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.

Slaves of New York by Tama Janowitz : A Look at Cora

Book: Slaves of New York

Author: Tama Janowitz (if she has a blog or an official site, I cannot seem to find them)

Type of Book: Fiction, short story collection

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: This book is one of my favorite books of all time and I just need to discuss it here.

Availability: Initially published in 1986, I am discussing a much later Washington Square Press Contemporary Classics version. You can get a copy here:

Comments: I’ve had a hard time writing, lately. I’ve got around half a dozen nearly complete entries, with at least twice that many partially finished discussions. I sort of know why I haven’t been able to finish them all but I also think that thinking about the reason why is irrelevant. I’ll finish them when I finish them. But in the middle of all that unfinished writing, I found myself wanting to discuss in detail one of my favorite books. Slaves of New York by Tama Janowitz is in my Top-Twenty-All-Time-Favorite-Books and I’m sort of surprised I have not discussed it here yet.

The literary Brat Pack has gone to the rats, it seems. Donna Tartt is still doing well but she has yet to match the mind-blowing talent she showed in her very excellent novel, The Secret History (which I also cannot believe I have not discussed here yet). We still have Bret Easton Ellis doing things, good and bad, mostly entertaining in a rubbernecking-on-Twitter sort of way. I think Jay McInerney is still alive but I never liked him much in the first place. Same with Susan Minot. The two best Brat Pack writers in my estimation are Tartt and Tama Janowitz, and Slaves of New York is Janowitz’s masterpiece.

It really is a masterpiece.Though there are some pop culture references that age it a bit (Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, y’all!), this book has held up well because the stories are character-driven and the situations reasonably universal. Struggles between relationship dependency and independence, faith in one’s skill and talent, difficulties with parents, depression, anxiety and neurosis –  it’s not going to read too archaic to modern readers. The stories had a period of acclaim but then more or less disappeared from the literary landscape. I see plenty of buzz around Bret Easton Ellis’ current and older works but very little about Janowitz, and even less about this short story collection. That’s a shame because this collection, while being funny and clever, is also so well-written that its power isn’t necessarily obvious after the first read.

I used to read Slaves of New York a couple of times a year, then it trickled down to once a year, then every other year, but it’s still a book I revisit. Each time I read it, I find myself marveling at something new I pick up in terms of plot and characterization. This book has proved to be a strange barometer of where I am as a human being, because over time my identification with specific characters has changed. It should not come as a surprise to anyone that this novel is a paean to neurosis, a goddamn hallelujah to nervous, miserable, delusional, yet ultimately likeable headcases. If I love a book enough to reread it continually because I identify with characters, it’s a safe bet the book will be populated with neurotic people.

This is a collection of linked short stories, taking place in New York City, with a couple of outliers. The characters show up in walk-on roles in other stories, each story in this collection can stand alone, and each story is worth reading. Sometimes the links are subtle – one character speaks of having to rehome a cat that hated her boyfriend. A friend of hers took the cat in, and that same cat shows up in another story, tormenting a different man. (And that story, “Snowball,” is a look at a male neurotic, Victor. If you are prone to acid reflux, pop a Zantac before reading this story because Victor will give you sour burps. Victor, a nervous, anxious, miserable man, was portrayed by the suave, cool Chris Sarandon in the film adaptation of these stories. It’s hard for me to think of a film that was as completely miscast as Slaves of New York. John Wayne as Genghis Khan comes close. Skip the film, read the book.)

Of all the characters this book, there are three characters whose stories resonated with me at different times in my own life. Cora meant a lot to me when I was still quite young. Eleanor came up in my 30s. Marley, while I don’t necessarily see him in myself, is infinitely more understandable to me in my middle age. This depressive, neurotic, delusional trio, respectively, will make up the basis of my look at Slaves of New York. Cora, Eleanor, and Marley – my Disordered Trinity. To prevent this from being the longest discussion of a single book written by the Internet’s most verbose book lover, I will discuss each character in a separate entry. And yes, this will likely be a discussion of a story that may be longer than the story itself.

Let’s begin with Cora.

Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls

Book:  Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls

Author:  Alissa Nutting

Type of Book: Fiction, short story collection, fantasy, humor

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Because Alissa Nutting is my neurotic literature heroine.

Availability: Published by Starcherone Books in 2010, you can get a copy here:

Comments: I was reading this book when my mother died.  It’s a strange feeling to be writing this discussion because Mom was alive when I began this book and dead when I finished it. I think this is a book that will have extreme sentimental value for me for the rest of my life.  I’ll probably remember in vivid detail all the stories in this book until the day I am on my own death bed.  It’s a good thing this is a very good book in almost every regard.  If you are going to have a book burned into your brain in such a manner, best that it be a good book.

