Pinkies by Shane Hinton

Book:  Pinkies

Author:  Shane Hinton

Type of Book:  Fiction, short stories, flash fiction

Why Do I Consider This Book Is Odd:  Because it’s not immediately clear which Shane Hinton wrote this book.

Availability:  Published by Burrow Press in 2015, you can get a copy here:

Comments:  Shane Hinton has a bit of Jon Konrath in him, or maybe Jon has a bit of Shane in him.  Or maybe they both have a bit of someone I have yet to read in them both. But this collection shows that Hinton has an eye and ear for the absurd in daily life, though he ventures into the speculative more than Konrath does.  And I only mention Konrath because I found myself chugging NyQuil Cough formula like it was soda the other day and ended up having a bad dream about that infant-mouse-covered snake on the front of this book.  In my dream the snake had charmed the mice like a sort of reptilian Charles Manson and they were ready to do his bidding, except I also think the snake was female. A lot of it I’ve forgotten, which is probably a good thing. But I did have the nightmare. That much I do know.

Before I begin to discuss this book in earnest, I want to mention that there is some interesting meta going on in this collection, and meta I have seen in other books recently.  I don’t think it’s happening enough to call it a trend, but this summer I managed to read three books wherein the characters were named for the authors.  Hank Kirton named a couple of characters in his short story collection Bleak Holiday after himself.  Brian Whitney’s Raping the Gods sports a protagonist named Brian Whitney, which may be because the book is autobiographical (and I am afraid to find out if it is indeed autobiographical).  And every male protagonist in Pinkies is Shane Hinton.  One story boasts dozens of Shane Hintons.

I can feel the desire to go on at extraordinary lengths rising up because I genuinely enjoyed this collection, so I’m going to limit myself to the stories I liked best.  Every story works on some level – there wasn’t a clunker to be found – but I decided to limit myself to four of the sixteen stories in this slim volume.  Let us all cross our fingers that such a measure keeps my verbosity more or less in check, but I think it’s safe to say this is going to be very long, because this is a good collection and because this is the first book review on Odd Things Considered and I feel self-indulgent with celebratory bookishness.

Gun Fag Manifesto, edited by Hollister Kopp

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book:  Gun Fag Manifesto

Author:  Edited by Hollister Kopp, foreword by Jim Goad

Type of Book:  Non-fiction, ‘zines

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Because it made me remember with fondness the old Loompanics Catalogue.

Availability:  Published by Nine Banded Books in 2013, you can get a copy here:

Comments: So, I read this a long time ago and somehow forgot to discuss it, which is a shame because I found it to be a funny and at times uncomfortable blast from the past.  I never read this ‘zine in its original format so this was entirely new to me even as it reminded me of the more humorous excesses of the old Loompanics catalogue and a bit of Paladin Press’ more gunnish releases.  God, I really miss the old days sometimes, wherein if you wanted to obtain and read really fucked up books you had to peruse a paper list of books that got mailed to your house and really alarmed postal officials.  I mean, I don’t miss it over much because it’s nice to hear about a book and be able to buy it immediately but sometimes I realize half the people reading here have only ever ordered outre books online and don’t remember the heady thrill of renting a post office box at a mail drop and ordering books that Focus on the Family insisted were occult and Satanic and also evil.  (Remind me to tell you all my “James Dobson mistook me for someone else and touched my arm twitch” story some day.)

Back to the book.  1994.  What a time for all of us who were alive! I graduated from college and started dating Mr Oddbooks.  OJ Simpson captivated us all as he engaged in a low speed chase in that white Ford Bronco.  Nancy Kerrigan got hit in the knee.  And Hollister Kopp edited this ‘zine.  This is a messed up ‘zine – completely politically incorrect, verging into outright sociopathy, and, in its own bizarre way, it is glorious.

Don’t get me wrong.  You all know that I am so liberal I should probably go straight to jail for stealing all your tax money to give to lesbian welfare crack babies.  I don’t get into racist propaganda and racial epithets make me nervous because I’m not wholly sure what my own ethnic background contains and what I do know is Irish and that’s almost never a good sign amongst Americans.  But I am also a pro-2A liberal.  We are rare, like white tigers, but unlike unicorns we really do exist.  I’m not a gun fag, like the editor of the ‘zine. And I really don’t miss the days when Mr Oddbooks would drag me to gun shows and I would end up listening to John Birchers explain to me why it is that blacks and women should never have been permitted to vote and that things went straight to hell after we started putting fluoride in the water, but there is something refreshing reading something so utterly unimpressed by basically everything that makes me who I am.

As we all know, Internet killed the Xerox-zine star.  I know the world seems really nuts because we have access to so much insanity online, but back in the old days you had to seek it out and when you found it you were less inclined to complain about it.  Were these zines online, the comments would have to be disabled.  I think part of the refreshing element of reading this zine compilation was the realization that I would not be expected, culturally, to engage in an argument when I was finished.  That having been said, this is an extremely hyperbolic collection.  A lot of really offensive content got crammed into three editions, and if you can’t embrace the weird when it is offensive, you will want to give this book and the rest of my discussion a miss. 

Sleep Has No Master by Jon Konrath

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: Sleep Has No Master

Author:  Jon Konrath

Type of Book:  Fiction, themed short story collection, lunacy

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd:  I don’t even know how to tell you all the ways this book is odd.  I am mostly reminded of this Hunter S. Thompson quote:

Weird heroes and mold-breaking champions exist as living proof to those who need it that the tyranny of ‘the rat race’ is not yet final.

