Book: Sex Dungeon for Sale!
Author: Patrick Wensink
Why I Consider This Book Odd: Well, Eraserhead Press published this book, and they are generally a pretty good weather vane for oddness. But I also suspected the book was odd because the author contacted me so he could send me an ARC because he wanted me to review it (yes, an ARC!!! I swear to god I almost wept because only certified, authentic reviewers get ARCs, right? Right?). If an author reads this site for any reason, chances are his literary output is going to be odd.
Also, I heartily encourage this trend of sending me actual books. Not only would I get free books, but my delusions of grandeur mean I am likely to review said book because I am still in the early OMG THIS MEANS I AM A REAL CRITIC stage of the game. So yeah, send me your odd books, odd authors. Also, I am not above using the emotion card, so send them to me because I love you. All of you. Even that weirdo living in a basement who keeps e-mailing me chapters of his novel about his dog’s wang.
Type of Book: Fiction, short stories, flash fiction, bizarro
Availability: Published by Eraserhead Press in 2009, you can get a copy here:
Comments: Okay, yeah, this was my first book offered to me because I review odd books, but don’t let that make you think I am gonna give this book a sweetheart review on that merit alone. Also, I’m not giving it a sweetheart review because I’m a known sucker for flash fiction and short, short stories. I’m giving it a sweetheart review because it is a good book. The stories, some odder than others, are all pretty solid, and one of the stories has resonated with me as being not only a clever concept, but haunting and upsetting.
This book may actually be a good bridge into bizarro for some readers because while it is odd, it does not cross wholly into the full-bore weirdness one experiences reading Carlton Mellick III, one of the best-known bizarros. Additionally, these stories are very much, for the most part, grounded in reality, not incorporating the heavy use of magical realism that one sees so much of in bizarro. I find magical realism amazing when done well, but it is no black mark against Sex Dungeons for Sale! that the stories are so grounded. I know many think that bizarro is schtick, the replacement for pulp sci-fi for a more jaded generation and they are wrong. While bizarro’s certainly entertaining, increasingly the writers in the genre produce literary quality works, pieces that would not be out of place in Zoetrope or Zyzzyva. That is why I think, for those who want to dip their toes into high weirdness, Wensink’s book would be a good starting place. I could see some of these stories in edgy mainstream lit journals. They are odd, but odd in a way that is extremely relatable.
A couple of Wensink’s stories are highly communicative, with the speakers talking directly to the audience or interacting with them. In these stories, Wensink asks the reader to be the unseen character, making the reader take on roles unexpected and outre, thus ensuring a bizarre experience reading his tales. The title story, “Sex Dungeon for Sale” follows a harried real estate agent as she shows a home with a well-equipped sex dungeon. The reader assumes the role of one of the two people seeing the home as the agent speaks to us, asking us to please understand how… well, how the sex dungeon can add to the square footage to the house, among other things. This connection to the reader is carried to the extreme in “Chicken Soup for the Kidnapper’s Soul.” The piece, assuming the reader abducts people for assorted reasons, is humorous, and again makes the reader assume an interactive role. This story is a tonic for everyone who wishes that Jack Canfield would just shut the hell up already. Part of me wishes he had taken it a bit further, into even more disturbing criminal realms, but as it stands it is a clever story.
The story “The Many Lives of James Brown’s Capes” was evocative of one of my favorite authors, the under-appreciated (at least in America) Christopher Fowler. In this story, we see possessions belonging to the Hardest Working Man in Show Business that are sold in auction after he dies, and where they go and how they are received. There is a silliness to it, but an edge as well, showing how the the mundane can become amazing, absurd, or, to the unimaginative, irritating.
“Jesus Toast” is a bittersweet tale from a strange woman with an even stranger gift that she puts to good use until, like most gifts, it turns against her.
At times, Wensink seemed a little too O. Henry-esque, with twists that at times come out of nowhere, like “You Can’t Blow Yourself to Smithereens on an Empty Belly” or are telegraphed too easily, like in “Pandemic Jones” and “Clean Bill of Health.” Sudden turns are to be expected in bizarro fiction so I am unsure if the former is a problem. When a story is entertaining, the latter is definitely not a problem. It’s not like I don’t sense where every Joyce Carol Oates story is going when I begin reading, so I see this as no strike against the book, but for people who dislike knowing where a story will end up, at times Wensink will telegraph too clearly where the piece is going.
The gently weird litters the book – dishwashers with kill cycles, a disturbing relationship between parents and their little boy who suddenly turns French, one-hit wonders planning revenge against their agent.
But the story that clings to my brain the closest is “Donor 322.” You sort of see it coming but you don’t. At first you think you’re in for a Hard Candy sort of ride but it’s not that. It’s not that at all. I will give nothing else away about this story because I think this piece is worth the price of admission, which may sound specious since I got the book for free, but trust me, I have purchased entire books for one story. This story would make me buy this book.
All in all, a very good book from a brand new writer. I will definitely spend money on any new works Wensink comes out with in the future.