It’s not so surprising that I adored this collection – I raved about Nutting’s look at a female sexual predator and had high expectations for this book.  This collection is less concentrated in terms of content and style than Tampa and the varied nature of this collection shows Nutting’s skill as a teller of many types of stories.  She handles mundane yet self-aware neuroticism like an updated Tama Janowitz (whose seminal summation of ’80s New York, Slaves of New York, I will be discussing here soon).  She dips in and out of fantasy and magical realism with a deft hand and plenty of humor.  She is a keen observer of the human condition and tells her stories with great sympathy for her characters, even the ridiculous ones. I love this collection so much I am not going to limit my discussion to just a few stories, as I often do to save readers from an obscenely high word count. So be warned, many words beneath the cut.

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.

Beware of God by Shalom Auslander

This post originally appeared on I Read Everything

Book: Beware of God: Stories

Author: Shalom Auslander

Type of Book: Fiction, short stories

Why Did I Read This Book: I have heard Shalom Auslander on NPR programs and on PRI’s This American Life and found him deeply interesting so I looked up all his books and put them on my Amazon list. And eventually ordered one.

Availability: Published by Simon & Schuster in 2005, you can get a copy here:

Comments:I guess I’ve only ever heard Shalom Auslander speak about serious subjects, like the existential fear he at times experienced when he decided to distance himself from his Orthodox Jewish upbringing. I started reading this book knowing that he was a man steeped in Judaism, but I had no idea how flat out funny he is. He writes with a wry sense of humor, a startling awareness of the human condition and a sharp prose that somehow manages to be both a tiny bit jaded yet steeped in sentimentality. Not an easy feat, to be sure.

This collection has 14 short stories and there is not a clunker in the bunch, so I won’t even have to do the “Here are the ones I loved/Here are the ones that didn’t work” split that I do in so many of my reviews of short story collections. All the stories were worth reading so I get to discuss the the ones I considered the cream of the crop.

“The War of the Bernsteins” discussed a married couple wherein the husband’s excessive need for piety makes his wife nuts and combative. She begins to counter Mr. Bernstein’s every excessive attempt at righteousness but with a mind to her own soul.

The spiritual mathematics consumed her,

On the outside chance that there actually was a World to Come, she certainly didn’t want to sacrifice her own rewards in the next life just to ruin his. Mrs. Bernstein didn’t mind going to the Seventh Level of Hell, so long as she could walk to the edge, look down below and see Mr. Bernstein burning in the Eighth.

After engaging in mental calisthenics and spiritual algorithms, she begins her sin campaign.

She used nonkosher wine for Kiddush. She put milk in his coffee after serving him meat. She put pork in the chulent. She put bacon bits in his salad, and told him they were imitation.

She continues to wage war against him, forcing him into more and more acts of piety, until she finally, very sensibly and quietly, cracks. I am honestly unsure if I know why I love this story so much other than that I think I have known all too well this sort of warfare and rejoice that my own life contains none of it. I think it was simply that clenched-jaw, angry words cloaked under false sweetness, years of resentment disguised as edgy banter that we have all been forced to witness over a tense dinner was placed in a new setting. Sometimes a fresh look at old situations are all a story needs to be wonderful. Well, that and a clever hand, which Auslander has in spades.

“Bobo the Self-Hating Chimp” was also a winner. A bite at the self-hating Jew, of course, but not entirely. There is more at work here than the same old Woody Allen schtick.

At 9:37 in the otherwise ordinary morning of May 25, Bobo, a small male chimpanzee in the Monkey House of the Bronx Zoo, achieved total conscious self-awareness.
God.
Death.
Shame.
Guilt.
Each one dropped like a boulder onto his tiny primitive skull. He grabbed his head in his hands and ran shrieking around the Monkey House…

Bobo quickly learns that no one wants to deal with the psyche of a self-aware chimp, and that he also lacks the capacity to explain himself as his larynx did not evolve with his brain, and finds himself aping, as it were, the behaviors of chimps as he observes them. Their behavior sickens him and he finds himself filled with more self-loathing, and worse, regret.

One day, in a fit of pique, Bobo throws a pile of shit at another chimp, misses and nails the glass enclosure. He likes the results and begins to paint the glass walls with shit.