Availability:  Published by Paragraph Line Books in 2012, you can get a copy here:

Comments:  This book gave me the fear.  Like I was going to go full Gonzo-paranoid and end up locking myself in the backyard shed with a gallon of whiskey and a loaded gun.  As I read parts of the book, I thought, “I wrote this.  I wrote this book and I forgot and Konrath sent it to me in some passive aggressive ruse in order to show me he has access to my thoughts and computer and probably even my medicine cabinet.”  I read the title chapter out loud to Mr. Oddbooks, who peered at me nervously from his side of the bed, no doubt wondering if I had had (another) psychotic break (there was a… problem when I read a particular Zippy the Pinhead cartoon that referenced the Oscar Meyer Wiener-mobile, but that was years ago).

A quick summary of the book is likely in order:  this is a short story collection that tells the tales of a dude who does stuff, sometimes alone, sometimes with his loser friends.   Through these dudes, Konrath hits on too many details of my life for this book to be legal.  Some of the topics that include details far too specific for my comfort: insomnia, unlikely car customizations, Varg Vikernes, specific conspiracy theories, a complete inability to use eye drops as a child, over-the-counter sleep aids, corpulent Asians friends, microsleep, the bizarre belief that one’s eyelashes are inverting back into one’s eyelid (mine grow sideways, toward my nose, and it’s a problem), spending most of one’s work days searching eBay listings, self-torture via medical sites, Crispin Glover, gg allin, disgust for how badly movies tended to represent computer capabilities in the 80s, the Voynich Manuscript, fear of what diet sodas may be doing to my brain, and so much more.  This book is, when I can tamp down the paranoia, deeply funny, verging on hilarious at times, but the paranoia lurks because who really could have so many weird idiosyncrasies in common unless something nefarious is happening?

The story “Sleep Has No Master” contains a paragraph that pretty much confirmed for me that Konrath needs to go to jail, the fucker, because I know I wrote this at some point:

I started researching sleep disorders online, the usual death spiral of fanatical WebMD queries, and stumbled upon something called fatal familial insomnia.  It’s an incredibly rare four-stage inherited prion disease that starts with progressively-worsening insomnia and panic attacks.  Then you dive into a wonderful world of Nixon-esque paranoia and vivid hallucinations.  By the third stage, you cannot sleep at all, and your body starts breaking down with rapid weight loss.  It all leads up to a crippling dementia, before you finally buy the farm.  Barbiturates and induced comas, which you’d think would knock you out, actually speed up the disease.  In one famous case, the doctors completely nuked the patient with heavy sedatives, but his brain would not shut down.  This is the exact kind of thing you don’t want to read at 3 AM when you’ve been awake for 40 hours straight and you’re trying  to find some homeopathic bullshit to turn off your brain for the evening.

Seriously, I am rethinking the microwave brain readers that Gloria Naylor insisted were used to read her thoughts.  You know how when your cats freak out and run frantically into the other room, only to stop immediately and then stare, wild-eyed at the wall?  I think that’s when Konrath is warming up the brain-microwave.  

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.

Automatic Safe Dog by Jet McDonald

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: Automatic Safe Dog

Author: Jet McDonald

Type of Book: Fiction, humor, just plain disturbing

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: This is an utterly fucked-up book that combines several genres into an unsettling, sometimes hilarious, sometimes trenchant book.

Availability: Published by Eibonvale Press in 2011, you can get a copy on Amazon or you can get a copy cheaper directly from the publisher.

Comments: When I began this novel, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to finish it because it features a business plan wherein dogs are turned into miserable, rigid, stationary pieces of living furniture. I cannot stomach cruelty to animals and, in a way, the cruelty to these dogs was all the more horrible because it was so bloodless, matter-of-fact and accepted by others in the context of the book. I suspect the reason I was able to finish the book in spite of the content is because McDonald managed to subvert the use of abused animals in a horror-like narrative. They aren’t victims of one specific madman but are a symbol of a larger societal callousness. Somehow, that distinction made it easier for me to tolerate what happens to dogs in this book, as unlikely as that may seem.

This is a dense book – a murder mystery in the vein of And Then There Were None, a frustrating love story, a story of corporate subversion and a moral awakening – so know my synopsis of the plot, by necessity, must leave out a lot of details. The protagonist, a sort of sad sack Everyman named Terribly “Telby” Velour, begins the novel working for one of a number of Pet Furnishings warehouses. There he meets a new employee named Ravenski Helena Goldbird, for whom he develops a deep infatuation. As he tries to impress her one day, he engages in an antic that breaks the back of one of the dog-furniture pieces and gets fired. He later learns Ravenski Helena Goldbird is actually the adopted daughter of the CEO of the Pet Furnishings firm and he decides to create a new identity in order to get a new job with Pet Furnishings. Ravenski Helena Goldbird is now part of the executive board and Telby cons his way into a job in research and development in order to be closer to her. Telby enters a labyrinthine world of corporate espionage, personal viciousness, wanton cruelty and salacious behavior, all tempered by subversive hilarity and sly ridiculousness that prevent all the horror from becoming too much. As Telby watches as his coworkers fall one by one to a mysterious murderer, he is forced to examine what he is doing and the morality of the job he has taken, the morality of those around him, and though I am not entirely sure what I think about the ending, Telby ends this novel consumed by a metaphysical sorrow that he did not entirely earn through his actions but has to experience nonetheless.

With my brief synopsis of this intense plot out of the way, the only way I can truly show you what McDonald is about is through text samples. Even as this novel hinges on modifying living animals into furniture, where, still living, they serve as settees and footstools and stands for televisions, there is so much humor, high ridiculousness, and an almost gentle sadness that it is a marvel that McDonald managed to pull it off.

