Automatic Safe Dog by Jet McDonald

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: Automatic Safe Dog

Author: Jet McDonald

Type of Book: Fiction, humor, just plain disturbing

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: This is an utterly fucked-up book that combines several genres into an unsettling, sometimes hilarious, sometimes trenchant book.

Availability: Published by Eibonvale Press in 2011, you can get a copy on Amazon or you can get a copy cheaper directly from the publisher.

Comments: When I began this novel, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to finish it because it features a business plan wherein dogs are turned into miserable, rigid, stationary pieces of living furniture. I cannot stomach cruelty to animals and, in a way, the cruelty to these dogs was all the more horrible because it was so bloodless, matter-of-fact and accepted by others in the context of the book. I suspect the reason I was able to finish the book in spite of the content is because McDonald managed to subvert the use of abused animals in a horror-like narrative. They aren’t victims of one specific madman but are a symbol of a larger societal callousness. Somehow, that distinction made it easier for me to tolerate what happens to dogs in this book, as unlikely as that may seem.

This is a dense book – a murder mystery in the vein of And Then There Were None, a frustrating love story, a story of corporate subversion and a moral awakening – so know my synopsis of the plot, by necessity, must leave out a lot of details. The protagonist, a sort of sad sack Everyman named Terribly “Telby” Velour, begins the novel working for one of a number of Pet Furnishings warehouses. There he meets a new employee named Ravenski Helena Goldbird, for whom he develops a deep infatuation. As he tries to impress her one day, he engages in an antic that breaks the back of one of the dog-furniture pieces and gets fired. He later learns Ravenski Helena Goldbird is actually the adopted daughter of the CEO of the Pet Furnishings firm and he decides to create a new identity in order to get a new job with Pet Furnishings. Ravenski Helena Goldbird is now part of the executive board and Telby cons his way into a job in research and development in order to be closer to her. Telby enters a labyrinthine world of corporate espionage, personal viciousness, wanton cruelty and salacious behavior, all tempered by subversive hilarity and sly ridiculousness that prevent all the horror from becoming too much. As Telby watches as his coworkers fall one by one to a mysterious murderer, he is forced to examine what he is doing and the morality of the job he has taken, the morality of those around him, and though I am not entirely sure what I think about the ending, Telby ends this novel consumed by a metaphysical sorrow that he did not entirely earn through his actions but has to experience nonetheless.

With my brief synopsis of this intense plot out of the way, the only way I can truly show you what McDonald is about is through text samples. Even as this novel hinges on modifying living animals into furniture, where, still living, they serve as settees and footstools and stands for televisions, there is so much humor, high ridiculousness, and an almost gentle sadness that it is a marvel that McDonald managed to pull it off.

Here’s one of the first passages I highlighted, and it’s an important one because it explains the title of this book. Ravenski evidently suffered some sort of breakdown after beginning to work for Pet Furnishings, but when she returned, she moved on quickly from her difficulties (likely caused from having to saw off dogs’ legs and similar).

She returned to Pet Furnishings and took a post on the executive board. It was she who was responsible for the Automatic Safe Dog. They developed a microchip that you could puncture through the dog’s skull; ‘With the chip of a mallet, the dog has a habit.’ The chip was studded into the dog’s motor cortex and pet sofas and divans were made automatic and safe so they didn’t howl, bite, shit or piss until programmed at preset intervals. This made for not just safer but cleaner furnishings. Our customers forever complained of the times their mutt would whine to be let out, just when they needed to pet it or love it or sit down for a cup of tea, and then they’d have to deal with the inevitable mud in the castors or dew in the tassels. But Ravenski changed all that with her bold new ideas and leapt up the career ladder, far away from the ‘real’ people.

This is some twitchy prose, gentle reader. Yet I struggled through horribleness like this – people making sentient animals into furniture and still being so craven that they resent the basic care their living divan upon which they settle their pampered asses requires in order to stay alive – because I hoped that the level of detail McDonald was giving this dystopia meant the novel would have some greater purpose than just inflicting such wretched details on the reader. My patience was ultimately rewarded, but this is an example of the careless cruelty that you will find in this book.

The Woman Who Walked into Doors by Roddy Doyle

This post originally appeared on I Read Everything

Book: The Woman Who Walked into Doors

Author: Roddy Doyle

Type of book: Fiction

Why Did I Read This Book: This was a case of a title grabbing me when I was at Border’s Books and I bought it on a whim. I almost didn’t buy it because Mary Gordon had a blurb on the back and I responded very negatively to the book I read by her recently, but I’m glad I read it. Very glad.

Availability: Penguin Books is the publisher and you can get a copy here:

Comments:: I fell in love with this book. Absolutely in love. I will, bank account issues be damned, soon order all of Roddy Doyle’s work. There are moments like this in my life, when I read an author and it feels like the literary equivalent of falling into deep, romantic love, wherein you know in advance that even if the object of your affection may fail you in some regard in the future, the sum total of their wonderfulness and compatibility with you will overshadow such moments.

