lived here before us sold DirectTV things, you know, those gray disks people install on their roofs?  Our garage was full of the boxes when we moved in, and all the boxes were empty except for a ton of gecko carcasses because those things infest this house and yard.  The garage had been turned into some sort of indie-band sound studio and that’s my most optimistic guess. I am 90% certain porn films were shot in there. Dozens of electrical outlets still remain along the ceiling and we will never be able to mask all the surround sound speaker mounts in the TV room.  We could replace the drywall entirely and they would still be there.  The whole house is covered with scars, and I know the house doesn’t like these scars.  These are not the sort of scars that chicks dig.  Neighbors seemed visibly relieved when a quiet-looking couple bought the house.  So you can imagine how our house felt.

And let us not mention the… weird stuff that happens in this house, the almost Lovecraftian entities we are certain inhabit this space.  I brought it up discussing Konrath’s fine lunacy, and you may have thought I was exaggerating for comedic effect, but seriously there is something living in this house that makes me certain it will kill me.  The stairs have already come for me, and I now have a limp every time the temperature dips into the sixties or below, so in addition to worrying about my house’s feelings, I also fear it.  Or rather I fear the things living here I cannot see.  The house does, too, which is another reason I will feel really bad if we move.  Our house doesn’t have cancer.  It has PTSD.

My reaction to this story is longer than the story itself, I think, which is the real magic of the sort of writing Ben presents us with in this collection.  Some of his stories really are a foundation upon which you can build your own cat-infested snot hole that will one day kill you or maybe just leave you feeling guilty about the messes that your slovenly pets make along with the certain knowledge that all the cleaners you use give you your own tumors to deal with.

But it’s not all “fill in the blanks.”  In “My Church” I didn’t need to descend into a near-psychotic analysis of my house to appreciate the story.  A kid attends a dismal church held in a basement and the best way to describe the philosophy of the church is Pointless Aggression Theology.  After prayers they turn off the lights in the basement and beat each other with hymnals that were accidentally printed in Russian. I love the reason the pastor gives for these book beatings but I’m gonna keep it to myself to keep from wholly spoiling the short story.  (It’s also interesting that this collection features a character who wants to be beaten by a book via the punches to the tomes he straps to his face and a religious group who smack each other with books written in a foreign language none of them can speak.  I want to psychoanalyze Ben but I’m currently using my powers for evil.)

The book ends with “Love: A Parable.”  It may seem like a jaded, cynical look at love, but at the same time it is a kind look at the nature of some sorts of romantic love, a perspective that can become very sentimental if not kept in check.  It’s strange to say that a story can be both cynical and sentimental but here we are.

This book contains some rough and/or gross content: a neighborhood descends into really uncompelling group sex, a war criminal recites a nauseating soliloquy, weird angels wreck cars when they fall from the sky, and similarly unnerving content can surprise the reader unprepared for this sort of bizarro-ish splattery writing.  Luckily I was prepared.  You should be, too.

I find it interesting that a style I find intolerable in other writers works to Ben’s advantage.  I’ve spoken before about the tiresome, emotionally-removed, flat style that caused me to rebuke books from Tao Lin and Stephen Elliott, yet found myself enjoying from Sam Pink.  And now I can add Ben Arzate to the very short list of writers who use this style well.  In Ben’s case, this flat remove is needed because you really can’t create a strong emotional attachment to characters in stories that are often two paragraphs long.  Nor would you really want to.  Additionally, extremely violent content can often be better appreciated at a certain emotional remove.  It’s a variable that I now realize I have to solve on a case-by-case basis.  I used to think I detested the style.  Now I think I simply dislike when it is not done well.

This style is especially well-married to the stories Ben tells.  Absolutely dystopic in almost all cases, yet often tempered with a bit of affection for the story or a little serving of hope.  Such stories need a simple, direct method of story-telling.  Too much emotion would clutter up these spare tales.  As would too much detail.  Ben achieves a sort of spartan reserve that lets him tell outrageous stories without crossing over into the false wackiness and pointless gore that eventually turned me off so much bizarro.

I want to leave you with this line from “Deep Sea Diving Suit” because I relate on an almost spiritual level to the protagonist Jeff’s decision to live his life in a deep sea diving suit:

He is so used to spending time in an environment hostile to his survival that he finds himself unable to leave his protective suits despite the fact they make existing in a welcoming environment difficult.

And now you know one of the many reasons why I cannot hold a day job.

You should get this book, highly recommended.

