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.
From part one, “Murders”
The first story, “The Practice of Business Takes Practice” was a nice, nasty little bit of nihilism that was quite funny. In the vein of most of the stories in this collection, it’s a small piece of what one senses is a larger story, but is crisp and complete enough to stand alone. It is the story of a fat man called Marco and how he helps seal an arms deal, and the story begins with such an excellent description of Marco that you should be able to smell him quite clearly in your mind’s nose.
The stink was pure Marco – his essence. You know how sometimes you take a piece of meat from the refrigerator that you had meant to cook a few days earlier, maybe even a week earlier? And you sniff it and it’s not bad enough to throw away, though perhaps something more than meat is present? So you cook it, but as the fat starts to heat up, the smell becomes overwhelming and no matter how hungry and obviously lazy you are, you have to toss it out and look elsewhere for repast? It is the heating of rancid fat that warns you away from future intestinal mischief. So it was with Marco. The hot humid day made each of his many ounces emit hot smell molecules that assaulted strangers on the sidewalk, made them contract their noses, hold their breath and hope the wind direction would change.
This is one of the pieces that is more noir than horror, but it still has a suitably nasty edge to it.
“Eyeing my Caesar” is a gross little story that features one of the rare break downs in editing in the book, as “caesar” is spelled “ceasar” throughout. No idea why – it is spelled correctly in the title but misspelled throughout the story. I almost thought it was to reflect the ignorance of the protagonist, who is the the first person narrator of the piece, but that does not seem likely. At any rate, this is one of the fuller stories in the book. Borderline foul, but funnier than disgusting. A man who has been urged to lose weight orders a light dinner only to find an eye in his caesar salad, a salad he orders instead of the burger he really wants. He confronts the mall court eatery where he purchased his salad:
I grab the salad and run to the Healthy’s counter, screaming at the wall behind the empty counter. “Got an eye here. I want to see the manager. I want to see the cook. I got an eye here. Ain’t supposed to be an eye in your salad. Don’t say on the menu, ‘Want an eye with that?’ Don’t say that at all. I don’t appreciate this extra side. What you doing putting eyes in people’s salads? Launching a new gourmet trend? ‘Stead of anchovies have yourself an eye?”
He eventually learns the source of the eye, and achieves some small justice, though the reader is left to wonder how eager this man will be to tuck into any sort of fast food fare in the future without careful investigation of every piece of food on his plate.
“Has the Sex Train Passed the Old Girl By?” is a truly foul, perverse little story. That it is absolutely hilarious makes it all the more disturbing. This is a “price of admission” story so I won’t ruin it by quoting it, but it’s an upsettingly funny tale of a man’s enduring love for his wife and what he will do to keep his sex life with her going far outside the realms of sanity.
“My Main Man, Mad Mayse” is a rough story. It’s a sort of folksy tale and it takes a left turn down the wrong road within the first three paragraphs. A mentally deficient man accidentally shoots a young woman of questionable morals and the price he pays is beyond horrible. Again, I hate to beat this drum again, but LVR wrote a genuinely extremely horrific story that never once lost track of story-telling skills, usage and grammar. That it was, in a sense, reminiscent of the sickening torture that was visited on James Byrd, Jr. made it all the more upsetting. This is not a story that will thrill gorehounds. It is a story that will disturb you and that is far harder to do.
“The Ears Have It” is another excellent foul story, and one that will appeal more to visceral tastes, though it is well-written (aside from the use of “ocular” when LVR clearly meant “otic” or “aural”). A man with an uncanny ability to hear everything, down to the flutter of a fly’s wings, becomes a conductor, but finds the audience’s noises as he performs are unbearable. He copes with the inadvertent noise-makers in a suitably demented and disgusting manner.
“Little Timmy’s Last Heist” is not the grossest story in the collection by far, but it is the only one that actually made me gag. Two drug addicts plan a drug store robbery that involves making Little Timmy very sick as a diversion. This is another story that is funny even as you feel disgust for just about every character.
“Hammerin’ Hiram” is a very good story for the gorehounds amongst us. Oh dear, this one is foul, but it’s sort of interesting that LVR does what I wish so many other writers would do – he uses the gore as a part of the story and not as the purpose of the story. And it’s pretty nasty. Two despicable people hook up at an Army-Navy store that shows exploitation films every Saturday night and begin to act on their worst impulses. I could have done without the TWIST ending but even with it, this was a dark, foul story. This story also has a little bonus for movie fans.
“Wheel Me Over to the Next Rabbit” is a little play that is sheer noir. An old Jewish woman who wants to leave all her money to her rabbits has a lawyer whom she calls upon to change her will every time one of her rabbits disappoints her. There is, of course, a double-crossing dame involved, but the old woman has a few tricks left in her. Slightly predictable but a fun story in spite of it.
“As I Was Cutting” I couldn’t even read because it begins with a dog being killed. Can’t do it, guys. Sorry.
