Books: Carnal Surgery and Brain Cheese Buffet
Author: Ed Lee
Type of Books: Fiction, short story collections, extreme horror
Why Do I Consider These Books Odd: The extremity of the content.
Availability: Republished by Deadite Press in 2010 and 2011 respectively, you can get copies here:
Comments: I have not come close to reading all of Edward Lee’s books but, as I have mentioned in the past, I really enjoyed his “Infernal” books. I loathed the execrable Teratologist and I think my negative opinion of Portrait of the Psychopath as a Young Woman is quite clear. It’s not often that I have such diverse opinions about an author’s works but looking at the original publication dates of Lee’s works clears up some issues. Though Teratologist was written roughly around the same time as the “Infernal” series, the Ed Lee books I truly loathe were written in the same three-to-four year time frame. It may seem like dirty pool to analyze so harshly books that may have been at the beginning of Lee’s career and don’t demonstrate his career arc, but these books were recently released by Deadite, and were new to me when I read them. If a publisher is going to release old books and the author has no problem with it, then claims that these stories were early in Lee’s career and should not be read closely hold no merit.
One can see some commonalities in Lee’s works that I dislike. He was on a pedophilia, child porn, mafia kick not unlike some of the works of Andrew Vachss, though Lee’s works are quite a bit less sophisticated. And, interestingly, I find myself disliking some of Vachss’ works for the same reasons I dislike these two collections of Lee’s, as Vachss, in seeming defiance of all of his goals in writing, sometimes presents a moral ambiguity about all the sickness in his content that left me wondering what the point was, to have endured all of that nastiness and have no conclusion, no relief from all the horror. Not every Vachss book was that nihilistic, but Vachss has a tendency to often end his novels in such an unsatisfying manner that I have thrown one or two against the wall when I finished reading it. Had these two Lee short story collections not been on my Kindle, I suspect they too would have been tossed in a similar manner.
Don’t get me wrong. Writing from the id is generally a commendable thing to do because it’s a sign of bravery. You are letting the world in on your subconscious as you ruminate on taboo subjects. It’s all the more brave when one is a horror writer because the author is showing some real darkness and asking the reader to be affected by the content yet not be repelled by the author. I respect people who show their darkness when they write. I just need the darkness to have a point so that it is worth dragging myself through the content. If one is going to write of decadence and sickness in such a way so that the decadence and sickness are the sole points, one must write in a manner that is absorbing, penetrating, or even beautiful. Lee’s writing is banal at best in both collections. So no beauty, no point, no catharsis. And that sucks. This is a problem that plagues most splatterpunk stories. If one just wants to wallow in sickness with no greater point or catharsis – something I enjoy doing from time to time – the writing must be good enough to make the wallow worth it. Otherwise we can all just go to grue sites and view crime scenes and watch suicide videos.
Additionally, as I read these stories, it became clear that Lee had no real focus in his story telling. I have no moral issue with writing or reading gore. Splatterpunk is not always my cup of tea but, when written well, it can be a lot of fun. But it’s best to decide what the story is going to be. If one is going to incorporate fat women puking down a man’s throat, prostitutes made into living human stumps and forced into exploitative porn, an old man keeping, mutilating and raping women in his basement, and similar images into one’s stories, then perhaps the stories should have a simple plot. The horror or camp of extreme images make most plots difficult to stomach and to follow.
I decided to discuss in depth the first stories from these two collections because both collections are more or less interchangeable in content as well as the problems that plague them. Then I’ll just pull the most egregious examples from stories from both collections to illustrate in micro the major problems I encountered.
Carnal Surgery and Brain Cheese Buffet were repellent collections so gorehounds will like some elements of these books. Additionally, at times both had some clever or funny content. But the pluses were outweighed by the following minuses:
–Terrible, pompous, or unlikely dialogue
–No characters, just caricatures or characters who are extremely unrealistic
–Unlikely or fuzzy plots
–Inappropriate word usage and writing that verges on gibberish
–Grotesque imagery that in no way fuels the stories but isn’t well-written enough to enjoy on its own merit
It should be mentioned that one of these stories, possibly the worst of the bunch, was nominated for a Stoker Award. So, like, you know, this is just my opinion, man…
By the way, this is a very long discussion. Very long, and hopefully entertaining, but mostly very long. I’m telling you this so you don’t have to click the “more” link and be surprised by the length. And if you click that link and then get all “tl;dr, you verbose bitch,” I will mock your hair and slut shame your dog. Cool?
So let’s start with that Stoker-nominated story. It’s the first story from Brain Cheese Buffet, “Mr. Torso.” This story is the best example of all the above minuses. The dialogue is so bad it beggars belief that this story could have been nominated for any sort of award. It’s the story of a redneck who kidnaps truck stop hookers, cuts off their arms and legs, lobotomizes them and removes their teeth, and screws them until he impregnates them in some bizarre pro-life agenda he backs up with philosophical rants that will give you a rash if you read them more than once.