God Speed, You Desert Wizard

Art Bell has died.  On Friday the Thirteenth.  Of course he did.  Because he was Art Bell and we should have expected it.

So many people will be offering up eulogies of this man who, in my estimation, heralded in the current “reality TV” obsession with the paranormal and supernatural through his radio show, Coast to Coast AM, that I don’t know how much I can offer that is unique.  I’ve mentioned several times over the years that Art Bell has influenced me in strange ways, from introducing me to the works of former priest/fallen man of faith/potential conman/charming Catholic Malachi Martin to making me wonder how many pieces of modern music he influenced.

Mostly I adored him for suing the late Ted Gunderson for defamation when Gunderson insinuated that Bell molested one of his sons and was involved in child pornography.  My low opinion of Ted Gunderson should not be belabored in this short paean to one of the most notable purveyors of weird, but I love that Art Bell did not tolerate such slander.  He prevailed in a civil suit against Gunderson and Gunderson’s cohorts, and the details of the verdict are sealed so we don’t know how much Ted Gunderson had to pay out for making such base accusations, but the moral victory was more than enough for Bell fans.

Every year I listen to Art Bell’s Halloween shows called Ghost to Ghost, where he takes in calls from people who had paranormal and frightening experiences.  It’s going to be a bittersweet listen come this October.  I hope now Art knows if there’s a bottom to Mel’s hole and what is down there if there is, if Oswald was a lone gunman in the Kennedy assassination, was there really a frozen little green man in Jonathan Reed’s freezer, and if John Titor Timetraveler was really a load of horseshit.  I hope his afterlife is as weird as he deserves.  Rest well, Art, and know that your death, in maybe a few weeks, will likely have a very strange conspiracy theory surrounding it.  We all know you would have wanted it that way.

Halloween 2017: Hopefully brief interruption

It’s been an interesting autumn season out here at Chez Oddbooks and I am under the weather, so to speak.  I hopefully will resume Halloween-y posts no later than Thursday.  Until then, please feel free to share any creepy or Halloweenish story you think I’d like to hear.  Any awesome horror novels or movies you’ve consumed lately?  Did you listen to the Silencer video in today’s earlier entry and want to sue me for emotional damages? Comment away!

Halloween 2017: Corn Hill Cemetery

When Mr. OTC first learned about the Corn Hill Cemetery, the message board included some geographic coordinates and nary a mention that there was also a  New Corn Hill adjacent to “old” Corn Hill.  The geographical coordinates were only marginally more accurate than closing our eyes and smelling our way there, so it took us a while to find the Corn Hill Cemetery.  Before we came close to our final destination, we found the Catholic cemetery in New Corn Hill, a herd of longhorns, a five-grave cemetery in the middle of a cornfield, a cemetery in someone’s front yard in Weir which is a completely different city, and eventually we found Corn Hill.

The cemetery was presented online as a cemetery in a ghost town.  Really, it’s an active cemetery in a town that moved and got absorbed into another town.  We were green in terms of such explorations at the time and now know the difference between “abandoned” and “located within a ghost town.”  Ghost towns in Texas can be remarkably lively towns, teeny-tiny bucolic places among larger bucolic places.  Corn Hill is such a ghost town and its cemetery, while very rural appearing with some very old graves (for Texas), is maintained and contain some recent burials.

I photographed this cemetery several years ago and didn’t intend to include it here for Halloween 2017, but decided to because of a bit of equipment failure that lost new photos.  I also want to mention that this cemetery had some souls of the living variety when I photographed it.  Some edgy teens were having a literal tea party at the edge of the cemetery where there were no graves.  Because this is sort of a visually grim cemetery, they weren’t sitting on a blanket under a big tree or near a gazebo or benches.  They were just out there in the corner of a chain link fence, quietly hanging out.  They watched me for a while then realized I had no plans to hassle them and ignored me as I went about my business.  They were still there when I left.  If I were buried in a place like Corn Hill, I think I’d welcome well-behaved teens and their tea parties.  I didn’t photograph them because they seemed like good kids, and also because if I had I might have upset them and a scene would have ensued.  I don’t want to cause a scene among the dead.

A modest marker for a modest cemetery.

 

Nice little view of the cemetery. It’s a very exposed, hard-baked cemetery. This is also what summer looks like in central Texas.

Halloween 2017: Beyond the Dark Veil from the Thanatos Archive

Book: Beyond the Dark Veil: Post Mortem & Mourning Photograph

Author: Jack Mord

Type of Book: Non-fiction, photography, death photography, mourning photography

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Photos of dead people, etc.