By the end of his first week of consciousness, Bobo had painted large Expressionist shit murals on every wall of the Monkey House. He began with simple studies: an apple, a monorail, cotton candy. By the end of the first week, he was creating sweeping tableaus which he saw as scathingly satirical attacks on chimpanzee culture and primate mores. His Self-Portrait was a devastating attack on racism, his Unhuman Stain a poignant plea for self-respect and dignity, his Life in the Monkey House a searing assault on political power and corporate gain.

The shit paintings fetch a hefty price on the art market but the zoo finds the expense of replacing the glass too dear so they provide Bobo with paints and canvas but the therapeutic benefits elude the self-aware chimp. A self-aware existence proves too much for Bobo, as it does for many artists who struggle with existential questions. Then another chimp finds himself becoming self-aware and the circle becomes complete.

“Look at us,” Kato thought. “A bunch of fucking monkeys.”

“Somebody Up There Likes You” tells the story of Bloom who escapes the death God had in mind for him because he was driving a Volvo, and he ends up contemplating the idea of whether or not there was indeed someone up there who liked him. The answer is a playful look at the relative omnipotence of godhead and an interaction between God and Lucifer reminiscent of the trials of Job, but rather than testing Bloom, the man becomes a thorn in the side of God and Lucifer.

“Holocaust Tips for Kids” shows how a school’s day-long program for Holocaust Remembrance Day affects deeply a grade-school boy who begins to plan for what he will do if the Nazis ever come back for him. He makes plans to hoard food for his inevitable years spent in an attic, but figures a treehouse would do okay as well as it seems unlikely a Nazi force would search all the treehouses in his neighborhood. As deeply disturbing as this story has the potential to be, the impact of Auslander’s humor prevents it from being a complete exercise in psychological horror. Bruce Lee, Ninjas, The Godfather, the positive attributes of Florida during a Nazi invasion and the necessity of being in good shape when the next Holocaust happens all are a part of the musings of this boy as he contemplates the worst that can happen. It seems horrible to find amusing the following line:

When they put you in a cattle car, try to get a spot near a window.

But how can you not see the humor and how can you not mourn both the loss of innocence that leads to such thoughts as well as celebrate the youthful mind willing to come up with such contingencies to survive. It is a gift to make the truly uncomfortable humorous.

“God Is a Big, Happy Chicken” was my favorite story in the collection. Yankel Morgenstern dies and goes to Heaven and discovers God really is a large chicken who largely does not care about the world of humans.

“Fuck,” said Morgenstern.

“You know,” said Chicken, “that’s the first thing everyone says when they meet me. ‘Fuck.’ How does that make me feel?”

The angel Gabriel tries to explain things to Morgenstern:

“But the Bible–” said Morgenstern.

“Don’t you worry about the Bible,” said Gabe. “We’ve got the joker who wrote that thing down in Hell. Gabe,” he said. extending his hand to Morgenstern as they walked through the Nothingness toward the Nowhere.

“As in Gabriel, right?” asked Morgenstern. “I expected you to be more, I don’t know–”

“Jewish?”

“I supposed,” answered Morgenstern.

“Asians all think I’d be Asian. Black folks all think I’d be black. It’s a funny world. I’m sort of the head ranch hand around here. I make sure Chicken has enough feed and water, I clean his coop. You know, general maintenance.”

“Couldn’t The Chicken just create his own food?”

“Not ‘The Chicken,’ just ‘Chicken.’ And no, he can’t create his own food. He’s a chicken.”

Morgenstern begs Gabe to let him return to Earth so he can warn his family, but once there, he is faced with a dilemma: better to be right or to live in ignorance and be happy. I feel I can tell you the quandry Morgenstern finds himself in with little angst about spoiling the plot because as much hand-wringing as goes on in these stories, the end is in no way inevitable.

I was surprised at how delightful these stories were. In fact, when I first opened the book I was expecting a memoir collection, snippets from Auslander’s life. That comes with the territory when you order books simply because they grab you in some way, eschewing the toilet of Amazon reviews (the occasional leaving may float to the top but at the end of the day, it’s still a turd), just amassing reading material on a whim. But sometimes that method leaves you with little, unexpected gifts. This book was indeed an unexpected gift and I highly recommend it.

A is for Alien by Caitlín R. Kiernan

This post originally appeared on I Read Everything

Book: A is for Alien

Author: Caitlín R. Kiernan

Type of Book: Science fiction, short story collection, erotica

Why Did I Read This Book: Because CRK is one of my favorite writers of all time, full stop.