The dialogue in the story is horrific and the fact that half the story is told in a redneck argot makes it all the more insufferable (and let’s not overlook the fact that this story is told in third person so there was no need to switch the voice when discussing the redneck and the detective). Here’s the opening few sentences of the story:
Ol’ Lud knew he was givin’ ’em purpose by what he was doin’. This was God’s work according ta the books he’d read, and Lud believed it might fierce, he did. Yessiree, he thought. That’s gettin’ it. He gandered cockeyed down at Miss August outa Hustler. As purdy a blondie as he’d ever seen. Ooh, yeah. Awright, so sometimes it took awhiles. Sometimes he had trouble gettin’ the ol’ crane ta rise, but jimmy Christmas, at sixty-one, what fella wouldn’t, ya know?
Hailing, as I do, from pure white trash, I didn’t find this particularly readable or enjoyable. The content alone is enough to be utterly repugnant – this is a man kidnapping women, cutting off their arms and legs, holding them hostage and raping them until they are pregnant, keeping them alive as they gestate, and then killing them and selling the babies. Do we really need to struggle through such content reading stylized speech that forces the reader to interact with the text as if it was a novel by Joyce? Reading this story felt like I had walked in on a mentally deficient man masturbating on a dead kitten.
Here’s one more taste, just in case you think I am being too reactionary:
Lud’s mitt needed ta jack himself up a tad longer ‘fore he’d be able to get it, so’s he stared on at Miss August, one mighty purdy splittail with that velvety lookin’ snatch on her an’ that dandy pair of ribmelons. Yessir!
Fuck… Just fuck. You can also file this under puerile humor.
But then we slide from Lud looking at girly mags to get it up so he can impregnate lobotomized torsos to the cop investigating the missing women. It is a slide down a mountain of ridiculousness into a valley of pomposity.
Tipps was contemplating the tenets of didactic Solipsism and its converse ideologies when he disembarked from his county car. Positive teleology? Tipps didn’t buy it. It had to be subjective existential. It has to be, he thought. Any alternative is folly.
Yep. We have a cop who is a philosophical pedant stalking a hillbilly who is raping torsos and is also a philosophical pedant. Good times!
And that brings us to characterization. We have a hillbilly Christian who misinterprets Scripture and commits heinous acts. One almost thinks that perhaps Lee introduced Lud’s deep interest in philosophy in order to keep him from being a redneck caricature but in the end it just made him an unbelievable caricature. And the cop who muses about teleology on the job? Again, not a fully realized character because his thoughts are so… pointless to the story that one wonders why he felt the need to make a competent and otherwise interesting cop engage in the sort of meanderings one expects from a college sophomore who just completed Philosophy 101 and has quotes from Nietzsche taped on his dorm room walls.
The plot for “Mr Torso” isn’t so bad. Sort of nihilistic but at least it made sense and I won’t spoil it in case anyone wants to read the book after my discussion. So with that admitted damning with faint praise on my part, let’s move on to Lee’s strange affection for weird word choice.
An’ he’d cut off their arms an’ gams so’s they could get by on less viddles and so’s he wouldn’t hafta worry ’bout ’em gettin’ away.
“Viddles.” For the love of sanity, even Jed Clampett knew the word was spelled “vittles.” And yeah, get ready for lots and lots of apostrophes, so many they may make your eyes cross.
He hated kikes, wops and wasps. Especially wasps because he himself was born a wasp.
Nope, he hates WASPs, unless this book has a completely random sci-fi element that was unclear to me as I read it.
But if he is a wasp, at least he is a wasp with a lot going on for him:
Not only was Tipps a conclusionary-didactic nihilist, he was also a proficient investigator.
Go ahead and Google “conclusionary-didactic nihilist.” I dare you. Good luck sorting it out.
Now let’s talk about the pointless extremity in this story.
An’ worse was the noises they made sometimes while Lud was tryin’ ta get his nut, kinda mewlin’ noises an’ another noise like “gaaaaaa – gaaaaaaaa” on account of ‘cos Lud had jiggled their brains. Yessiree, downright unappealin’ they was ta look at an’ listen to which is why ol’ Lud’d put one of the girlie center-folds on their bellies so’s he had somethin’ inspirin’ ta look at whiles he was givin’ ’em the wood.
We know nothing about these women so their mewling noises, aside from being pitiful, mean nothing to us. Yet we now know these lobotomized women were still suffering, which is not necessary to the plot. It’s just a detail added for disgust value in a story that can’t make up its mind what it wants to be – a redneck jibe, a police procedural, a look at how philosophy influences the sane and the mad, an examination of exploitation and murder or a wank-job for splatter fans. Had Lee settled on the latter as the focus for this story, it would have been a revolting part of a piece meant to cause revulsion. As it is in this piece, it’s just an unnecessary wallow.
It gets worse. Oh, it gets worse.
