Author: Gabino Iglesias
Type of Book: Fiction, novella, bizarro, body horror
Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Well, because a man’s life is ruined by the sentient mouth that appears in his stomach.
Availability: Published by Eraserhead Press in 2012, you can get a copy here:
Comments: I decided to kick off my New Bizarro Author Series week with Gabino Iglesias because he is a fellow Austinista. Shallow, but hopefully my discussion will redeem me. Gutmouth is the story of Gut Dedmon and the sentient and often hungry mouth in his torso, a mutation that began as a pimple on his stomach and turned into a mouth that Dedmon has to feed. The mouth, named Philippe, interferes with Dedmon’s life in pretty interesting and foul ways, demanding food and engaging in oral sex with his girlfriend without Dedmon’s permission. Dedmon’s reaction to this latter act of betrayal lands him in jail, and the story is told in flashbacks as Dedmon experiences prison life, often with his own shit in his hand.
In this novel, Iglesias creates a perverse dystopia that can best be described as 1984 with extreme body modifications and mutations. Extreme pain is pleasure, pleasure is demented and everyone is amoral and marginally insane. There is a Church of Albert Fish, Carlton Mellick V is writing brutal fiction, people can genetically cross themselves with salamanders and a body modification expert deconstructs his ex-girlfriend into a motorcycle. This is a fun, perverse and at times really gross dystopic book, and it even has something for the paranoid types who like to visit here from time to time. The dystopia is a capitalist hell hole and Dedmon plays his part as a “hunter” for MegaCorp.
The job, as the name implies, involved hunting down people who refused to comply with MegaCorp rules and regulations and bringing them to the local Consumer Rehabilitation and Punishment Center. I would usually get a call or text with a crime, a name and an address and then I would track down dissidents – folks that refused to buy their allotted quantities of products each month, stubborn citizens who wanted to grow their own food, horny individuals that raped someone else’s pleasurebots, things like that. From the inside of the cell, that life looked like paradise.
Dedmon loathes the stoma-mouth that penetrates his abdomen and you can’t really blame him. Philippe forces Dedmon to interact with him and if ignored Philippe chews up whatever is in his way, including Dedmon’s clothing. Philippe also puts a lot of financial and emotional pressure on Dedmon.
Philippe was misogynistic and racist, which made me feel guilty about having him. Plus, his extravagant tastes clashed with my financial reality. A hunter couldn’t afford a steady diet of bipolar midget brains, Angora cats and chocolate-stuffed olives.
Philippe is demanding, respects no boundaries, and speaks, inexplicably since Dedmon is American, in a British accent. This is a pretty good distillation of their relationship, a scene from when Dedmon is in jail.
“Shut up, you fucking aberration. You’re the reason we’re here in the first place,” I said.
Philippe smiled a crooked grin in response.
“I’m hungry, mate. You think we can get some curry in here,” asked the toothy hole.
“I’m going to let you starve, you snaggletoothed prick,” I said.
“For a bloke who couldn’t satisfy his lady, you sure sound like a macho man ready to take on all comers. You muppet,” responded the mouth in his British accent.
“You know what? The best thing about dying is taking you with me,” I told him, pulling my shirt down.
I found the interactions between Dedmon and Philippe to be the best parts of this novella. It’s impossible to miss the implication that Dedmon is a man truly at war with himself, with Dedmon as the ego, Philippe as the id and a superego nowhere to be found. Plus I just like quarrels that verge into the ridiculous.
Iglesias clearly likes to have fun with language, and phrases that might seem pompous in another book fit in perfectly well here.
I scratched the sleep out of my eyes and used my nails to dig the crust out of my lacrimal sacs.