Availability: This was beyond a doubt the most involved copyright page I’ve ever seen in a book. Shortest publisher name behind this book was Last Gasp, this book was published in 2014, and you can get a copy here:

Comments: All the death photography books I own are in some regard beautiful. The Burns Archive books are all substantial yet minimalist in their arrangement. Beyond the Dark Veil is more ornate, a gorgeous little book, with gold-edged pages and a gold embossed cover. The pages are thick and glossy and I felt like I needed to don gloves before flipping through it. I’m lucky enough to own some amazingly beautiful books and Beyond the Dark Veil takes a certain pride of place among them.

I am harping on this book’s beauty because this book really is a visual and tactile experience. All photography books are visual, of course, but among people who accumulate books we occasionally come across a book that is just above and beyond, constructed in a way that makes you want to hold it and stroke it and just gaze at it lovingly. This book has interesting information about death photography and funerary customs, and deviates a bit by offering photos of the sick and dying, as well as customs of burial, but I’ve quoted from books about death photography and cemeteries in several entries on this site. So I don’t plan to quote too much information from this book.

Instead, I will quote from the introduction, entitled “Remembering Death.” Written by Marion Peck, herself an artist who creates gorgeous, visually compelling paintings, this introduction captures the loveliness of the book. I think the final paragraph in her introduction very well sums up the photographs in this collection that speak to me the most:

In a sense, these photographs are like ghosts. They are the shadows of people who once lived actively and breathed in a present moment, who saw the blue sky above their heads and might have felt the same passions, joys, and sorrows in their hearts that we feel in our own. If we can quiet ourselves enough to spend some time with these ghosts, contemplating, listening to them, we may learn from their great wisdom. It is the wisdom of ancestors, of those who came before. What we are, so once were they. What they are, so we shall be.

I don’t know if I can ever really explain why I have such a love of cemeteries, death photography, funerary statuary, and most of the ornate customs and accessories of Victorian death. But on some level I think I am learning from the dead. I am godless. I fully expect that when I die I will cease to exist – no heaven, no reincarnation, no posthumous salvation. But we don’t know, really, what happens when we die. Modern medicine seems to think that the brain protects us from the worst horrors of death, that the parts of the brain that experience great pain and fear shut down and we experience only the brightly-lit sensations of awe and wonder as we leave. I think I wander cemeteries because I want to know what awaits me and am studying all the options.

Part of it too is that I am one of two leaves left on a withered branch on a spread-out family tree. There won’t be mourning children and grandchildren or bereft siblings when I go. If I die before Mr OTC, I won’t have a headstone. I won’t be photographed. I will be cremated and hopefully poured into some paint or concrete and something interesting made of my ashes. All the evidence of death I sift through will not be mine so I have to observe now because I will never be among those who are buried and presumably know. And that’s good. I don’t really care if I have these customs applied to my death.

But at the end I wonder how much anyone can really control the customs that others use to navigate the death of loved ones. My mother, by her own request, has no stone and her ashes were scattered on private property that we need special permission to access. Not having that place I can go to visit, to speak to her, is a lot more troubling than I expected. These customs we have built up over centuries of civilization may be steeped in religion that means nothing to me but the customs came about as we human beings struggled to cope with death, to ease the blow, to be able to remain tethered to the dead because even the most hardened unbeliever feels forsaken when she realizes she will never again be in the presence of her mother.  In the absence of a place to visit her, I have created a sort of shrine to her.  I didn’t think about it too much as I did it because my actions were really mindless reactions, but I have some of her ashes, a couple of her prized perfume bottles, small gifts she gave me, some of her parents’ belongings, all behind a glass-fronted shelf in one of my bookcases.  It almost seems like it is an instinct to demand a permanent place to mourn the dead and if the dead prefer not to have a static mourning place dedicated to them, those who miss them will do what is needed to be able to commune with them.

We do these things because it is part of being human.  These photos show me that.

But even as I feel a bit melodramatic writing this out, the fact is that we do what we do for the dead so that we can remember them and so that we can be remembered because it is daunting to think that there will be a time when no one alive knows us. These traditions are an attempt at permanence, and given my own recent experiences, it’s an attempt I understand all the better.

Under the cut are the photographs that resonated the most with me, presented with only enough comment to give them context.