Here’s one of the first passages I highlighted, and it’s an important one because it explains the title of this book. Ravenski evidently suffered some sort of breakdown after beginning to work for Pet Furnishings, but when she returned, she moved on quickly from her difficulties (likely caused from having to saw off dogs’ legs and similar).

She returned to Pet Furnishings and took a post on the executive board. It was she who was responsible for the Automatic Safe Dog. They developed a microchip that you could puncture through the dog’s skull; ‘With the chip of a mallet, the dog has a habit.’ The chip was studded into the dog’s motor cortex and pet sofas and divans were made automatic and safe so they didn’t howl, bite, shit or piss until programmed at preset intervals. This made for not just safer but cleaner furnishings. Our customers forever complained of the times their mutt would whine to be let out, just when they needed to pet it or love it or sit down for a cup of tea, and then they’d have to deal with the inevitable mud in the castors or dew in the tassels. But Ravenski changed all that with her bold new ideas and leapt up the career ladder, far away from the ‘real’ people.

This is some twitchy prose, gentle reader. Yet I struggled through horribleness like this – people making sentient animals into furniture and still being so craven that they resent the basic care their living divan upon which they settle their pampered asses requires in order to stay alive – because I hoped that the level of detail McDonald was giving this dystopia meant the novel would have some greater purpose than just inflicting such wretched details on the reader. My patience was ultimately rewarded, but this is an example of the careless cruelty that you will find in this book.

Jim Goad’s Gigantic Book of Sex

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: Jim Goad’s Gigantic Book of Sex

Author: Jim Goad

Type of Book: Non-fiction, parody, humor, human sexuality

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: There are some writers whose body of work points towards odd, even if they occasionally produce work that would appeal to the average reader. Jim Goad is one of those authors.

Availability: Published in 2007 by Feral House, you can get a copy here:

Comments: This discussion is the stretching I need to do before I attempt the marathon that will be my discussion of the compilation of Jim Goad’s Answer Me!, plus a pdf of the infamous “Rape Issue,” which Goad was kind enough to send me. And it will be a pleasant stretch because I found this collection of Goad’s articles over the years to be interesting, amusing and at times, strangely touching. It’s always a good trip when someone invites you into his or her id, albeit sprinkled with mini hoaxes along the way.

There is no way to discuss all of these articles covering almost every aspect of human sexuality unless I really abused the good nature of every person who reads here, which means there is a chance I will not discuss your favorite article and you will think me an asshole. I’m just discussing the ones that stood out for me in some manner or other. Sorry about that, but please be sure to share your perspectives in the comments.

Goad, because he is a man largely misunderstood by liberal audiences and one of those writers about whom people form opinions without ever reading a word he has written, stands in a unique spot. He’s a scoundrel to some and as a result, everything he writes is seen as a real attempt to harm. But he’s also such a good writer that if one does not know who he is, he can make a simple person think that children direct porn and that pugs survive gang bangs. Part of me wants to call such people idiots but I can’t because I personally know folks who were certain Bonsai Kitty was for real and they aren’t completely without merit. But it is a unique place for Goad to occupy – a man seen as a monster by some extreme feminists who can still plug into moral outrage and provoke panic in even the most over-the-top articles. It’s a talent, to be sure. Believe me, there have been times I would love to fuck with people’s minds but I lack the dedication. Or the talent.

On the cover of this compilation, Goad separates this book into “Fake,” “Real,” “Opinion” and “Personal” and I will just follow that handy separation as I discuss the articles that stood out the most for me.

Him Her Him Again The End of Him by Patricia Marx

This post originally appeared on I Read Everything

Book: Him Her Him Again The End of Him

Author: Patricia Marx

Type of Book: Fiction, literary fiction

Why Did I Read This Book: The title sucked me in. Also the dust jacket popped. Never underestimate the appeal of an orange dust jacket.

Availability: Published by Scribner in 2007, you can get a copy here:

Comments: Can you love unreservedly a book that enthralls you but falls apart in the final pages? I think you can. You can love it the same way you love your cat who continually butt drags on the beige carpet. The cat is loving, adorable, a delight in every way except that terrible surprise waiting for you when you walk downstairs. It irritates you fiercely when it happens but mostly you recall all the times the beast has made you happy. That’s the approach I am taking with this book: the great fun of the book overwhelmed the unhappy surprise at the end.

Marx’s clever yet sympathetic prose coupled with an appreciation for the absurd gives us a heroine we can both root for and wish we could throttle. Her depiction of the villain in this piece may seem heavy-handed but at the same time portrays perfectly the bafflement others must feel observing any relationships women have with such men. I suspect this book will speak to mostly women of a certain age who have made shockingly dumb decisions in love, but anyone with a love of characters full of self-deprecating humor and wit will find much to love in this book.

We begin with the heroine meeting the dreadful Eugene Obello at Cambridge. An American, the heroine is working on a thesis that is never wholly finished and becomes rapt with Eugene very quickly.

“Let N represent the set of natural numbers,” Eugene said.

“If it’s up to me,” I said, “N can be anything it wants.”

She loses her virginity to him, despite the fact that anyone, from her friends to the reader, can tell that Eugene is a tool of the highest order.

I saw Eugene smile faintly, then put on a serious face. “Shall we, my precious abecedarian… proceed?” Eugene said and just as solemnly, I nodded. Talk about proceeding, my suitor had me in the bed before I knew which end was up. But then the proceeding stopped so that he could amorously fold each item of his clothes, taking special care with the trouser creases, and stack one piece on top of the other on the bedside chair, ending with his socks. He laid his watch on one sock, his eyeglasses on the other. I tried to ignore this preliminary activity, in the same way you’re not supposed to see what’s going on backstage before the show.