Paula Spencer is an alcoholic mother of four. She cleans homes and white-knuckles her way through her evenings, controlling the times in which she drinks but still drinking far too much. She is a widow, but before her worthless husband died in a robbery attempt gone bad, she threw him out of the family home, a violent catharsis that in the hands of a less honest writer would have been the prelude to saccharine moments in which Paula’s life resolves itself. Her relationship with her sisters would have improved, she would have been able to help her addict son, she would have gotten sober herself and done something more than clean houses.

But Doyle understands that life might have a moment wherein a paralyzed person is suddenly capable of action, but that a moment of clarity does not a changed life make. Doyle shows the arc of Paula’s life as she gradually loses more and more innocence, slowly becomes more and more broken. This novel, better than any novel I have read in recent memory, tells the story of how men defined the world of women, from their actions to their words, and how hard it is to overcome such intrusive beginnings.

This is a book wherein lines and sometimes entire sections resonated deeply with me. Paula’s life was one spent in a world where men acted inappropriately, where men did not protect girls and actively harmed them in some cases, where people blamed women for getting beat up, where even fathers who never physically harmed their children cannot be trusted emotionally. This book was mostly amazing because Doyle shows how a character can hold a multitude of feelings, opinions that can seem contradictory, yet ring very true nonetheless. Doyle’s ability to show the multitudes within Paula shows him as a keen observer of human nature and a fine writer, able to accurately convey complex emotions with the beauty of an accomplished story teller yet with complete honesty.

The Franklin Cover-Up by John W. DeCamp

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: The Franklin Cover-Up: Child Abuse, Satanism, and Murder in Nebraska

Author: John W. DeCamp

Type of Book: Non-fiction, conspiracy theory, Satanic Panic, politics

Why I Consider This Book Odd: Okay, this is circuitous, but this book came across my radar in the following manner: When Jeff Gannon, porn star and male escort cum White House reporter/Bush apologist was outed, I was interested in finding out how such a man got high clearance press credentials. A web search on his name turned up a website devoted to a kidnapped child from Nebraska. Evidently, there are those who think Jeff Gannon is Johnny Gosch, whose mother Noreen maintains that after he was kidnapped in 1982, he was forced into child porn and prostitution (and no matter what, this is not going to be a discussion on poor Noreen – just don’t do it, okay?). The case of Johnny Gosch is as fascinating as it is sad, and on a conspiracy site, I found a thread accusing Hunter S. Thompson of being linked to the Gosch kidnapping because a “reputable” source said he filmed kiddie porn snuff films. The reputable source was this book. Yeah… When a book has you yelling, “Oh my god!” before you even read it, it’s gonna be odd.

Availability: This book was updated and is still in print. You can get a copy here:

Comments: Hoo boy. This is some excellent conspiracy theory, in that it is amazingly insane and involved. On one level, I actually believe about 1/8th of this book. The rest is just so whacked and beyond the realm of reason but with just enough grains of truth here and there that you can’t help but get sucked in.

First, let’s eliminate the whole Hunter S. Thompson thing. There were two sentences in the book that referred to Hunter Thompson as someone who filmed kiddie snuff porn. The person making the accusation is a man who evidently suffered from Dissociative Identity Disorder (or Multiple Personality Disorder as it was called when this book was initially written). I have no idea what DeCamp really knows of Thompson, but he calls him a “well known sleaze-culture figure,” whatever that means. It does not appear as if Thompson was ever visually identified by Paul Bonacci, the man making the claim, and no greater research went into proving it. (ETA: A commenter below pointed out that it was Anton Chaitkin who called HST a “wellknown sleeze-culture figure. I re-read and sure enough, I had misattributed the quote.)  Evidently another young woman claimed Thompson tried to make her watch a snuff film but she didn’t watch whatever she claims he wanted her to see.  Was it the horror film Snuff?  Was it Cannibal Holocaust, which some still believe qualifies as a snuff film because of the live animal deaths included in it?  Was she making it up, did she misunderstand?  We don’t know.  All we have is an unverified statement from some woman and two lines in this book attributed to a young man whose origins no one has been able to trace and whose lies/fantasies have fueled a bizarre conspiracy theory.

This book was initially released in 1992. Had anyone any evidence that Thompson filmed children being killed during sex, he would have been investigated thoroughly. Thompson was a man who showed no proclivities towards abuse of children or respect of authority to the extent he would have kept quiet about such a horrific thing out of fear of what would happen to him.  Thompson was a thorn in the side of the government and authority in general – had he been involved in something so vile police would have been only too glad to investigate, as glad as he would have been to expose anyone who killed children on film. That all that seems to be out there to support this claim are the two lines from this book and some unclear claim from someone else sort of closes the case. But if that is not enough, bear in mind that Bonacci claims Thompson filmed kiddie snuff porn in the 1980s. Thompson already had a very successful career as a journalist and an author then. He didn’t need the money, had it been a part of an investigation into political corruption he would have reported on it gleefully, if not paranoiacally, and given his nature, had he been in the wrong place at the wrong time, he would have blown a whistle long before he took his own life.