In Full Color: Finding My Place in a Black and White World by Rachel Doležal, Part Five

Book: In Full Color: Finding My Place in a Black and White World

Authors: Rachel Doležal and Storms Reback

Comments: We are nearing in on the end of my obsessive look into Rachel Doležal’s book. Just one more installment after this and it will be a short entry (comparatively, don’t laugh). I realize this may look a bit unseemly or even unhinged to any newcomers to this site but this happens to me from time to time. I get obsessed with a topic – anthropodermic bibliopegy, an obscure child murder in Germany, among others – and I gnaw at it like a dog with a bone until I reach the marrow. I’ll have a new obsession in a few months and will tl;dr the hell of it when it comes.

So two more remaining. If you haven’t read Part One, Part Two, Part Three or Part Four, and you find Rachel Doležal interesting enough to invest that kind of time reading an obsessive’s interpretation of her book, be sure to check them out.

Part Five is going to look into how it is Rachel tends to view dislike for her through the lens of racism or sexism rather than engaging in a hard, long look at herself, her behaviors and how she may be the sole person responsible for her many failures in life.  Rachel developed her love for black culture before her personality was solidly settled.  But now, as an adult who engaged in a race hoax and was publicly shamed, it seems odd that she refuses to examine herself and see if maybe, just maybe, the dislike people had for her when she was still trying to pass as black stemmed from a reaction to Rachel rather than a reaction to her race-appearance or sex.  This section will also look at how it is even as Rachel adores all that is black and acknowledges her status as a “transBlack,” she also seems to not really know who or what she is.  As you read how she discusses these issues, in places it’s hard to pin down what she really thinks about her genuine race while readers are able to see clearly how she is still informed greatly by her whiteness.

In Full Color: Finding My Place in a Black and White World by Rachel Doležal, Part Two

Book: In Full Color: Finding My Place in a Black and White World

Authors: Rachel Doležal and Storms Reback

Comments:  Now begins part two of my look at Rachel Doležal’s memoir.  You can read Part One here.  There will be at least two more installments.

As I read Rachel’s memoir, I highlighted a lot of statements that at the time seemed to convey an idea of sincerity or at the very least attempted to explain earnestly why Rachel Doležal genuinely believes she is transBlack, a black woman born into a white body.  Rereading those highlights was a wholly different experience than reading them the first time.  Isolating some of her statements, reading them alone and with direct focus, transformed the experience of reading this book for me.

Rachel Doležal, when you look closely at her words, is telling you who she is and what she believes, and what she is telling you is at odds with the message she really wants to convey.  Rachel wants to paint a picture of herself as a victim, a hero for black people and the civil rights struggle, an honest, hardworking mother who feels such kinship with black people that she worked herself to the bone to promote black issues, a white woman by birth who genuinely believes she is black. Yet as I read many of the passages I highlighted, I began to feel that sort of stomach tingle that told me I was being lied to.  Several times I felt outright second-hand embarrassment at some of the things Rachel said.  As I culled and reread the highlighted passages, once I sifted out the information about her childhood and her family, the information began to fall into various categories, many of which overlap, but hopefully my logic will make sense as you read.  Since I’m no longer following a timeline as events unfolded, instead dividing Rachel’s interesting and very bizarre life into categories that describe her behavior, I will try to be clear as to timing and will be sure that I set up explanations for the context of quotes when needed.  If anyone ever needs clarification, let me know.

It was hard to know where to begin given the variety of categories I ended up with (“Rachel Sees Blacks As an Exotic Other,” “Rachel Is a Self-Impressed Asshole,” “Rachel Doležal Will Never Get It,” among several others).  I decided to just dive into the murky water with the longest category and get it out of the way because for the most part I see Rachel Doležal as a sad clown, a ridiculous human being who has ruined her life and the life of her family due to her delusions and pathological need to be at the center of attention. But there is a very dark side to what she did.  Today’s discussion is focusing on the more malignant, criminal side of what Rachel has done.

In Full Color: Finding My Place in a Black and White World by Rachel Doležal, Part One

Book: In Full Color: Finding My Place in a Black and White World

Authors: Rachel Doležal and Storms Reback

Type of Book: Memoir, political biography, fraud, race issues

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: I mark up books as I read them so I can discuss them and seldom does my opinion of a book or its subject change when I review those notes. My first read-through of this book I had a certain amount of sympathy for Doležal but when I went back over my notes I felt my sympathy fading. It’s almost like I experienced the ruse via her book – I saw what she wanted me to see initially but when I looked at specific statements by themselves a completely different picture emerged.

Less analytically, this book is odd because it’s written by a woman who claims she is “transBlack” and became a national disgrace for her efforts.