Yeah, don’t sleep with a man who uses the word abecedarian in reference to your sexual inexperience. I mean, you can almost deal with that level of arrogance in word selection but if he follows this by folding his clothes in an exacting manner, don’t sleep with him. At times it was hard not to shout at the pages, much in the same way I would shout at characters in horror movies when I was in junior high, hollering, “Run! Run away and hide!”

After Eugene tells the heroine, whose name we never learn, that he has been dating a new woman whom he plans to marry and that he is breaking up with her, she decides to invite Eugene and Margaret to her place and she will make them all dinner. Her friends chime in with their opinions, varying from recipe recommendations to condemning Eugene for failing to bring the heroine a gift back from a trip. However, one friend gets it right:

Libby: “You know how everyone is always saying go with your heart, trust your instinct, have the courage of your convictions? My advice is not to listen to those people.”

And of course, because he is a terrible man, Eugene does bring Margaret to dinner at the heroine’s place. Of course, our heroine misinterpreted his motives because her feckless sense of humor is only trumped by her willingness to be deluded.

When one of the heroine’s friends, Obax, finally dumps her cad of a boyfriend after finding out he got another woman pregnant, though even that knowledge was not enough to spur her to immediate action, the heroine muses on the situation with a clarity that can only come at the end of acting as another’s fool:

Why she took action at that point, which wasn’t even the lowest point, I cannot tell you. For that matter, why does anyone wake up one morning and finally clean out the crawlspace or shoot the boss or quit the tuba or propose marriage or throw in the towel or run for alderman or make any other long-intended change? Of course, if philosophers can’t figure out grains of sand, how was I, a mere graduate student, challenged even by the quest for data, supposed to answer for anything?

And while I think everyone can agree with this assessment of the confusing nature of the human condition, it still doesn’t stop the reader from wanting to poke the protagonist in the bottom and have her act in her own best interests. But if she didn’t, we wouldn’t have this book to remind us of all the dumb times we did not act in our best interests, of how we were drawn to the Eugene Obellos in our own lives, captivated by bad energy that others could sense but we blithely overlooked in a Quixotic quest that only time allowed us to see for the godless endeavor it was.

The pitiful behavior continues apace and the narrator does not cut herself any slack. The behavior that draws her to Eugene is in no way made more attractive. After Eugene marries, he calls for the protagonist:

“My singular dodo bird,” Eugene had written on a note-card. “Please do not absquatulate on me. With ardent devotion from your once-again Cantabridgian.” I would have preferred “devoted ardor,” but that’s being greedy. And it did not stop me from getting on a train that was heading to Eugene lickety-split.

Eugene spends the afternoon bragging about an expose he is writing that will devastate Elie Wiesel and dropping hints his wife is pregnant. He also, at the end of the meeting, makes it clear he called our heroine simply to return to her some items she had left behind at his place. When the protagonist runs into an old friend named Oliver at the train station as she returns home, she remembers how he referred to Eugene as her “heinous hypnotist.” Oliver had seen her with Eugene and when he sees her at the station, he wants to ride with her and talk to her but instead of being at least kind, she insults his clothing. Oliver kindly kisses her on the cheek and retreats a wounded exit. It is here that the torment of reading sort of ends, and the reader can watch as the narrator consigns her fate and her youth to the pursuit of a pedantic philandering asshole. She’s not kind and on a very basic level, perhaps she deserves what comes to her, even as she is witty and pitiful in her grovelling.

She returns to New York, begins working for a television show, but when Eugene moves to New York and calls her, she goes to see him and they begin an affair. Her friends are as appalled as I was:

Lisa: “Can I be honest? Something’s wrong with you.”
Deb: “If you’re happy, I’m happy. You shouldn’t be happy, though.”
Meg: “I’ve heard worse, but not much worse.”
Joan: “I hope you won’t take this the wrong way, but it’s clear that Eugene is gay.”
Pearson: “The winner in this story is Margaret. She got a night off from him.”
[…]
Buffy: “If I were a better person, this story would turn me into a feminist.”
[…]
Phoebe: “Remind me again why you like him? Is it because he’s using you or because he lies to you repeatedly?”

No matter how pathetic, slightly immoral or irrational our behavior is, many of us really want honest feedback from friends, which we then dismiss as we pursue our terrible ends. Our protagonist is no different because specific feedback doesn’t cause her to change course in any manner. One marginally acceptable sex session with Eugene and she’s back in full pursuit again, her dignity and his wife and child be damned.

Later, she meets up again with her friend Obax and their conversation is why, even when I found the protagonist so tiresome that I kept reading. It’s very easy to look at others and never see ourselves, and when we finally see ourselves, we realize how stupid and exhausting we were, and how easy it is to justify our actions.

“I can’t believe you still know him,” Obax said. “He’s a cad and a bore and a sneak and a fake and a narcissist and a braggart and I don’t like his teeth, either.”

“I’m sure you’re right,” I said, “but that’s just one side of him.”

“What about the married thing?” Obax said. “Don’t you feel a little bad for Margaret?”

“What does she have to do with it?” I said, and I meant it. I had met Eugene a long time before Margaret had. “Besides,” I said, “he seems to really like me this time. And he’s so smart. Being with him is getting an A.”

