After the People Lights Have Gone Off by Stephen Graham Jones

Book: After the People Lights Have Gone Off

Author: Stephen Graham Jones

Type of Book: Fiction, horror, weird fiction, short story collection

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Ultimately this may not be an odd collection but this book creates the feeling that the reader is consuming something wholly new. Too often originality in content and voice in the horror genre are somewhat odd, sad to say.

Availability: Published by The Dark House Press in 2014, you can get a copy here:

Comments: I already know, writing the first sentence of my discussion for After the People Lights Have Gone Off, that I will be using the delete key quite a bit. I find it difficult to put into words why some stories in this collection were the literary equivalent of throwing a lead weight over the side of a ship and why some stories soared, excellent examples of literary horror at its best. Some of Jones’s stories were so perfect that I felt that familiar pull of envy that comes when I read something so wonderful that I wish I had thought of it first. But some of Jones’s stories were impenetrable for me, leaving me wondering if he missed the mark or if I was just too dense to understand what he was trying to convey. Ultimately I decided I just wasn’t the sort of reader to appreciate those stories, that taste was at issue and not talent.

The hell of it is, this has been a pretty dense year for me. Sort of muddy and brackish. I don’t feel as on the ball at the moment as I have in years past. But what made me decide that my divided reactions are righteous was analyzing why I am so divided about the stories in this collection. The answer is that while Jones has a distinct voice, he is also a malleable writer who is moving around within his chosen genre. The stories that have a familiar ring to them are written in a style that makes them seem fresh, but Jones also ventures out into new territory, with strange ideas and storytelling techniques that can be maddening when one is the sort of reader who needs the conclusions to be neater. Jones may luck out and find readers who love every bit of his work, as he twists the horror genre into new shapes, but chances are he’s going to end up with a substantial number of readers who love it when he’s wearing a particular storytelling hat but less so when he puts on another.

One hat that Jones kept on throughout this collection is the “weird” hat. Much of this collection could be considered weird fiction, which may be one of the reasons why some of the stories didn’t work for me. I like weird fiction, as a rule, but this horror subset lends itself well to muffled storytelling, mushy conclusions, entire story lines that can be up for interpretation. I’ve been clear in the past how I feel about such writing. That sort of remote remove in writing irritates me because it is too often a cop-out, a lazy attempt to force the burden of storytelling onto the reader. Jones, when his writing is up for interpretation doesn’t echo the laziness of others who write this way, and this entire collection is refreshingly devoid of irony, but even purposeful, earnest writing that employs this sort of post-modernist equivocation will likely always ring false to me.

Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix

Book: Horrorstör

Author: Grady Hendrix

Type of Book: Fiction, horror

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: It’s not too odd, per se, but it’s horror and it’s the week before Halloween so…

Availability: Published by Quirk Books in 2014, you can get a copy here:

Comments: I can be pretty rough on horror novels. I’m persnickety. I own that. But I also have come to understand that it is bad faith for me to use the same metrics of quality to discuss every genre of book I read. It’s not that I’ve come to expect so little from horror novels that I embrace anything that isn’t overt crap. Rather, I’ve come to understand that you cannot evaluate a cat using the same criteria one uses to evaluate a dog. They’re both pets but they’re still wholly different creatures and a cat would fare poorly if one expected it to herd sheep, guard the house or stay off the top of the refrigerator. I don’t regret the bad reviews – some savage – I’ve given to the horror genre thus far because even evaluating them as cats found them lacking. But I did realize that most horror often has a different goal from that of mainstream literature and I need to keep that goal in mind as I discuss horror novels.

That whole paragraph is a long-winded way of saying that I enjoyed Horrorstör as a fun, at times silly, horror novel. This isn’t Joyce Carol Oates drifting in and out of genre as she engages in her unique brand of literary hypergraphia. It’s not Ray Bradbury. It’s a pleasant diversion with a clever concept and within those parameters this is a good book. Not a great book because pleasant diversions can still demand top-notch characters and fresh plots, but a good book because it’s entertaining – it’s a very quick read – and because sometimes having a clever-enough hook can make a book of this sort worthwhile.

Horrorstör is that book you’ve seen on bookstore shelves, the one that looks like a knock-off of an IKEA catalogue. It’s set in an IKEA-like furniture and house accessories store, called Orsk, and this location of Orsk seems to be stalked by some unspeakable evil that a handful of employees must battle in order to survive a night spent on the sales floor.