From part two, “Lunatics”
“Henry’s Venom” lived up to the idea of lunacy. LVR gives the reader a front and center seat into a mind that is wholly foreign to most of us. This story too is almost a vignette, wherein we see into the minds of all the characters as they experience Henry’s obsession, but only see them as they interact with Henry. Henry is a complete bastard, whose strange fixation on bladders may or may not have been his undoing. It’s hard to say, but this is a strange, fascinating story.
“An Anvil Chorus Followed By an Equine Aria” is a cartoonish little story. Very short, very silly, and a look at a world wherein Looney Toons anvils fall but with genuine consequences.
“A Mind Excessively Deferential to Received Ideas” was my favorite story in the collection. It reminded me of a story I love from Tama Janowitz’s short story collection, Slaves of New York. A man has an icy, somewhat unfriendly-seeming girlfriend called Audrey and he fears his family’s reaction when he introduces them to her over dinner. I do not want to reveal what causes Audrey to make this speech, but she shares a story wherein her fastidious mother makes a terrible but hilarious mess (well, hilarious to anyone who finds the scatological as funny as I do). The story ends:
“I’ve never told that to anyone before,” Audrey said, “but I feel I am among friends here.”
And she smiled, a dimpled small smile. Her face looked happy and calm. I took her hand. Now, I loved her.
I don’t feel bad about revealing the end of the story because Audrey’s speech and the activities that persuade this icy woman to tell her tale are the purpose of this story. I just loved it. In a collection of noir and violence and extreme horror it was a shiny surprise to find a story that speaks of that moment when odd people finally get each other.
“Dignity” also amused the part of me that always appreciates a good story about poop. It begins:
Guiza the Turdboy got no respect from the people of the village. He asked his sister, Rosalita, why.
“It is the profession you have chosen, Guiza. It…it…I don’t know how to say this, but it does not engender high regard. Frankly, my young brother, you’re full of shit.”
Guiza keeps the beaches free of horse crap by following two horses, one of which is very… messy. This is a pretty gross story, but hilarious oi you are of a certain sort of mind.
“Hail, Hail” was a delight to read. I seriously did not expect such interesting writing when I began reading this book. A strange man creates interesting scenarios at restaurants, a sort of restaurant guardian angel for misfits. He chooses his table in order to have a good look at the restaurant’s patrons, intruding into the lives of strangers as he sees fit. In the part I am going to quote, an elderly but acclaimed poet has tripped and fallen next to the table where the intruding man and a blonde woman, whom he calls “Spec,” are sitting:
It wasn’t much of a fall, but with people of that age, bones snap in a trice, joints lock, ligaments lacerate and tendons tear; no fall is benign. We anxiously sought signs of recovery but feared we might bear witness to agony. The Poet slowly lifted his head, looking a bit dazed. He briefly glanced at me, and then at Spec, smiled and said, “Hiya, blondie. Say, did anyone ever tell you how gorgeous you are? A real blonde, I can tell. Special you are, a gift to men. I love you, doll, I love you.”
Spec blushed, an aw shucks look filling her happy face, and she replied, literally, “Aw shucks.”
“And sweet; you are a sweetie-pie, you are. I’m in love again. Alive, I feel. A verse for you I’ll write, a poem, a whole goddam anthology. ‘To Blondie, from Mike’ I’ll call it. You and me, Blondie, you and me.”
Again, who expected such a sweet story in an anthology wherein a story begins with a dog getting killed and wherein so many stories involve so much poop? This piece has such a 1940s feel to it, plus a small amount of JD Salinger. The last paragraph is almost an homage to Catcher in the Rye.
“The Ice Cream Truck Plays That Tune No More” is utterly hilarious. A man who owns an ice cream truck but can no longer sell ice cream finds an entirely new line of work through his prostitute girlfriend. I probably shouldn’t have found this one as funny as I did, given that it features no poop, but it was a fun piece.
The last story I am going to discuss from this collection I have to discuss just because of its title.
“My putz is:
a. in my pants
b. in my hand
c. in a lady’s orifice
A TWA agent whose circumcision went very wrong meets a woman who keeps… well, she keeps something in a jar that the average person would just as soon flush down the toilet. It’s true love. True, gross love.
We won’t go into details here. Suffice it to say that a waitress named Margaret, Maggie to her friends, fainted that Monday morning upon delivering a check to one of her booths. A man and a woman rushed from the bar without paying, holding hands, each carrying a jar of something that sloshed around, something the other customers couldn’t quite make out.
Sometimes reading books for this site is a slog, and that’s fine because I don’t mind slogs. I’m built for slogs, it seems. Emotional slogs, intellectual slogs, millions of dead dogs. Odd literature is seldom as easy as mainstream lit. But every now and then a piece of odd literature is a treat. This book was so much fun to read and whoever LVR is, I hope he writes some more stories real soon. He’s shown that extreme horror doesn’t have to be dumb, that noir can be deeply funny, and that when a writer is on his game, he can publish a collection of stories that span genres, styles and even eras. I highly recommend this unlikely collection.