Unless you were born exceptionally self aware and with a sense of morality that trumped wanting what you want and damn the consequences, you’ve been in this position and seeing it presented without an ounce of pity and yet with no small amount of sarcasm will make you either hate or love this book. I myself like seeing glimpses of who I used to be before I hit my 30s and understood the idea that the bad things we do come back to us. (Oh, by the way, I’m still an idiot these days. But were I single, I am confident I would not sleep with anyone else’s husband. As you get older, your stupidity turns from the carnal to the more mundane, it has been my experience.)

And as the narrator spins her wheels, spending her life in thrall to an unethical psychiatrist who is everything Obax says he is and more, she manages to waste even more time when she is away from him.

I was working as an assistant to a celebrity whose name I had better not divulge if that’s okay with you, but I can tell you she’s fat and she’s a lesbian and that that is not as narrow a field as you might think. My job was to buy up supplies of Dr. Nougat candy bars once a week from various stores; eat a bar from each batch; then write up reports about the taste, freshness, crispness, discoloration, if any, and whether the bars were chipped or nicked. My boss wanted only the best. It wasn’t a hard job–a limo took me to each place. But you know how Karl Mark said labor can be alienating? I couldn’t agree with him more.

She’d had a good job working for a terrible television program, a job most of us would have killed for but as a woman who got an A in life because she was sleeping with Eugene, it is no surprise she slunk down to such a place wherein she did such a trivial job and became a little bitter.

And though no one could read what I have written so far about this book without realizing the situation between the narrator and Eugene could not end well, I still don’t want to ruin the ending, even though I hate the ending so very, very much. I will reveal that the narrator found out she was not the only woman Eugene was sleeping with and when she finally stands up and realizes what a cretin he is, it is both funny and sobering. She is confronting him in his office, trying to look like she is not hurt, and he takes a phone call as she struggles to remain composed.

Eugene, meanwhile, was on the telephone. “À bientôt, my only one,” I heard him say. I believe I may have glowered.

If the world can be divided into people who would have signed the Munich Agreement versus those who would have stood firm against Hitler–and who says it can’t–I would definitely have been in the former camp, giving away the Sudetenland with a smile and a cookie. I might even have offered the Fuhrer a signing bonus, for example the mineral rights to South Dakota. As you know, I am not big on making trouble. But that morning, in Eugene’s office, I had not been myself (which in my case, is not generally but sometimes a very good thing not to be). And that is why, after Eugene said à bientôt, I stood up and said, “I think it is time to terminate.”

And you hope that when this happens, it will indeed be over but we do indeed know the protagonist and of course it is not over. It will not be over until the object of her obsession is removed from the picture entirely and the strange and comedic misery continues on for some more pages. But going back to an earlier passage wherein the heroine mused on what it was that made people act, a simple French phrase used often in Britain to give a casual goodbye seems like an unlikely straw to break the camel’s back. But trivial things can often push us over the edge.

The heroine of this story, and make no mistake, as daft and lacking self-awareness as she was, she was a heroine, lays out so clearly what this sort of pointless obsession feels like, and how it trumps honesty, common sense, self-respect, familial relationships, wise career choices, or even the capacity to make the most of an overseas education. But had the book simply been a recount that told me that, it would have been unreadable. Marx adroitly mixes intolerable truths into amusing situations, clever characterization and witty dialogue. I loved this book for its capacity to remind me how being smart was never enough to prevent me from being an idiot and how the desire to be the one and only, even to a despicable man, can become all that matters.

This book is also so very funny that even if you are not a woman who understands bad mistakes and the accumulation of consequences, you can still enjoy the heroine and her friends. I find this to be a very good, intensely readable, clever book, despite how disappointing the ending was.

PS: And as a final complaint, I want to mention this line:

The one full night I did spend with him gave me insight into what it would be like to share a bed with the Gestapo.

Writers of the world, I beseech you, please stop using the Nazis in casual comparisons. Eugene was a dreadful man but I wager being in bed with him was nothing like being interrogated by the Gestapo. I’m decidedly not a stickler for politically correct language or ideas but the older I get the more I find casual hyperbole that relates to Nazis and the Holocaust to be tiresome. How come no one talks about being in bed with the Stasi? How come people don’t make humorous allusions between casual violence and the Khmer Rouge or the Armenian genocide? Maybe because it’s terribly insensitive? Maybe because the Western imagination is so impoverished that we can only remember the German Holocaust and Nazis when it comes to funny references to some of the worst social oppression ever being akin to dating a douchebag? Whatever the reason, I will rejoice when this habit stops entirely.

The passage about dividing the world into two camps of people – those who would have appeased Hitler and those who would not – doesn’t register as horrible as it does not bring into play the torture and murder of millions of people in order to make a comedic point. It’s subtle, but if you are comparing a restless sleeper to being in bed with the Gestapo, it is a far different thing than saying you are so weak you might have been the sort to appease Hitler. One implies a questioner is a torturer on scale with some of the worst torturers in history, and the other implies in the face of moral decisions one is often lacking. I hope I am making the difference clear.

How to Eat Fried Furries by Nicole Cushing

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: How to Eat Fried Furries

Author: Nicole Cushing

Type of Book: Fiction, bizarro, short story collection

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Well, it begins with a team of humanoid ferrets trying to save the world from a literal shit storm. It gets odder from there.

Availability: Part of the Eraserhead Press New Bizarro Authors Series, it was published in 2010. You can and should get a copy here:

Comments: LET BIZARRO WEEK BEGIN!

I am going to review one bizarro book a day this week. Why? Because I love bizarro literature. I also had five bizarro books to review and figured, “Why not.” If people like Bizarro Week, it may become a regular feature so if you are digging it, comment and let me know.