So poor Lud stepped back from the trough with his pants around his ankles so’s he could jack himself back up but meantimes the K-Y in the gal’s babyhole’d get gummy. See, ‘fore Lud got ta dickin’ a gal he’d have ta give them a squirt of the K-Y on account the gals couldn’t get wet no more thereself ‘cos of the brain-‘jiggle he gave ’em. But like just was mentioned, see, that K-Y up there’d go gummy sometimes just like right now with this red-hairt gal, so’s Lud’d have ta kneel down an’ hock a lunger smackdab on her snatch ta wet her up again, all the whiles he’s jackin’ his peter.
Fuck this shit. Seriously. It seems Lee has a thing for spit as a lubricant. I encountered this in Portrait of the Psychopath as a Young Woman. One could make the case that in a story with as much going on in it as this one has, this is unnecessary and adds nothing to the plot. Compare this to Wrath James White’s Population Zero. There’s some hardcore violence and descriptions of gore but they serve to show the protagonist’s descent into madness that is fueled by his extremism. He is willing to do terrible things to achieve a greater goal and at no point does one get the impression White wrote those scenes simply to disgust, or that maybe his dick got hard as he wrote them. One definitely does not get the impression that his book was informed by one of the more inexplicably enduring trends in porn.
But the final reason I just hated this story relates back to bad dialogue. It happens when the cop confronts the hillbilly pervert and notices his book shelf is filled with philosophy books by the likes of Sartre, Kant, Aquinas, Plato, and Hegel, and begins a conversation with the redneck-torso-rapist-lobotomizer-killer-black-market-adoption-schemer-self-taught-philosopher:
“…An’ I’se ain’t no psykerpath.”
“What are you then?” Tipps’ question grated like gravel.
Calmly, Mr. Torso went on, “I’se a perveyer of sorts, ya know? A perveyer of objectified human dynamics. Volunteeristic idealism’s what they’se call it, son. See, the abserlute will is an irrational force ‘less ya apply it ta the mechanistics of casual posertivity as a kinda counter-force ta the evil concreteness of neeherlistic doctrine. What I mean, son, is as inderviduals of the self-same unerverse, we’se all subject to the metterphysical duality scape, and we must realize what we’se are as transcendental units of bein an’ then engage ourselves with objectertive acts, son, ta turn the do-dads of our units of bein’ into a functional deliverance of subjecterive posertivity in the ways of The Man Upstairs. No, I ain’t no psykerpath. I’se a vassal an’ perpetcheratorer of Kiergegaardian fundermentals of human purpose.”
Tipps stared as though he’d downed a fifth of Johnny Black in one chug. Holy fucking shit! he thought. Mr. Torso is… a teleologic Christian phenomenalist!
This story was nominated for a fucking Stoker award. And it’s clear why. This is perfect dialogue that maintains tension in a confrontation between the law and a killer and every word rings true and isn’t pompous, pretentious or incomprehensible in turns. As Mr. Oddbooks read this, he asked, “This is a joke, right? Is he having us on or is he just an asshole?”
My answer is that I don’t know. If this is humor, it fails, and if it isn’t humor, it fails. All it is is fail.
Let’s move on.
Carnal Surgery begins with “The Seeker” and it embodies all that I found so problematic with Lee’s stories though, interestingly, in this particular story one could make the argument that Lee’s use of these tedious elements makes perfect sense and is kind of funny at times. However, this does not mean this story does not grate and annoy. “The Seeker” is a story of a self-absorbed, tedious writer trying to find some elusive truth, mixed in with plenty of pointless grossness and such pretentious philosophical meanderings I wanted to sue someone on general principle. This story, despite having some discernible humor, also has the honor of being a story with a plot so dense and unclear that I genuinely have little idea what really happened.
“The Seeker,” like “Mr. Torso,” employs dialogue that is pompous, or maybe pretentious. Probably both. The dialogue is certainly unrealistic, but, unlike “Mr. Torso,” had the usage been isolated to this story, it could have been seen as just a humorous romp. But the usage wasn’t limited to this story and it became tiresome to read. When it showed up over and over in various stories, I wanted to cry. Here are some examples of the prose and the dialogue, and I cannot emphasize this enough – had this been used to show what an elitist, self-absorbed artiste the protagonist of “The Seeker” was, it might have been funny. An entire book of it was insufferable. To set it up, a writer has entered a bar called CROSSROADS (sigh…). He was thrilled with what he considered the low-class nature of the bar – for surely amongst these rubes he can find eternal truth.
“What’cha want in a dull’s-shit town like this?” inquired the fat blonde, chewing. Her breasts were literally large as human heads. “Ain’t nothin’ around for fifty miles in any direction.
Isolatus proximus. “I’m a writer,” the writer said. “I travel all over the country. I need to see different things, different people. I need to see life in its different temporal stratas.”
Even if the writer is a prat, this is bad dialogue. It’s so bad I don’t even know if Lee meant for the writer to be the sort of man who wants to see the world’s different temporal strata, yet is so ignorant that he doesn’t know that strata is already plural.