Not sure I have ever read the phrase “lacrimal sacs” before. Iglesias also throws around words like “osteomalacia” that ordinarily would force the reader to consult a dictionary but he uses these sorts of words with enough context that the reader knows what they mean. It’s nice to read a book from a bizarro writer whose love of the genre also has a love of The Word. There are moments wherein I wish Iglesias’ editor had made him kill some of his darlings, as he later describes a vagina as a “glistening hole that glistened” but overall Iglesias’ love of writing and love of words shine through and would have verged on stellar had this book received better editing.
Iglesias’ characterization is interesting. Dedmon, whose stomach hole performs oral sex on his girlfriend as she is having sex with Dedmon, allows the hole in his stomach to persuade him to kill Marie. Philippe convinces him that he will be a chump if he doesn’t kill her and there are signs that Dedmon is open to such discussions. He is plagued with jealousy because Marie would take care of Philippe’s needs, feeding him when he requested food, so he allowed himself to believe she encouraged Philippe’s sexual shenanigans. He engages in some seriously demented logic as he justifies what he did and considers the repercussions of his actions. Here are some of his thoughts as he sits in prison:
Although I had enough brain power to know that “good” was nothing but a floating signifier, my feelings were stronger than semiotics and those dictated that I didn’t deserve to be locked up. I had never molested kids, cheated MegaCorp or kicked puppies around. In fact, I had even refused to buy one of those dogs with no legs that a small MegaCorp affiliate flaunted as the latest advance in pet convenience.
He says this as he remembers that the girlfriend he murdered, Marie, had bottled cats as pets and so offended was he was by their mewings, he flushed one of them down the toilet. Before killing Marie in decidedly cold blood, Dedmon watches snuff films and relishes the fantasy of killing his girlfriend. Dedmon is a self-impressed, self-absorbed jerk who borders on being a complete sociopath and Iglesias portrays that very clearly. Dedmon is the entertaining protagonist in this book and one can easily enjoy his story, but I would worry about people who find themselves relating to Dedmon. After he kills Marie, he engages in a bit of repellent self-pity. This is from a scene wherein he is discussing the murder with a friend:
“Listen, Gut, you need some time to let this sink in. You know, like twenty minutes or something. Then you need to get your life back on track and get your ass back to work.”
“I know, it’s just that now I’ll never know why she did it,” I said, realizing that maybe we could’ve had a future.” Maybe at some point she was going to come back on her hands and knees and beg me to take her back.”
The punctuation errors are reproduced as I found them. Yep, he killed her but now he’ll never know why she “did it” when Philippe was the one who violated sexual boundaries. He’s distraught because maybe he just killed his one true love because the hole in his stomach egged him on? Yeah, Dedmon’s a jerk. This is some pretty good characterization of a mentally and morally weak man.
His sexual fantasies are a bit disturbing and incredibly detailed. In a world wherein people can have their fantasies programmed into a virtual reality experience, this is what Dedmon requested:
Their recreation of my description was amazing.
After the hum, a perfect world came into focus, A brown linoleum floor stretched before me. Bonsai palm trees dotted the landscape and dead, skinned cats and marble Ed Gein busts hung from a turquoise sky by ropes made from the blondest, shiniest hair ever. In the distance, a group of shrieking furries ran for their lives as a giant basilisk chased them on two legs, alternatively shouting passages from the Bible and shooting the furries with an enormous shotgun cock.
As soon as the first furry went down in a gorgeous explosion of fake fur and real blood, I looked around for my hired companion, my mercenary of love. She stood right behind me – undoubtedly soaking in the otherworldly beauty of the place. Her perfectly round body and shiny bumpy green skin were just what I had asked for. I grabbed her hand and together we ran toward the trail of the dead and twitching furry bodies.
It goes on from there. I swear the whole section is a marvel and needs to be reproduced but I sense it would violate fair use and I think these glimpses into Dedmon’s psyche are very much worth purchasing the book in order to read. But here’s one more look into Dedmon’s sexual id:
Regardless of how full of psychopathic pleasurebot rapists, underground organic food growers and disgruntled buyers my day happened to be, going home to a glorious, three-breasted nymph that would kiss me tenderly and beg me to lick guacamole off her stump was more than enough to keep me going.