Also, if you leave me a comment in this entry today before 7:00 pm PST, you’ll be in the running to win a free copy of How to Eat Fried Furries. If you retweet any of my Twitter posts with the hashtag bizarroweek, that will also throw your name in the hat to win a copy of the book. That’s right, folks. I’m giving away two free copies and yes, you can both leave a comment here AND retweet in order to improve your chances of winning. I will choose one random commenter and one random retweeter after 7:00 pm PST. You definitely want a copy of this book. So get to it!

Okay, all my business out of the way, I need to say that this was a great book to start off Bizarro Week. A fucking wonderful book. A themed short story collection wherein all the stories have a link to one another, no matter how small, this book is subversive, sickening, funny, eerie and, dare I say it, entertaining. It is random, topical and creepy as all hell. One chapter raised the hair on the back of my neck, it was so creepy. These are stories for people who like being disgusted, for whom a book cannot be too disturbing, and who don’t mind the nasty being quite funny.

I think I knew this book was going to be utterly wonderful during the prologue.

Who hasn’t, in some moment of midnight genius, concocted a plan to murder Santa Claus? I know I have.

I have, too.

But killing Santa is only part of this book. And while the title refers to furries, they are not those kinds of furries, the kind mocked on CSI. They are humans forced to wear animal suits so people will feel more comfortable with cannibalism. A recurring theme in these stories is that of humans assuming the roles of animals, either as an attempt to survive during a squirrel invasion or by force in a grim dystopia, or animals becoming human hybrids, as happened with the grotesque Ferret Force Five, who try to save the Earth from space invasion as well as stop a massive shit storm that is covering the planet in hot, steaming poo.

And then there are the people who decide to lose their skins as a means of rebellion. Ugh.

So what makes this collection of stories about shit storms and Squirrel Jesus and deformed ferrets and cannibalism so special? Well, first, the book is culturally cunning without sliding into insufferable hipster territory. The nods to 90’s brother band Nelson and Pulp Fiction amused me but aren’t invasive. She blends little dots of pop culture references into her narrative in a manner that ensures that if you get the reference, you’ll grin a bit but if it all means nothing to you, you won’t sense that there is an inside joke that does not include you.

Second, Cushing’s narrative styles are also a thing of beauty. She uses a pastiche of different narrative types to tell the stories of worlds gone mad. Recipes, scripts for long-forgotten television shows, first person journalism accounts – the way she uses varied methods to tell these stories with a common theme make this collection seem active, engaging and sharp.

Third, she is a fine storyteller. I am walking a fine line here because I want to share some of the best parts of these tales but at the same time I do not want to give too much away. So to a degree, you may have to take my word for it that this is one clever, interesting, disgusting, foul, hilarious, over-the-top yet subtle short story collection. Some of the text will just make you uneasy, like the description of Ferret Force Five in the first chapter, “Ferret Force Five, Episode VII: Hirrelter Squirrelter! A Media Tie-In for the Ages!” The description of the hot, steaming shit storm in the same chapter is both disgusting and quite funny, especially the “science” that explains the phenomenon.

“Squirrelmagedon: 2012” is bleak, dystopic and horribly funny. The Angel Uriel sends survivors rhyming messages from a bi-plane and the remaining humans do their best to appear as squirrel-like as possible. Yet as bizarre(o) as it all seems, the characters still manage to pigeon-hole their experiences into the world view they had before they experienced such calamity.

Crossan couldn’t stand to hear her talk this way. Hadn’t she listened to enough of his sermons to know that the Book of Revelations predicted a cleansing, purifying bloodbath at the end? Didn’t she know Jesus would win? Admittedly St. John had left out the part about three decades of hiding from a squirrel army. But other than that it was all working out according to plan.

The best story in the collection is “A Citizen’s History of the Pseudo-Amish Anschluss.” This story, more restrained than the poop-filled, gross, outrageous plots of the other stories, was easily one of the creepiest, eeriest things I have read this year. I don’t want to discuss it in depth because frankly this is one of those stories I consider “worth the price of admission.” It’s a story most readers will come back to in moments of mental silence, remembering the absolute but understated horror of the piece. But let me share one passage from this story, and even with zero context, I think the power of Cushing’s prose will be clear:

I heard the Black Suit Ladies knocking gently–ever so gently–against the basement windows, the front door, the back door, the downstairs windows, the upstairs windows. Their tiny wrists tapped their elegant nails against each window, sending each pane of glass a-titter. “Bossie, time for milkin’!” they all called out in unison.

I didn’t answer.

I knew I had time.

[…]

I will surrender to the Black Suit Ladies. Not yet, but soon.

If you are reading this now, you must be one of them.

When a bunch of women, who reminded me of Mrs. Danvers, are gently insistent that a woman become a cow, we are dealing with a palpable level of creepiness.

One of the reasons I started off with this book for Bizarro Week is because I can’t remember the last time I read a first effort that was this damn good. I am a reader who appreciates many genres and this book covered horror, humor, the grotesque, the foul, the insane and the unthinkable in a way that even satisfied the part of me that still has the stink of an English Lit grad student. Cushing got this book published in the Bizarro New Author series but in order to hear her voice again in another book, we readers have to buy this book. This series really does permit us to vote with our dollars. So if you read here often and I’ve steered you right before, consider buying this book. I highly recommend it and spending money on Cushing’s book will ensure we have more books from her in the future.

And because I liked it this much, I bought two copies to share, and again, you can win a copy if you comment to this review or if you retweet any of my tweets with the tag #bizarroweek. Contest ends Monday, November 8 at 7:00 pm PST.

ETA: nmallen won the Twitter retweet giveaway and Dan won the copy for comments in this entry. Thanks to everyone who commented to win – keep an eye on the site as I will be hosting another book giveaway on Thursday for another New Bizarro Author!