It gets worse. He tries to explain his status as a seeker to the bartender.
“Well, that’s an abstraction, of course. What I mean is I’m on a quest. I’m searching for some elusive uncommon denominator to perpetuate my aesthetic ideologies. For a work of fiction to exist within any infrastructure of resolute meaning, its peripheries must reflect certain elements of truth. I don’t mean objective truths. I’m talking about ephemeral things: unconscious impulses, psychological propensities, etc. – the underside of what we think of as the human experience.
He prattles on as the fat woman eats and a lovers quarrel takes place in the background, distracting from the entire soliloquy:
“Honesty is the vehicle of my aesthete. The truth of fiction can only exist in its bare words. Pardon my obtuseness, but it’s the mode, the application of the vision which must transcend the overall tangibilities. Prose mechanics, I mean – the structural manipulation of syntactical nomenclatures in order to affect particularized transpositions of imagery.”
You can file this one under gibberish, too. One of the problems I had with Portrait of the Psychopath as a Young Woman was that half the time I felt like I was reading gibberish. This story was no different.
But here’s where things start to get a bit better, because here is an instance where Lee gets gross humor right, so file this example under humor done well but dialogue that sucks ass. So the fat blonde tries to help the writer find his truth and she kisses him.
Truth, he thought frivolously. Ephemeral reality. This was it, wasn’t it. Spontaneous human interface, inexplicably complex yet baldly simple. Synaptic and chemical impulses of the brain meshed with someone’s lifetime of learned behavior. It was these simple truths that he lived for. They nourished him. Human truth is my sustenance, he thought…
What happens next is poetic.
The fat blonde’s kiss grew ravenous. Then—
She threw up directly into the writer’s mouth.
It had come in a single, heaving gust. He tasted everything: warm beer, lumps of half-digested sausage and pizza dough, and bile – lots of bile. Utter disgust bulged his eyes and seized his joints. Then came a second, and larger, gust, which she projected right into his lap.
Okay, if there was ever a man who deserved to have a bazooka barf via kiss delivered to him, it was this choad, and had Lee managed to use such disgusting imagery with a judicious hand, it might have worked well. There was just so much of it and so much plot, inexplicable plot in this case, that it all became a horror mush.
Caricatures abound, my friends. Obese woman stuffing her greasy maw with pizza, self-impressed yet idiotic writer, white trash girl who sleeps with everyone in town, jealous boyfriend, unfriendly cop. Cardboard cutouts all the way.
And as for bad or fuzzy plots, I have little sense of what happened in this story aside from the gross stuff I am sharing. No idea what happened. Maybe a second read would clear it up but I refuse. I just refuse.
It’s what I have to discuss next that makes me wonder what the hell is going on with Lee because the “Infernal” series showed him to be a serviceable writer, yet the poor word choice and tendency toward gibberish I saw in this story were shocking. Take this sentence:
Too many things cruxed him.
As far I know, crux is only a noun, so using it as a verb is an… interesting choice. Is he trying to say the town puzzles him? I suspect so but one should not have to work that hard to decipher a sentence in a story wherein an obese woman pukes down a pompous writer’s throat.
Was it really madness, or was it susceptibility, as the voice seemed to infer.
This is some serious fuckery. Okay, there is a voice speaking that the writer can hear and for a moment, I thought he was speaking to the voice and the voice inferred some meaning from what he said. Except a reread didn’t prove that out, or if it did it was too dense to pull out the meaning. But it puts the reader in an uncomfortable position of wondering if Lee didn’t know the difference between “infer” and “imply” when he wrote this story. If that was the case, perhaps it could have been edited for this reprint.
Then there is this section:
All that he’d sought, in his absurd pretensions as a seeker, had brought him to this final test. There could be no going back. His preceptor awaited, the ultimate seeker.
This is utter gibberish. I cannot place the context because the plot, oh the plot, but even without context this is ridiculous. His preceptor, his ritualistic teacher, awaits him, but the ritualistic teacher is the seeker? How can his desires to be a seeker be absurd if the religious teacher is the ultimate seeker? If being a seeker is an absurd pretension, what is the point of dealing with the ultimate in absurd pretension. Because believe me, the preceptor brings nothing with any value to clear any of this up so if this is the ultimate seeker, then… Yeah, gibberish.
Now let’s discuss the way that Lee’s use of repellent imagery is often misplaced. One of the hallmarks of good splatterpunk writing is that it does not try to be anything but a gross-out. There are no difficult plots that are obscured or made unimportant by the excessive gore. One of the reasons the “Infernal” series of books worked was because the gore and nastiness were not the focus, though definitely important. The novels had traditional horror and suspense plots that the gore did not engulf. That did not happen in these short stories, which had plots I presume were important, but were completely consumed by the horrible details.
Take this scene for example, and believe me I can’t place it in any meaningful context:
The voice trumpeted. ALAS. FAILURE.