Availability:

Comments: When I learned Rachel Doležal had written a book I knew I was going to have to read it and discuss it in depth.  Because she’s rather topical at the moment, I worry discussing her will attract readers who are unaccustomed to the nature of this site.  I’m a person who writes, using far too many words, about things I find interesting and those things are often odd.  This site is mostly devoid of any political agenda, though I’m sort of a liberal, and I am looking at Rachel in terms of what she wrote in this book.  All political and social reactions I have to Rachel in this article are fueled by the text of her book, though I will use outside sources to bolster some of my own assertions.

Rachel Doležal has been all over the news again recently and I’ve done my best to avoid reading too much about her – even when an author or person I discuss here is currently in the headlines, I still prefer to analyze their work without a lot of outside influence. I’ve stayed away from her television appearances and have especially stayed away from The Stranger article about her (the buzz around it is killing me but I will remain strong until I’ve got this series finished).  I’m at my best when I’m not influenced by other people’s opinions. This is going to be another one of those articles I’m known for – going deep into a text while everyone stands back and tells me, “I don’t even know why you’re giving her this much attention, that’s what she wants!” Yeah I know but this is what I do – I pay lots of attention to things other people may think unworthy of such focus. .  Only my discussion on Anders Behring Breivik, the Utoya shooter, is longer than what I have written about Rachel Doležal.  I have no idea what that may mean other than that I find her very interesting.

So I read the book closely and I tried to research as much as I could about some of her more controversial claims.  At times verification was impossible and given that this is a book written by a serial liar and fantasist it’s hard to put much faith in anything Rachel says about her life.  I had to make what may seem like arbitrary decisions about what I choose to believe is true and what is more self-serving deceit.

It’s hard to make such decisions at times because I don’t think Rachel Doležal is wicked or evil in a calculated way. She’s just a self-centered, delusional, holier-than-thou, condescending woman who took her shtick way too far and refuses to back down, rethink, regroup, and move on.

There are several reasons why I initially had such intense sympathy for Rachel and part of that sympathy was fueled by distaste for many people who have gone after Rachel on social media. I was particularly interested in the transexual communities’ responses to Rachel and was shocked by the amount of paranoia some transfolk felt toward Rachel as well as some of their violent rhetoric. I was also ultimately concerned about the outright hypocrisy I found – it took less than ten minutes on Google to find out without any shadow of a doubt that one of the shrillest voices yelling online about Rachel belonged to a white man who was himself assuming a false identity. So ridiculous and egregious is his ruse that I wanted to out him but decided against it because I find doxing distasteful and because, like Rachel, he is so unpleasant as a whole that he is self-quarantining. If he ever shows up in public trying to affect social justice while wearing his disguise I may reconsider but for now I’m not interested in poking him with an e-stick.

Rachel is no different than any other liar or fantasist. People who wear a mask and engage in personality fraud on this scale have two interesting issues at play, and initially they may seem contradictory: self-loathing and a sense of superiority. Such people feel they are the smartest and most competent person in the room yet lack the ability to persuade others of their superior skills and knowledge. They can’t endure the ego blow that comes from criticism and do anything they can to avoid it.  If persuading others they are correct and avoiding criticism can be mitigated by lying about their pasts or creating a persona that to some degree shelters them from criticism, that’s what they do. But as they talk about themselves they always reveal their true selves. This book is chock full of the real Rachel Doležal and, like other serial fantasists discussed on this site, she has no idea what she’s revealed about herself, so focused was she on perpetuating the notion of herself as a blameless victim.

This book was such a bad idea. Even with a co-author, Rachel Doležal shares so much negative information about herself, information she doesn’t seem to understand is negative. I’ll show you exactly what I mean, using plenty of quotes from the book, occasionally linking to information online that helps gives perspective to the stories Rachel told about herself and others.

But before we begin, a quiz. Which of these two white girls born in the seventies is Rachel Doležal?
A: The girl on the left
B: The girl on the right
C: Trick question, one of these girls is clearly a black child!
D: All of this makes me very uncomfortable.

The correct answer is B, but “Shut up, Becky!” would also be an acceptable answer.

TL;DR

That is the online acronym that suits this site best: TL;DR – too long; didn’t read.

With this in mind, that is the title of the upcoming compendium of the best of Odd Things Considered that Nine Banded Books is publishing.  Chip Smith is pulling the best entries from the sites that became OTC and will be releasing what I suspect will be a massive doorstop of a book sometime in June.