Love All the People: The Essential Bill Hicks by Bill Hicks and John Lahr

This post originally appeared on I Read Everything

Book: Love All the People: The Essential Bill Hicks

Author: Bill Hicks and John Lahr

Type of Book: Humor, social criticism, non-fiction

Why Did I Read This Book: Because I love Bill Hicks

Availability: Soft Skull Press released the trade paperback in 2008. You can get a copy here:

Comments: Phew! I adore Bill Hicks. I think he was one of the most transgressive and interesting American comics ever. As a fellow Texan, conspiracy theorist, and Southern Baptist refugee, I felt a definite kinship with him and was crushed when he died in 1994. When YouTube came along, I pored over Bill’s appearance outside the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, checking his face and body language to see if there was any sign of what was to come, the cancer that would end his life less than a year later. Aside from looking shaggy and unkempt, which is relative given that I am talking about the man who brought us Goat Boy, there is no sign that he was not wholly fine. I have a difficult time liking Dennis Leary, though I want to like him, knowing how much of Hick’s routines he “borrowed” during his ascent. Bill Hicks was smart, funny, acerbic, angry, brave and, along with Johnny Cash, is a man I really wish I had met before he died.

So it was disappointing as hell not to love this book. In fact, it was disgusting to realize that during large sections, I was bored. The problem is not Bill. The problem is the editing. The idea behind the book was to show Bill’s comedy routines as he performed them throughout his career so that the reader can see how Bill’s routines evolved over time. The problem with this approach is two-fold:

First, Bill Hicks had the same message throughout his career. Bill Hicks’ message stayed on point more or less from the beginning. Therefore it is difficult to appreciate any sense of evolution when the spirit behind the jokes is the same and when, in fact, entire chunks of his routines are vomited verbatim up to five times in one book.

Second, the repetition on paper is mindlessly boring. Boring. Bill Hicks is not boring but this book is. Say one had the chance to follow Bill when he was alive and hear all of his routines. Being there in person, night after night, hearing his delivery, seeing the expressions on his face, it is safe to say it likely would not have been as tiresome as reading the same jokes over and over. The end result is that Hicks’ fierce messages of skepticism combined with openness, cynicism and optimism, spirituality and anti-religion, togetherness and independence, and peacefulness and a call to intellectual arms get hopelessly diluted through meaningless repetition.

This book just didn’t work.

So instead of recommend this book, I instead recommend you buy one of Bill’s CDs. Instead of complain about the book further, I’ll instead quote Bill and while these quotes are indeed from the book, they will sound so much better coming from Bill himself.

Bill on drugs:

Shit man, not only do I think marijuana should be legalized… I think it should be mandatory.

If you believe drugs don’t do anything good for us, do me this favour, will you? Go home tonight, take all your albums and tapes, K? And burn ’em. Cos you know what? The musicians who made all that great music… reeeeeeal fucking high on drugs.

Shut the fuck up. Your denial is beneath you, and thanks to the use of hallucinogenic drugs… I see through you.

Well, once again, I recommend a healthy dose of ah… psilocybin mushrooms. Three weeks ago, two of my friends and I went to a ranch in Fredericksburg, Texas, and took what Terence McKenna calls a “heroic dose.” Five dried grams. Let me tell you, our third eye was squeegeed quite cleanly. And I’m glad they’re against the law. Cos you know what happened when I took them? I laid in a field of green grass for four hours, going, “My God, I love everything.”

Bill on work and corporations:

You know what I hate about working? Bosses, that’s what I fucking hate. First of all, let me tell you something quick. The very idea that anyone could be my boss, well… I think you see the conflict. Not in this lifetime, Charlie. A few more incarnations, we’ll sit down and chat. But I used to get harassed. “Hicks, how come you’re not workin’?” I’d go, “There’s nothing to do.”

“Well, you pretend like you’re workin’.”

“Well, why don’t you pretend I’m working. Yeah, you get paid more than me, you fantasize. Pretend I’m mopping. Knock yourself out.”

Everyone should wear blue jeans and three t-shirts and eat beans and rice and break every f-ing company, break ’em.

Open a McDonald’s in Moscow and everyone’s backslapping each other. It’s depressing to me. “Oh, it’ll help the economy. McDonald’s, it’ll supply forty-five new jobs there in Moscow.” Yeah, twenty dentists and twenty heart specialists. It’s shit. Don’t eat it.

Bill on kids:

(discussing banning drugs, alcohol and pornography) “But we have to protect the children, we have to protect the children.” Let me tell you something: children are smarter than any of us. You know how I know that? I don’t know one child with a full-time job and children. Yeah. They’re quick these kids, man. They’re fucking quick.

She wanted kids. I had no idea her philosophy was so flawed. She goes, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a kid, to have this fresh, clean slate, innocent, and to fill it with good ideas.” Yeah, yeah, how about this? If you’re so fucking altruistic, why don’t you leave the little clean spirit wherever it is right now?

Bill on religion:

We are the perfect and holy children of God, and I don’t see, being the perfect and holy children of God, how any limits could possibly be put on us… not at all. That’s the point of my act. I just want to be free of the fears and anxieties of death and the superstition of religion. Being raised as a Baptist… with an avenging God, a God who created hell for his children. I’m sorry but… no. Wrong. You’re wrong. That’s an insane God and therefore not mine. Because, see, God would be very sane, don’t you get it? That’s my act. Everything branches off from that.