I wish Iglesias’ had said “who would kiss me” but I’ll rant about editing in a moment and this is otherwise a funny, strange look into Dedmon’s life.
The novella also has trenchant lines that are quite funny.
It was painful to remember what I had known since MegaCorp came to power – hegemony is like energy. It can be transformed, but never destroyed.
When a friend breaks him out of jail, Dedmon is thrilled that perhaps the revolution is beginning and he and his friends are about to overthrow MegaCorp. His friend sets him straight – this is no world for idealism and this helps explain why Marie’s death means so little to anyone who knows about it.
“Gut, you’ve seen the things we do to people who try to grow their own vegetables or forget to pay their bills,” said Tony. “What do you think they’d do to you for killing a consumer? As soon as they started dipping your ball in flesh-eating bacteria and pumping rabid maggots into your colon, you’d tell him how you got the puddle-maker. When you gave them my name, they’d come for me. You know what I’d end up confessing? Some of the times I’ve let Screw and Gage off the hook. You see what I’m trying to tell you here, buddy? And as far as anyone seeing our liberating you goes, do you think we’re that stupid?”
Not even his friends have much faith in his mental strength but Dedmon is certain that his friends loved him enough to save him. But then again he’s also the man who let his stomach stoma talk him into killing the woman he loved, so really, how could this have ended up any differently.
Of course, since I always bring it up and have brought it up in this discussion already, Eraserhead books are often riddled with editing problems. Iglesias’ book suffers especially since there is a word substitution in the quotes that preface the novel (“than” for “that”). Hopefully the e-copy I received has since been corrected but the “Look Inside” option on Amazon has the error. At some point Eraserhead has got to get this under control. Editing matters and permitting a book to go to press with an error in the first couple of pages serves the author very poorly and on some level shows a lack of respect for the readers. This critique is leveled at Eraserhead and not Iglesias. Authors can copy edit their own works to a point but after a while they become so familiar with the text that they can no longer see mistakes. The poor editing in all Eraserhead books falls directly on the shoulders of the Eraserhead editors and the errors are distracting in this otherwise good work. A character has “log blonde hair.” Far too many “that” for “who” errors. There are also punctuation and conversational signifier problems that were invasive enough for me to notice and to disrupt the flow of the text.
In addition to the editing issues, there were some other problems with the book for me and these are subjective problems. The sexual tone of this book is meant to be ridiculous but I found myself appalled by a deeply disturbing scene with a humanoid rabbit. Longtime readers here know all scenes wherein animals are ill-used or harmed repel me. It’s an issue I likely will never be able to address – it’s just part of who I am and often what upset me bothers few others. Still though, be warned of the scene with the rabbit with a human’s face. It’s vile.
Overall, this is a good book in the bizarro vein. The problems I have with a very small amount of the content and the editing issues are far outweighed by Iglesias’ world-building and his obvious love of this sort of story. You can tell when an author was having a very good time writing, and Iglesias’ good time is infectious. I recommend this book, and if you decide you’d like to buy it, buy it sooner rather than later. The New Bizarro Author Series gives writers a foot in the door but the authors in the program only have a year to sell a certain amount of copies in order to get a publishing contract. If you wait too long to check this out, you may not get a chance to read more of Gabino Iglesias’ fiction in the future.
Now for business! With all my themed weeks comes a giveaway. This time I am giving away a copy of each book I discuss this week OR I am giving away an Amazon gift card in the amount that the paper versions of these books would cost. All you have to do to enter the drawing is to leave me a comment on this entry. One comment on each discussion is an entry into the drawing. Leave a comment all five days and you will have five entries into the drawing. Only one comment per day counts as an entry but don’t let that prevent you from engaging in conversation about the books. For all the details of this contest, visit this entry. Comment often and with vigor!