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

Comments: Caitlín R. Kiernan is a writer whom I have a hard time assigning to any specific genre, though she is a writer whose work generally has some form of slipstream in it, slipstream as defined by Bruce Sterling when he said, “…this is a kind of writing which simply makes you feel very strange; the way that living in the twentieth century makes you feel, if you are a person of a certain sensibility.” Kiernan’s prose always makes me feel strange and everything I have read from her is undeniably dark even when good prevails because there is still so much more bad out there waiting.

This collection is mostly science fiction and I am notably not a fan of the sci-fi genre, but I read this anyway because Kiernan wrote it. I’m glad I read it because only two of the stories were not to my tastes. Much “hard” science fiction eludes me for the same reason I never found A Clockwork Orange to my liking – I get too distracted by the verbiage, which is often beyond my ken, and the story gets away from me. So I am at a loss to determine if any work of hard science fiction is good or not, though I am not someone who condemns a genre just because I do not like it. Two of the stories in this collection said little to me, so I was tempted to skip reviewing it, but the point of this review site is for me to review literally everything I read that does not end up on I Read Odd Books. So no chickening out.

This collection contains eight stories, some hard science fiction, some science fiction combined with erotica, some transhumanist analyses, and plenty of dystopia to last even the most jaded of readers for a long time. I admit that I prefer CRK when she is writing works that tilt more in the vein of horror – Alabaster and Daughter of Hounds are both in my list of Top 25 Books of All Time. But her essential themes remain even when her genre differs, and that is what matters I think.

A Whisper of Blood edited by Ellen Datlow

This post originally appeared on I Read Everything

Title: A Whisper of Blood: A Collection of Modern Vampire Stories

Author: Edited by Ellen Datlow

Type of Book: Fiction, short story collection

Why Did I Read This Book: I love short stories. I love short stories about vampires. I love Ellen Datlow. I saw this in the bargain section at Barnes & Noble and I love cheap books. (It seems like I love a lot of things, doesn’t it?) It’s actually a book that contains two books of vampire fiction Ellen Datlow edited, Blood is Not Enough and a Whisper of Blood. So really it was a two for one bargain book. How could I lose? So I grabbed it and saved it so I could read it close to Halloween.

Availability: Released by Fall River Press in 2008, it no longer appears to be in print, but you can get a used copy here:

Comments: This is a hard one because overall most of these stories were entertaining and well-written. Yet many missed the point entirely or I am being too strict in what I consider a modern vampire story. I tend to think it is the former. Many of the stories really pushed the boundary of what it means to be a modern vampire story and not in a good way. In a “this really has nothing to do with vampires in any way, shape or form unless one redefines the notion of vampire to have nothing to do with the concept of a vampire in a context in which vampires are recognizable” sort of way. Yeah. Seriously, that mangled sentence is the mental gymnastics one must go through to find vampires in some of these stories.

A vampire does not have to suck blood to be a vampire. Most vampire fans also do not demand a strict adherence to vampire canon in order to find worth and entertainment in a vampire story. But on some level, the vampirism cannot be so postmodern in its interpretation of vampires that an audience has to analyze the story to the point of banality to find the vampiric element and too many stories in this collection demanded that sort of analysis.

I’m not going to discuss every story in the book but I’ll hit what I consider the high lights and low lights.

The ones that did not work for me:

“The Pool People” by Melissa Mia Hall uses rape as a metaphor for vampirism and while the story is intriguing, the fact of the matter is, this is one of the stories that stretches the notion of being a vampire. A teacher being assaulted by students is horrific, not vampiric. This story stretches vampirism into a metaphor for all modern violence and in so doing, stretches the concept of the “modern” vampire to the breaking point.

“Dirty Work” by Pat Cadigan flat out is not a vampire story. Period. Full stop. It’s an interesting science fiction tale but it has no place in a modern vampire anthology. I did my best, I questioned myself and asked if I was being too literal in my interpretation and came to the conclusion that asking for some form of vampiric behavior in a story included in a vampire anthology is not too much to ask. It’s a story of a “pathosfinder” who is overwhelmed mentally by an empath in a futuristic world. This was possibly the most tiresome story in the book for me, 35 pages of not very much happening at all, just… I think the issue is that I am not a fan of this sort of sci-fi, especially when I encounter it in a book ostensibly about vampires.