Quick synopsis: Amy, the heroine of this book, hates her life and her job at Orsk, but she is behind on rent and takes an overnight shift in order to try to make up the rent shortfall. She, another female employee called Ruth Anne and their boss, Basil, discover two other employees have remained inside the store without permission in an attempt to have a seance and contact the evil in the store, hoping to record the results and possibly land a reality show gig. They soon discover that the store harbors forces far worse than they initially imagined and that the store was built on the location of a former mental hospital run by a madman who has not let death prevent him from engaging in horrific and cruel experiments. Not going to spoil how it ends but it concludes in a manner that could result in a follow-up novel, sort of open-ended but the conflict involving Amy and Basil resolves well-enough to stave off annoyance that elements of the novel were not completely concluded.

The novel itself is visually appealing (with enormous font size, which is one of the reasons most readers will power through the book in a couple of hours) and at the beginning of each chapter there’s an ad for an Orsk product, like chairs, sofas, small clothing wardrobes and the like. The items become more sinister as the book goes on. A later promotion is the “INGALUTT,” which has the following product description:

Submit to the panic, fear, and helplessness of drowning, with the hope of death a distant dream. This elegantly designed INGALUTT hydrotherapy bath allows the user to suffer this stress again and again until the cure is complete. Available in night birch, natural maple, and gray oak.

If you are someone who enjoys this sort of thing, this will be the price of admission for this book. I for one like these sorts of silly ads and they remind me a bit of the clever ads one finds at the backs of Jasper Fforde “Thursday Next” novels. But if this is not something that rings your bell, the rest of the book may fall a bit flat because the visual appeal and scene structure based on the IKEA parody are the backbone for this novel that, while amusing, is rather familiar in concept and execution. 

Penpal by Dathan Auerbach

Book:  Penpal

Author:  Dathan Auerbach

Type of Book:  Fiction, short story collection, horror

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd:  Because it is both excellent and terrible.

Availability:  Published by 1000Vultures, you can get a copy here:

Comments: If you are a Redditor and subscribe to “nosleep” then chances are you are already aware of Penpal and Dathan Auerbach.  Dathan posted a series of stories to “nosleep” that became so popular that he expanded them, eventually self-publishing the stories as Penpal, using his Reddit name, 1000Vultures, as the name of his publishing company.  The book has had moderate success and has even been optioned for a film.

Nosleep and the phenomenon of “creepypasta” have expanded into YouTube serials wherein voice actors read the stories, but it has to be said that most of the stories that get posted and then turned into audio-videos are mediocre.  Some are so bad they are of the “then who was phone” variety.  But sometimes some excellent gems are posted to the subreddit.  For example during the summer of 2014, Reddit user natesw posted an account of how his dead girlfriend was talking to him via Facebook chat.  It was a creepy and well-executed story, and it went viral.  Unfortunately going viral was probably the story’s undoing because it caused an influx of people into nosleep who had no idea how the community worked and didn’t read the sidebar rules.  You see, nosleep operates as if all the stories posted there are true.  Even if they aren’t true, they are true.  The readers interact with the author of the story as if the author is the protagonist or in some manner part of the story, and the author responds in character when replying in comments.  Natesw’s story got so barraged by people unclear on the concept of nosleep that he more or less abandoned it.  Newcomers were analyzing exif data trying to disprove his story, doing their best to track him down on other social media sites and doxx him to prove it was a hoax and it all got quite ruined for those who understood what was going on.  Luckily, Dathan’s stories didn’t fall victim to people unclear on the concept until the stories had enough traction that such nonsense didn’t affect them, but if you Google any element of this book, one of the autofill menu items will always be “is penpal based on a true story” or some variant.

But such is the risk of engaging in writing and theater online – if you do it well it will be indistinguishable from real life to those who never read the community guidelines.

Penpal is the story of a young man’s very disturbing childhood, and his attempts to make sense of what happened to him and his friends.  The first two chapters are golden, truly creepy and leaving the reader with the task of deciding the reality of the situations the author presents, especially in the first chapter, “Footsteps.”  The first two chapters are not in chronological order – “Footsteps” takes place when the narrator is six, “Balloons” takes place when he is five – so I am going to discuss “Balloons” first because it will make this discussion easier to follow. 

Middle of the Road – Hollow City, I Am Not a Serial Killer and Lexicon

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

I have a tendency to go on at length about the books I discuss here on IROB and that tendency generally means I don’t discuss anything that doesn’t inspire verbosity. Sometimes that bugs me and I’ve decided to start posting what are for me brief reviews of books that were somewhat odd or strange but, for whatever reason, didn’t spark in-depth discussion but were still on some level worth discussing. I’ll try this on and see how it feels.

So here are some books that I want to discuss without blowing a 2K word count per review.