This disconcerted the writer, for he knew he was next. For the last time in his life, then, he asked himself the ever important query. How powerful is the power of truth?
I’LL SHOW YOU.
The boy’s innards prolapsed through his mouth in a few, slow, even pulses; the writer thought of a fat snake squeezing from its hole. Lungs, liver, heart, g.i. tract – everything that was inside now hung heavily outside, glimmering. Then the red heart, amid it all, stopped beating and the boy fell dead.
ONLY FAITH CAN SAVE YOU NOW.
“I kind of figured that,” the writer admitted.
So having your organs fall out of your mouth is truth, yes? This is what the preceptor brought to the table, by the way, so, you know, this is part of the gibberish, but this is also part of the useless employment of horrific imagery to no real end. This is truth, an innocent soldier exploding out his mouth. How does this show the seeker anything? If he wanted to show this, why bother with a contrived plot? It makes no sense and it made the story tiresome as one tried to understand how this was truth.
It was a shame, because this story would have worked very well had the revelation of truth come in the bar where the seeker met the gross townsfolk, caricatures that they were. Had it ended with his attempts to call for help, with him trapped in this place where he pompously slummed for truth, it would have been excellent. Had this story been a nasty revelation a la Flannery O’Connor, it would have been great. Even with the pomposity, the tale of the pretentious git getting what he is owed by those he looks down upon as simple folk is a fun story and one that never gets old when handled well. Lee starts off handing it well and it all falls to shit. So sad.
Now I’m going to share briefly how the problems that plagued both books affected other stories in the collections. Let’s begin with Carnal Surgery.
From the story, “Please Let Me Go,” the touching tale of an uber-bitch career woman who wears silk bras and keeps a man imprisoned in her bedroom, we get some of the worst sex writing ever.
Her tongue traced around the gorged dome, teasing the tiny egress.
That one sentence is, somehow, worse than anything else one finds in these two collections. The imprisoned man also has testicles “that felt as large as hen’s eggs.”
Her hands plied his muscled buttocks as he rocked into her, and his penis – always so hard for her, so large and knowing – tilled her salt-damp depths without abatement.
He had a knowing penis. Of course he did. And it occurs to me that salt damp depths may need a good abatement, preferably a concrete one.
The bitch protagonist of this story also wears Evan Piccone silk blouses, indicating Lee either wrote this story in the mid 80s or has no idea about women’s clothing brands. I tend to think the latter as he also has her wearing “Bali heels.” Bali is a bra brand. I suspect he meant Bally shoes, but even so, when this story was written it was a dated brand. Probably nothing anyone cares about but me. But then again, you never know when a woman who put herself through college selling shoes will end up starting a site devoted to outre literature and will find you out for having no idea how women in the late 90s dressed, so let that be a lesson to you.
But the bad writing goes on:
His love consumed her, it carried her away on angels’ wings to a demesne of passion and indefectibility that was theirs and theirs alone.
Demesne of passion and indefectibility eh? Sure, why not. Lee did a lot of this, using ten dollar words that made his sentences sound ridiculous. Technically, this sentence makes sense in a weird way, but it was yet another moment when I felt like I was reading gibberish.
One of the problems with the above is that when one discusses a demesne of passion and indefectibility when a middle-aged hag is essentially raping a prisoner, it makes it hard to know when Lee’s story was poorly edited or if he was just writing nonsense again. Take this sentence, bold is mine:
Frequently she’d fellate him beneath the water, gentling stroking his buttock’s groove.
Surely he meant to write “gently” but given the rest of this story, who can really say?
“The Order of Nature” shows more of Lee’s strange or inappropriate word choice.
Blood blared on the asphalt…
Blood cannot blare. Blood can do things that liquids can do but it cannot do things that sounds do unless it is squirting out of a body or being poured in some manner.
This story features a hostage situation all full of GOTCHA moments. A criminal forces hostages to determine who among them gets killed. One of the women decides between a black man and a Jewish man and sentences the black man to death. When challenged about her choice, this is what she says:
“I don’t like Blacks. You asked, so I answered,” Sharon replied in a low, grating voice. She pulled up her sleeve and displayed a tattoo that read: ARYAN NATION: WHITE IS MIGHT.
I don’t think I have ever heard of an Aryan Nations devotee who would countenance a Jew to live over a black man. Sharon explains that Aryans hate blacks more than Jews and that just ain’t true. The entire basis of the Aryan Nations is to battle ZOG, not the NAACP. And I have no idea why Lee capitalized “Blacks.” As I read this I could not help but think how much better this story would have been had Wrath James White or Brian Keene written it.
“Goddess of the New Dark Age” again showed Lee’s bizarre word choice or bad editing, and really there is no reason it cannot be both.
“Be prepared for some containdications form the chemotherapy,” came the words like a clipped dissertation. “Olfactory and aural hallucinations. Exodikinesis, immoderate scotipic debris, synaptic maladaptation and toxicity intolerance. It’s normal.”