I was raised Southern Baptist in Texas! You don’t think I got the message? P-shaw, my Brothers and Sisters! I got the ONE TRUE message. And I know, because this is how I was raised, that even you poor, misguided Christians from other denominations are wrong. So load your guns and prepare to do Holy Battle in the name of Jesus, the lamb of peace.

This is the message of Christianity:

Eternal suffering awaits anyone who questions God’s infinite love.

Or, to paraphrase:

I will make your life a living hell if you don’t think like me.

Bill on conspiracy:

And if the ATF and the FBI had any honor, if there was any honor left or dignity on this planet, they could commit hara-kiri while first admitting what they’ve done. They’d kill themselves, cos they are liars and murderers. “Oh, we had to bust the compound down, cos we heard child molestation was going on.” Yeah, if that’s true, how come we don’t see Bradley tanks knocking down Catholic churches?

(Regarding the Texas Book Depository JFK museum in Dallas) Anyway, they have the window set up to look exactly like it did on that day. And it’s really accurate, you know, cos Oswald’s not in it.

Bill just being Bill

My dad: “Bill, do you have to say the f-word in your act, son? Bob Hope doesn’t need to say the f-word in his act.” “Yeah, well, dad, guess what. Bob Hope doesn’t play the shit-holes I play, all right? You put him in some of these joints, he’ll have Emmanuel Lewis and Phyllis Diller sixty-nining as his closer… just to get out of there alive.”

She was a southern girl, which is the same as saying she was insane. All southern women are insane. Some are cold blooded killers and some are harmless eccentrics, but the best of the breed exhibit both of these characteristics and always the one you expect the least at the time you least expect it.

The real message of Bill Hicks:

It’s only a choice. No effort, no work, no job, no savings and money. A choice right now, between love and fear. The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your doors, buy guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love, instead, see all of us as one. Here’s what we can do to change the world, right now, to a better ride. Take all that money that we spend on weapons and defense each year, and instead spend it feeding, clothing and educating the poor of the world, which is would many times over, not one human being excluded…

Shroud of the Thwacker by Chris Elliott

This post originally appeared on I Read Everything

Book: The Shroud of the Thwacker

Author: Chris Elliott

Type of Work: Fiction, Parody

Why Did I Read This Book: Back when the Cassie Edwards Black Ferret plagiarism mess hit (yeah, read that hot mess when you’ve got some time on your hands because it is hilarious as all get out), I found myself reading sites about plagiarism because I was working a miserable cube job and wasted every possible minute I could of The Man’s time. I was shocked and appalled to see Cabin Boy listed as a plagiarist and made a mental note to buy the book and find out what was what.

After reading the book, I thought, “Aha! Morons don’t understand them some parody, represent!” Then I went back to reread the site referencing Elliott’s supposed act of plagiarism and I’ll be damned if I truly understand what happened. Referenced a robot that didn’t exist, a robot that was a hoax and violated copyright? What? You read it and tell me. All I can safely say is that I consider this less plagiarism and really more a mild publicity stunt amongst tricksters, but then again, I refuse to admit that the man who stole my heart as Larry in Groundhog Day would steal anything else.

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

Comments: It’s gonna be hard to give two craps about this book and review if the following do not apply to you:

–You have a mild crush on a balding man who used to write jokes for David Letterman.
–You read and had a violent reaction to Patricia Cornwell’s Portrait Of A Killer: Jack The Ripper — Case Closed, in which she pins the Whitechapel murders on a famous painter, using less hard proof than I use when I look at my nine cats, the hairball befouling the living room carpet and decide Wooster did it on the basis of his twitchy whiskers (actually, this is a mildly unfair assessment – if the wad of wet fur is white, it was undoubtedly Wooster).
–You read and found interminable Caleb Carr’s The Alienist.
–You read and were largely ambivalent about The Da Vinci Code.
–You find puerile humor as hi-larious as I do.
–You embrace the ridiculous more than anyone else you know.

This book is a murder mystery in which an intrepid police chief, his spunky ex-girlfriend and mayor Teddy Roosevelt try to solve a series of prostitute murders in New York, wherein the time-tripping Chris Elliott plays no small role. Really, this is the only way to recount the intricate, insane plot. It is laugh-out-loud funny, witty, and surreal, and like the best parody, shows zero love for the sources it takes to task. In the book, Elliott calls out Patricia Cornwell’s grandiose and bumbling attempts to call case closed on a murder that has stumped experts, uses most of Carr’s set up in The Alienist to frame this book, and exposes a massive, historical cabal, but unlike the sinister Opus Dei of The DaVinci Code, we’ve got the Mummers and a very hungry dinner date willing to decipher for his supper.

Oh, what a silly book this is. Delightful. Full of gross and insane jokes. So of course I think I may be the only person on the planet who loves it. Seriously, who could not love the following passage:

“What can we get you to drink?” inquired Teddy.

“Maybe something light. Caleb, dear, what was that delightful drink we used to order at Hurley’s?” She was looking directly at the police chief, but he wasn’t looking back. “Oh yes, I remember. I will have a powered opium and liquid ether frappe, with a shot of pure laudanum.”

“Waiter!” cried the mayor, “One God’s Own Enema!”

If you don’t find the above quite amusing, this is not the book for you,as the entire book is more or less the above quote. It has no redeeming value other than comedic entertainment. Period. End stop. So if you are pretty serious about your reading materials, read something else. Something by Tolstoy. Or maybe Agatha Christie. Perhaps Audrey Niffenegger. Yeah. Her. That woman who wrote about the time traveler’s wife and no one cared about her plot holes, did they? DID THEY? Just please don’t read my guy Chris and bitch because it made no sense to you and because he covers the inevitable plot issues caused by intense lunacy with even more lunacy.