It’s early days but I’ll share more as everything comes together.  I hope to have some new content in the book so that loyal readers here will have something new to read if they decide to shell out their hard-earned dollars and buy my book.

If this book didn’t have my name on it, I would buy it for the cover.  The cover would be my price of admission.  Seriously.  This is the best cover in the history of books, don’t deny it.  The cats, books and I come courtesy of Josh Latta, and Kevin Slaughter designed the layout.  It’s humbling to know that people I respect so much and whose work has delighted me worked/are working on this book.

Imagine five more cats in this drawing and this is pretty much a photo-realistic portrayal of life at Chez Oddthings.

So, just sharing some good news.  More book discussions around the bend, plus a couple of film/book combos I want to tackle, involving Bob Flanagan and Ron Athey.  Good times!

The Strange Case of Tristan Bruebach and Manfred Seel

I first learned about Tristan Bruebach on Reddit’s Unresolved Mysteries about two years ago.  The case of the thirteen year old boy brutally murdered in a water tunnel that ran under a roadway was so outrageous and upsetting that it surprised me that it had not filtered out to English-speaking true crime buffs.  Tristan’s murder had elements that initially reminded me of The Family murders in Australia, but I’d never seen all the elements of Tristan Bruebach’s murder anywhere else.  It was a crime that to me was very much sui generis, and later analysis from German investigators echoed my opinion.  Nowhere on Earth have we seen another murder like Tristan’s.

I don’t have a lot of time for Reddit these days but I go back from time to time and I somehow managed to visit Unresolved Mysteries on the same day last year when someone posted that the police had a suspect in the murder of Tristan Bruebach.  Eager to learn the motives behind the murder, I read up on the suspect – Manfred Seel – and was initially very skeptical.  The investigation into Manfred Seel itself seemed odd to me.  Seel is accused of murdering two female coworkers in the 1970s, two female prostitutes in the 1990s, another female prostitute in the 2000s, and school boy Tristan in 1998.  It was hard to see how this one man could be linked to murders of two women he worked with, then have 20 years of inactivity followed by two murders of prostitutes, with a gap of several years until he killed Tristan.  The time frame is problematic, and the killings involved vastly different victim pools.

As mentioned already, Tristan’s murder was very unusual.  More on that later but it can be said that it’s not unexpected that a killer who preys on female coworkers is a different killer than a man who selects prostitutes as victims, and both killers would be different than a person who kills pre-pubescent boys.  As I began reading about Manfred Seel I found myself surprised because the more I read, the more I could understand how it is that the German police reached the conclusions they did.  I am unsure if I wholly buy that Seel murdered Tristan, but the authorities make a compelling case and I hope eventually more information comes to light.

Originally I thought I was going to be writing about how stupid I found the accusations pinning Seel as Tristan’s killer but after spending a couple of months scouring the Internet, whether or not I think Seel is responsible for Tristan’s murder is irrelevant.  Even if Seel is not Tristan’s killer, the fact is that now both names are linked together – it’s hard to discuss Tristan without discussing Seel.  It’s even harder for me to discuss Seel without discussing Tristan.  Tristan’s case is bizarre and what happened to him, and later his family, is tragic.  His case was marred with misinformation about his life, salacious rumors that were, irritatingly, repeated by the German press without a lick of proof, and even brought up in the Reddit thread about Tristan.  Seel’s story is similarly strange, with unexpected behaviors, foul deeds and even fouler implications.

Obtaining all this information was difficult because so much of it is in the German language.  In the end, I was pretty impressed at how much Google Translate has improved over the years, but it’s daunting for English-speakers who are just casually interested in the case to tackle all those news articles and to sort the good from the bad, to find articles that have fresh news and aren’t just a retelling of older information, updated with a bit of new information tacked on at the end.  Since I spent so long sorting and reading, I decided to write about Tristan Bruebach and Manfred Seel, source cite as much as I could, and share the links I found to news stories that were helpful and brought understanding to both stories.  Maybe this can serve as a small clearinghouse of information about the case for English-speaking readers.  In this article I’ve included citation numbers correlating to the source that I got specific information from, and when you scroll down to these sources, I’ve included the English Google Translation for each article originally in German.

Under the cut I will discuss Tristan, Seel, Seel’s other victims and interesting information German profilers and investigators used to track down victims who were killed over 40 years ago.  Please know that much of the information under the cut is disturbing.  Extreme sexual deviancy, child murder, dismemberment, rape, potential cannibalism and possible necrophilia show up in telling Tristan’s and Seel’s stories.  If any of this bothers you, don’t read any further.