Surely he meant contraindications, but who knows? And Lee really likes throwing out jargon, which is annoying but would not be so bad if one could run to ground what the hell he is talking about. Go ahead and Google “exodikinesis” and “scotipic” and get back to me.
More of the same:
“Renal malfunction. What happens, Mr. Smith, is that the raging malignant cells become insinuated into the nephrons and the cortical kidney tissue, scleroticizing the calyx cavities.”
Well, thank god Mr. Smith got that cleared up.
A beautiful, beautiful woman, an amalgam composed of inverted bits of wallpaper, a prolapsation.
An amalgam is a mixture of different things. She’s not an amalgam if she is composed solely of wallpaper. She’s just wallpaper. I have no idea if Lee really wanted the image of a prolapsed colon to be associated with the image of the woman but, really, it’s not a good word to use even if that is what he wanted us to think because it’s a word that means slipping or falling. The image of the woman is actually protruding.
Oh, and just so we don’t forget that Lee is on a philosophy kick:
Consider, first, the initial tenets of conclusionary nihilism. Truth is reality, and there is no objective basis for truth. Take mathematics for example, which exists only because space and time are forms of intuition; all material qualities are only the outward appearance arising from monadistic nexi. See?
This shit grew very tiring. And remember, I’m just hitting on the worst elements of the story.
He rose, joints clicking, as he crossed the nighted room…
Yes, nighted is technically correct here but why couldn’t he have just said “darkened?” Why would anyone want to write like a 15-year-old with a thesaurus?
“Hands” was also a fiesta of wtf-ery.
Shiny instruments clinked: Moler rushed the tray over, then raised the pair of Sustrunk-brand German fabric shears.
Well, thank god we know the brand and country of origin of the fabric shears. This helped clear up the plot to no end, I tell you!
This is incredulous.
Yes, yes, yes, incredulous can be a synonym for incredible but why? Why use it when it generally is taken to mean skeptical. Sentences like this absolutely destroy the flow of Lee’s writing as the reader has to pause and think, “Wait, does he mean incredible or skeptical?”
“We’ve put more hours into this investigation than fucking Noah put into the Arc.”
I’m not stupid but I’m also not very well-versed in psych-speak.
HA! AHAHAHAHAHA! This sentence is technically correct but given the jargon Lee slings around, it was unintentionally a very funny line. Especially when this sentence appears in the same story:
“In Profile #1, the perpetrator may be quite ‘crazy,’ to use your term. He may be psychopathic or merely sociopathic, but more likely the former. He’s probably in the late-stages of a hallucinotic syndrome, and has long since experienced a mid-phased episodic reality break.”
This is pure fucking gibberish. A psychopath and a sociopath are essentially the same thing – the former is considered a genetic predisposition and the latter is a learned behavior and deemed a personality disorder, but they are interchangeable in how the conditions express themselves. Since the person speaking here is engaging in speculation about an unknown perp and has no idea about his upbringing, there is no way he can know if the perp is a sociopath or a psychopath. More importantly, the behaviors described later – reality break, hallucinations – are descriptive of psychosis, not psychopathy or sociopathy. Pure fucking gibberish.
“Clinically, we would call Profile #1 a graduated bipolar symbolist.”
Well, aside from the fact that Lee now has a dude who is either a sociopath or psychopath who is also psychotic, it also makes sense that the dude is a graduated bipolar symbolist. Will it surprise anyone that if you Google “graduated bipolar symbolist” there isn’t a single hit or reference that doesn’t come from this story?
Their amorality isn’t a result of mental defectivity. They know what’s right and what’s wrong, but they choose wrong because it suits them.
An amoral person is not interested at all in questions of right and wrong so they cannot choose wrong because it suits them because they don’t address morality in such terms. I think Lee means “immorality.”
The hands of her luscious silhouette fell to her sides; the coltish legs untensed.
This is a horrible sentence in so many ways. It’s like the silhouette is an entity separate from her, acting on its own accord. It’s also hard to see how a luscious woman is also coltish. Luscious implies a curvy body – coltish is what is used to describe gawky pre-teen girls in a growth spurt.
“An erotopathic totem,” she remembered through her lust. “A physical object that activates an aberrant sexual compulsion.”
Thank god Lee defined “erotopathic totem” because a Google for the same yielded not a single hit outside of Lee’s story. Nary a single definition. It’s like he’s speaking a language no one else knows.
“Death, She Said”
The light from the streetlamp shined through the windshield.
Nope, it shone through the windshield. A shoe can be shined, as can the windshield itself if one polishes it, but the the light, if coming through the windshield, shone. Pedantic, I know. Sue me.
“The Piece of Paper” had no obvious problems other than an illiterate man eating a scab. All in all, it was awesome in comparison to the rest of the stories in this collection.
“The Blurred Room” mined the child porn vein and was tiresome with more psychological gibberish.
“A transient-global amnesic effect, retrograde and generally non-aphasic, induced by acute traumatic shock.”