Tales of the Macabre and Ordinary by Chris Mikul

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: Tales of the Macabre and Ordinary

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

Type of Book: Fiction, short story collection, horror

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grudgepunk by John McNee

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book:  Grudgepunk

Author:  John McNee

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

As I Was Cutting by L.V. Rautenbaumgrabner

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

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.

Necro Files, edited by Cheryl Mullenax

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

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.

Carnal Surgery and Brain Cheese Buffet by Edward Lee

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

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?

This Is Not an Odd Book Discussion: The Bunny Game

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

I’ve wanted to talk about the movie, The Bunny Game, for a while now but I needed time to come to an understanding with myself as to why I find this film worthy of discussion. It’s a hard movie to watch, an even harder movie to digest and, if one gets derailed by accusations of this film being no more than stylish torture porn, it’s dirty and unsettling. And note that this discussion is full of spoilers, though it’s hard to spoil a film that can be summed up as “trucker tortures prostitute in the desert for several days.”

The Bunny Game struck me as a transgressive piece of cinema that showed a frightening and non-consensual ordeal path/purification ritual more troubling than anything Eli Roth ever brought to the table.  You may think this is going to be a typical torture porn horror movie because some of the marketing leans in this direction.  However this is not torture for the sake of torture, it’s torture with a demented purpose behind it that transcends just the thrill that comes for many when they see a beautiful woman abducted, raped and harmed. I felt this way before I looked up Rodleen Getsic, the protagonist of the film, and found out that she co-wrote this film and based it on an actual abduction she endured. I also read that making this film killed part of her soul, which makes it hard to know if she accomplished what she set out to do when she decided to make this film. She fasted for 40 days beforehand to make herself weak, and she consented to everything that happened to her in this film, from a graphic blowjob (actually more of a face-fuck) to the physical abuse that she endured during the abduction.

The hardest part of this movie for me to stomach was that it was largely script-less, because the implication is that Getsic often had no idea what was going to happen to her next. It was, in a sense, one long, horrible ad lib, which makes it more interesting and infinitely more sickening. The man who plays the trucker is not a professional actor (I believe I read that the director cast him because the actor tried to fight him after claiming he looked at him too long in a parking lot). But the lack of a script meant that Rodleen, a victim of a previous abduction and assault, was potentially being re-victimized even as she consented to all of it beforehand. It also makes one wonder how much anyone can be said to consent to something when they don’t know the details of what is going to happen.

The film, shot in black and white, is visually quite pretty, or maybe arresting, but the cinema quality also made it all the worse, turning all that abuse into visually appealing art. Everything that worked about this film made it all the worse because I did not want to be entertained as I watched this movie.

The film begins with a graphic, unsimulated blow job that is anti-pornographic. Rodleen, the protagonist, is not enjoying herself. She is not moaning with feigned pleasure. Forced to deep throat her john, she pulls back three times to catch her breath, gasping for air and the third time she does this, a wave of misery washes over her face. One gets the feeling she was not acting.  Her reaction shows how nasty her character’s life is and there is no way to see this with a sex positive filter.  She is not empowering herself via sex work.

From that opening scene we are taken through a few days in the prostitute’s life. Bunny lives a life of degrading sexual acts in exchange for enough money to keep her in a nondescript motel room in a nondescript Every City. She spends her time hustling johns, having horrible sex, doing drugs and recovering from it all. Before we are ten minutes in we see her raped when she passes out during a trick and wakes up to find she has been robbed of all her money and her drugs. There is a scene where Bunny sniffs a line of some drug and talks to herself in the mirror, muttering “Yeah, yeah, yeah…” as she psychs herself up to go back out and do more of the same. That, in its way, was the worst scene in the film.

Bunny, wearing platform shoes that had to be a foot tall, wanders a city scape that harbors nothing good or natural. She eats fast food sprawled in front of a wall covered in graffiti, she urinates in an alley in front of a metal fence, right on the concrete. As she wanders the streets, her bleached, straw-like hair in pig-tails, the film flashes to other images, several of her in a natural place, mountains behind her, her brown hair falling in curls, her face, young again as she laughs. Blink and you’ll miss it, but those brief scenes where we see the prostitute in better times, in fresh air in the natural world, are a clue as to what this film’s intent is.

The prostitute, Bunny, finally meets her destiny in the form of a truck driver, called Hog (each are named for the masks they wear during one of the torture scenes). He renders her unconscious, drives her to the desert and spends several days torturing her. She’s unconscious for a while, allowing him time to pull her into his empty trailer, rape her, investigate her body thoroughly, at times snuffling her hair and body like a dog. He then chains her inside the trailer and focuses a camera on her. He forces her to watch her torment, making her relive it as she is actually living it, a particularly cruel bit of meta when one remembers this movie is drawn from Rodleen Getsic’s own experiences.