Interestingly, one of the other stories that did not hit me right was also a Pat Cadigan tale called “Home by the Sea,” wherein people are dead in a sort of post-apocalyptic world but still move around. They’re not really vampires so much as they are sentient zombies. A wife has sex with a man who is ostensibly still alive and he gives her the gift of life. Again, sort of entertaining, but also again, not really vampires in any sense, even modern. Vampires take life, they don’t give it, and given the zombie-like nature of the characters, it was hard to see what the point was of the story exactly other than just existing as a horror tale. It works as a horror tale. It does not work as a vampire story.

The last story I speak of in the “do not want” camp comes from Edward Bryant, “Good Kids.” This one I just plain didn’t like. In it, four girls in night-time child care facility discover their caretaker is a vampire. They turn the table of violence on him when they encourage the rest of the kids in care to act with them in an ending with a TWIST. Bleah to red herring endings and double bleah to precocious kids who as a group don’t speak or act as any kids I have ever known.

House of the Sleeping Beauties and Other Stories by Yasunari Kawabata

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: House of the Sleeping Beauties and Other Stories

Author:  Yasunari Kawabata

Why I Consider This Book Odd: I knew it was going to be a helluva ride when I recognized the name of the man who wrote the introduction to the book.   The writer Yukio Mishima in 1970, failed to inspire a revolt in the Japanese military and attempted to commit seppuku, a form of ritual suicide via disemboweling.  He was then given the coup de gras and was decapitated by a friend who took part in the attempted rebellion.  When such a man gives the introduction to a book dealing mainly with thanatos, with a little eros thrown in, you’re dealing with a very odd book.  This may be the most deeply odd and disturbing work ever written by a Nobel Laureate, though heaven knows I find more and more incredibly odd works written by unlikely writers.

Type of Work: Fiction

Availability: Originally published in 1961, the copy I read was reissued in 2004 and is still in print.  You can get a copy here:

Comments: I finished this book weeks ago but the spectre of writing a  review completely stalled me.  I kept telling myself to get over here and write but I could not do it.  I don’t know exactly why but I suspect it is because I found this book enthralling and repellent.  Amazing and disgusting.  I consumed it rapidly and wanted then to vomit it back up.  Seldom has a book so engrossed me while leaving me so unhappy.

This book consists of a novella, “House of the Sleeping Beauties,” and two short stories, “One Arm” and “Of Birds and Beasts.”  Each work is horrific, beautiful, sickening and compelling in its own right.

“House of the Sleeping Beauties”:  Again, I find myself at war with other people’s descriptions of  what comprises literary eros.  Evidently, eros means soulless sex involving eggs, as discovered in Story of the Eye, or it means  a misogynistic look at a boring old man’s past encounters with women.  How can a book be an example of eros and thanatos when it is all death and no passion?  How can it be eros when there is no love, when there is no sex, when there is nothing but the limited emotional range of the protagonist, an aging man who seems to hate all women?  How can it be eros when the protagonist has no emotional depth or even revelation in sensation from a sex act?  These are rhetorical questions, as I understand why, in a sense, this book falls into the eros and thantos category, but my mind rebels against what many modern critics consider eros. (And perhaps the most important question is why did I read this book so raptly, and I am unable to explain that either, but I did and I suspect most readers find themselves similarly engrossed.)

The tale’s protagonist, Eguchi, is 67-years-old and visits the House of the Sleeping Beauties, a sort of brothel wherein the girls, all very young, are drugged insensate at night so that old men can sleep with them.  The word sleep here is literal, because the old men do not have sex with the sleeping girls as they are impotent due to old age. Eguchi hides what he says is his ability to sustain an erection from the Madam in order to be permitted to sleep with the girls (it may all be in Eguchi’s head – one is never sure if Eguchi is really still virile or if it is wishful thinking on his part).

Indeed, the Madam is not concerned at all with Eguchi’s member when she chides him not to do anything disgusting with the girls.  “He was not to put his finger into the mouth of of the sleeping girl…”  That line haunts me for some reason, but it is clear the proprietress of the House of the Sleeping Beauties does not think Eguchi is capable of any greater outrage against the sleeping girls.  And yeah, Eguchi sticks his finger into the mouth of one of the girls.  Of course he does.  That should almost go without saying.  That finger was the only penetration in the story.

Those who visit the house and go to bed with the drugged girls are themselves eventually drugged, but get to spend time with the sleeping girls while they themselves are completely conscious.  Though Eguchi tells himself that he could, theoretically, do whatever he wants to any of the sleeping girls without detection, tellingly, he never does.  Eguchi’s wants to lay next to a virginal, sleeping girl, because actual sex with conscious women causes him to be exposed to their messy, nasty lives, something he cannot bear.

Another verbose review.