Yeah, yeah, yeah… But that is awesome, outright stellar compared to the tiresome porn descriptions.
Paone had seen some shit in his time – part of his job was to sample each master for quality: biker chicks on PCP blowing horses and dogs, addicts excreting on each other and often consuming the produce of their own bowels. “Nek” flicks, “Bag” flicks. Logboys getting down on pregnant girls, retarded girls, amputees and deformees. And snuff.
Okay, so the reason I want to give the world the finger after reading this is because Lee throws out these terms and forces the reader to either Google this shit in order to understand the depravity involved in Paone’s working life or just pass this over and be left wondering what the fuck. Nek I can kind of figure out – surely this refers to necrophilia. But “bag” and “logboys” are not so intuitive. So in order to understand this one has to research this sentence and find out what these things are because Lee just throws them out there. Again, this is not Nabokov. It is bad form to force a reader to interact with cheesy gore on this level.
“Gut-shot” is full of gun and bullet minutia but I admit that sort of stuff is not my bag. At least I didn’t feel like someone was shitting on my neck as I looked it up to understand what Lee was getting at, so there’s that. I got a bit uncomfortable with a cop using women like “human kleenex” but I’m not here to engage in feminist performance rage. Still, at some point I realized people with two X-chromosomes were not Lee’s intended audience with this piece. It’s all the more obvious because it’s told in second person, addressing a man. But all in all, this was not the craptacular horror show that some of his other stories were.
“Make a Wish” is a demoralizing story of a pregnant heroin addict whose friend is dying on the streets but luckily, you know, nuclear war happens so file this under WTF plots. It is what it is but it still suffered from bad writing.
Never “pretty” to begin with, her face was slightly elongated and eyes too far apart – the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome was all that she’d ever inherit from her mother – and now black skag just made it worse.
FAS is not an inheritable condition. One cannot inherit an in utero chemically induced genetic mutation.
On to Brain Cheese Buffet, which of the two collections was the harder one to swallow just from the perspective of pure fucking abuse. The writing in this collection is not unlike what one would expect if Peter Sotos lobotomized himself and lost any remaining moral perspective and decided to write a book with Rob Black exploring the depth of the human psyche.
“Miss Torso” is little more than a pornographic depiction of misogyny and human suffering. A woman called Spooky was mutilated and used in porn because the Mafia is full of bad, bad men. I won’t spoil the plot because although it was horrible in every respect, this was one of the better written stories, even showing some humor as the plot goes from horrible to a Coen brothers antic as two idiots try to dispose of and hide what they think is a dead body. Spooky loses her legs and that’s not even close to the end of her suffering. You need to read this story on a sugar high or in the presence of something cute but sort of weird, like a baby bat.
“Grub Girl in the Prison of Dead Women” is sheer id and so borderline horrible that it made me wonder why this wasn’t just made into a porn cartoon. I then remembered that Glenn Danzig’s Verotik imprint actually did that and THEN it was made it into the porn film it so clearly is meant to be. Some mutation made some people turn into zombie-like creatures, sort of indestructible things that cannot feel pain, and the government rounds them up and imprisons them. It’s gross and nasty and of course it has some WTF moments in the writing.
Then some asshole Republican senator made a big pitch about how we should be “socially impounded.” “Protean symtomologies,” see, that’s what they were worried about.
Protean symtomologies, eh? No idea what he means by that. Surely he meant “symptomologies” but again, as I say so often, who knows. And even if a missing P can explain the word, I still don’t know what a protean symptomology is.
“The Dritiphilist” is yet another story about yet another person whose sexual problems will require you to consult Google and ultimately you still will have no idea what the hell because the word is only mentioned online in Lee’s story and it’s hard to tell if this is really a thing or not. A dude has a female therapist who eggs him on to tell her about his major malfunction because nothing shocks her because – and this is a TWIST – she’s nuts. The story contains lines like:
The smoke spewed from her lips like a ghostly fluid.
Because of the overall theme in this book, I immediately thought of semen.
And then there is more of Lee’s essential misunderstanding of psychology:
“I’ve treated Munchausen Syndrome where women really do love their kids but can’t help bringing them to near-death. I’ve treated women with Helsinki Syndrome, who fell in love with the men who tortured them in ways that beggar description.”
Women who make their kids sick are suffering from Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy and there is no Helsinki Syndrome – it’s Stockholm Syndrome – and no mental health professional would have made that substitution.
Then, in terms of just sheer fucking incomprehensibility, there’s this:
The trichitillomanics, the aphasics, the dysgeusaics?
Again, this isn’t Dostoevsky. There is no reason why anyone should have to look up so many words just to understand a fucking gore porn story.
But even with other similar problems, this story was just so awful because I had fatigue from the other collection and the details are just fucking gross. Just foul with no redemption behind it other than the disgust one felt from the wallow and I don’t even know if the wallow could possibly be well-written enough to enjoy on its own merits.