Hog keeps her in chains, puts a collar around her neck and takes her on walks in the junkyard-like landscape of the desert, at one point forcing her to walk while wearing those insane platforms. He force-feeds her whiskey when she desperately needs water. He completely depersonalizes her by shaving her head, but later brands her as well, taking away one form of identity while giving her another form, one that is more permanent. The brands Hog puts on Bunny’s back resemble infinity signs with tails, but they also look like a bow tied from thin ribbon. Both are apt symbols for this film’s purpose. The torture seems like it lasts forever (this movie is a merciful 76 minutes long – any longer and I think it would have been unwatchable), and the torture is interchangeable with other women we see Hog torture in his own flashbacks. It is interminable and unceasing. But this film also shows that Bunny is being a given a perverse gift.

Bald and slowly divested of her clothing, the end of the movie shows a woman who looks like a slightly better nourished concentration camp victim. She is crouched in the back of the trailer when the door opens and light shines in on her. Naked and near insanity, Bunny runs for it. She runs toward the light. She is a gibbering mess, but the ecstasy is unmistakeable on her face. She desperately wants to live.

The film cuts away and we next see her on a cross. She did not make it to freedom. Hog has caught up to her. She is not restrained. She is not nailed to the cross. She is simply lying atop it with her arms spread, in a Christ-like position. Hog sits near her, not touching her. She hallucinates and sees herself with her healthy face, her brown curly hair, sitting nearby. Her old self burns a book. Her old self puts on a veil. Her old self is watching her self-sacrifice. She is her own Mary Magdalene in this painful vision.

Hog tells her to draw a straw from his fist – if she gets the long straw, she wins. A jittery wraith, she selects a straw. Hog mumbles something in her ear and the ecstasy again shows on her face. She laughs with hysterical delight as he carries her over his shoulder. A man in a white uniform in a white van arrives and Hog carries her to him. They put her in the back of the van and the film ends.

Does Bunny live? Who is the man in the van? I think she lives and but even if she doesn’t, in terms of the purpose of this film, it is unimportant. Taken away from the city into the desert, broken down and depersonalized, she wants to live. She has gone through an extraordinary ordeal, very nearly a vision quest and wants to live. I also thought about this in terms of an extreme purification ritual, with the head-shaving, the starvation, the food and water deprivation.

And if this is a purification ritual, then Bunny lived because there was no sense purifying her if there was only death waiting for her. Purification rituals are to cleanse a person of that which is unclean before a specific life event. I left this film thinking the specific event was life itself. Bunny was cleansed of the drugs in her system, the endless flow of semen into her body, the dirt of the city, the implications of her fried hair and her provocative clothing. Naked, starved and bald she is now ready for life after her ordeal. But even if that white van is representative of death, for the first time Bunny wanted to live. Wanting life is a redemption from the walking death she was experiencing before she was kidnapped. She may never return to being that full-faced, curly-haired, laughing brunette, but just wanting to be her again means she is saved.

I know it’s tempting for many to dismiss this as torture porn wherein the sole purpose is to revel in Bunny’s debasement. But those seeking a disgusting gore-fest will be disappointed. There is no blood. There are no saws or pliers. The blow torch is for use with the brand. No one loses a limb, no toes are cut off, no one is hung upside down with a cut throat and bleeding into a bath. This is not a cartoon of extreme violence like so many other movies that depict torture. This is psychological torture and while equally as horrible as physical torture, it has a different purpose than to titillate, which is why I think so many people were put off by this film. It wasn’t what they expected, and in many ways it was far, far worse.

I do my best to interpret the media I consume in a vacuum. I don’t like to read reviews about books or films until I see them and before I write about them, I prefer not to know too much detail about what others think. But after watching this film I wanted to know more about Rodleen Getsic. Her site is a lot to take in at once and I recommend spending ten minute increments there in the beginning. Evidently after filming The Bunny Game, Getsic slipped on a doormat at a grocery story and landed on her head, causing a catastrophic brain injury, and her site shows her struggle as she recovers and copes. She hasn’t updated her “phonetography” section in a while. I hope she’s okay. And I hope the part of her soul that died when she made The Bunny Game was a part she needed to shed. It’s an uncomfortable feeling realizing that the woman who made this film, a film based on her own experiences, has gone on to experience another ordeal.

This was a hard movie but if you ever watch it, I’d love to hear your take on it. I suspect there are a lot of different opinions, and given the nature of this film, aside from the ones that dismiss this as pointless torture porn, they may all be correct.