I am telling you honestly, dear reader, this really was one of the most fucking disgusting stories I have ever read. Some of you will need to read it on this merit alone but, if you do, I warned you.
“Makak” is a weird porn, zombie story that is exploitation at it’s finest, or perhaps it’s worst. Fat Latin drug dealer, lots of ethnic slurs, human degradation and a complete moral ambiguity that made me feel like a priest had laid his dick on my hand as I was reading. But there were no sentences that made me cry out for a merciful god to make it all stop, so, really, I should shut up about this one.
“The Mother” is another exploitative, nasty story but had no horrible writing aside from that which was needed to tell an exploitative, nasty story.
“The Wrong Guy” had some very irritating sentences.
“Well, I’m sorry!” Rena whined, close to lacrimating.
She was close to crying. Just use the clearest, simplest word for the job. No one is reading this shit to expand their vocabulary.
And then there was this:
Rena’s breasts, i.e. hooters, i.e. rib melons, i.e. tits, were smallish yet quite interesting: pointed, with bounce and ornamented by big distended brownish cones, while Wendlyn proved more conventional in regards to the mystic thing known as the human mammarian carriage – a formidable rack of firm, buoyant 38D’s with large pink areolae and nipple ends akin to thimbles.
God. Damn. It.
Larry seemed a little fat and doty; pickings were slim some nights.
Was Larry dotty? Doughy? The mind boggles as to what Lee really meant.
“The Baby” has more redneckery in store for the hapless reader. The phrase White Trash Nation gets used and, again, none of it was funny or interesting. I just… This story was so foul, with people so extreme that caricatures doesn’t come close to covering it. This story was a perfect encapsulation of why it is that stories that employ so much foulness should decide early on if they want to be splatter or a plotted piece with just enough gross details to be nasty. This story went on too long and eventually I was so completely fatigued at the end that nothing mattered. Oh yes, get a blow job from the gross, unwashed, obese redneck as her deformed, snot-encrusted infant watches. And oh yeah, the mother feeds the baby cum the way a bird feeds its chicks. Those are the more delicate details of this piece.
And oh, the editing:
Mother’s aren’t supposed to suck dicks with their baby’s watching!
“The McCrath Model, SS40-C, Series S” begins with this sentence:
“She’ll have to eat it,” Prouty said, “otherwise, she’ll drown.”
Yeah. It’s gonna be horrible. Mafia, porn, child porn, exploitation – Lee really was riding that particular hobby horse like it was the last form of literary transportation when he wrote these stories. But never fear, he also employed plenty of technical details that read like utter gibberish but might not be. You’ll only know after spending a shit ton of time Googling to find out.
“Recent research from John’s Hopkins indicates that perhaps as much as forty percent of obesity in America can be attributed to a previously unidentified icosahedral virus. Nonstructural protomers in the viral shell allow it to roam undetected by immune responses and directly attack the mitochondrion mechanisms in human fat cells.”
I read and discussed a book written by an actual geneticist and it was not this dense. In fact, it was quite interesting and elegant. And it was nice to read it because the author explained what the hell he was talking about AND I expected a bit of jargon like that in a book about genetics. Not so much in this book. Also, it’s Johns Hopkins. JOHNS HOPKINS. But to summarize, it was horribly gross and went on way too long.
Mercifully, we are at the end. It’s over. I feel conflicted about posting this but I’m going to do it anyway. Because I am disappointed. I feel like my mother did when I was a teenager and came into the house at 3:00 in the morning, red-eyed and stinking of liquor, insisting I had really just been studying. Her look said, Why are you creating such a dumb lie when the truth will get this over with faster?
Had Lee been honest in his writing, these collections would have been so much better. Had he settled on a method of storytelling these would have been outstanding collections. Had he decided to go with splatter and not detailed plots, his splatter would have been contained in smaller, easily digested nuggets that would not have left the reader seeking a bottle of Pepto and the Holy Bible when finished. Had he decided to write detailed, interesting plots with a bit of grue to make them intense, the plots would not have become fuzzy and tiresome. Had he left the goddamned jargon out of it entirely, everything would have read better and had he written about arcane topics sensibly, we could have avoided so much of the gibberish that made me want to scream.
I love Ed Lee. And that is why I am tearing these two books apart. Because I am disappointed. In him and in Deadite for not editing these books before re-releasing them, or maybe for re-releasing them at all. These are mostly terrible stories and when a legend writes terrible stories, it can make a fan react poorly. Even if he wrote these bad stories early in his career, since they got republished, it hints that there is some merit to the books. These stories read like a teenaged lie from a writer I respect and as long as this discussion is, what I found disagreeable with these stories could have filled an entry ten times longer than this one.
I’m gonna ground Ed Lee for a bit. I’m not going to read him until I think I can trust him again. I don’t want to read him again until I get the sense his prose isn’t going to lie to my face about being good horror when it’s utter drek. I love you Ed. I really do. But goddamn.