So let there be no more said on this topic. Anyone who wants to discuss it here can, but I won’t reply. On your head be it if you decide to smear the name of a man whose career completely belied any association with such deviance without any proof other than hearsay from a fragile man who makes all sorts of extraordinary claims because one suspects he may be too mentally ill not to make such claims.

Back to the book… This book has it all, for the seasoned conspiratologist. It has Satanic Panic, with cabals of Satanists killing children, burning their bodies and grinding up their bones and teeth. It has a ring of pedophiles all the way up to the White House, flying out kids from Nebraska for sexual purposes. It makes reference to militias, Oklahoma City, the Montana Seven, the Monarch Project, Bohemian Grove, the Gosch kidnapping (but no Jeff Gannon, alas – perhaps DeCamp will issue a new edition?), the utter shittiness of Bob Kerrey (a subject on which I whole-heartedly agree with the author, because I can easily see a man who lied about being a war criminal for so many years lying about all the other things DeCamp claims), Iran-Contra, LaRouche, a conspiracy to murder witnesses and more and more.

Honestly, there is too much to go into even for my verbose nature.

But on the most basic level, there is a kernel that can be believed in this book, though like I said, 7/8 of it, if not more, should be dismissed. The Franklin Credit Union in Omaha was run by a man named Larry King (no, not that Larry King), who embezzled approximately $40 million and undoubtedly molested children. The credit union was probably involved in the Iran-Contra scandal. Though no real trace seems to have been done on the money he stole, it would appear most of that money embezzled went into parties, stretch limos and access to private planes. King probably did have the sex parties described in the book, though I think the truth of the situation probably ended at flying some of the older kids to other locations to have sex with King. I can see that happening, though most of the other stories are implausible.

Not all the kids were in complicit foster homes or kids of the street – didn’t the orphanages or parents notice when the kids, some youngsters, went missing for days on end as they were carted from one locale to the other for sex. Additionally, some of the things that the chief witnesses described could have caused grave harm and certainly permanent scars or physical damage. There is no mention of a physical examination given to any of the witnesses. Moreover, one of the witnesses claims she gave birth to a police chief’s child. A paternity demand to this day could prove her side of the story, and since she is serving years and years of jail time for perjury, that this step has not been taken is baffling. (ETA: Alisha Owen’s child has been definitively proven not to be the result of any sort of sexual activity between Alisha Owen and police chief Robert Wadman.  That is a huge problem for anyone who wants to believe Owen’s tales of institutionalized and systemic child rape condoned and committed by Omaha police.)

You have to keep in mind that DeCamp, while clearly holding some wacky beliefs, also fell down the rabbit hole in the 1980s when Michelle Remembers was still believed to be factual and not even psychologists knew how to question genuinely abused children without leading them to say all sorts of things that never happened in order to please the questioner. He is a true believer, and as such, dismisses lack of evidence as law enforcement involvement in the conspiracy, a media reticence as a form of institutionalized stonewalling (as if the media would really turn away a chance to score a scoop on a salacious story if there was any truth to it), and any evidence that disproves the Panic is a complicit act to encourage abuse of children. I don’t know exactly how men like DeCamp fall down the rabbit hole, and though they ultimately do more harm than good, I understand how it happens. So while I find DeCamp a little icky in other respects, his intent belief in the unbelievable does not surprise me.

Nor was it a surprise to find the unpleasant, sticky presence of Ted Gunderson, former FBI agent, in this book. The man believes in Satanic Panic to this day, but he also believes all kinds of bizarre things, as I will discuss in a moment.  He is either a loon or crazy like a fox and either way, he is dangerous. He is also lawsuit happy, suing people whom he thinks slander him, including people who have clear screws loose and should be pitied rather than sued. (Google Ted Gunderson and the name Barbara Hartwell and just marvel at the sadness of it all.) I can say without any hesitation that his investigative presence in the Johnny Gosch kidnapping (and sadly, as most believe, murder) has kept the vulnerable Noreen Gosch in a realm where she will believe anything as long as it means her son is alive. It has made her prey to con men and people who torment her. I dream of seeing Gunderson in a whacked-theory cage match with someone – I just can’t think of whom I would inflict Ted on. Art Bell has already won an out of court settlement against him for calling him a child molester so it will have to be someone else (and since it was an out of court settlement with a gag order, there are no firm facts and all the information out there comes from sources that I would rather not link to, lest I become overrun with avid true believers from the whole rainbow spectrum of conspiracy, and if you think I’m verbose…). Gunderson to this day believes the McMartin preschool molestation/Satanic ritual abuse case happened and has been a force behind sending innocent people to prison.  He is wicked, nasty and preys on the unstable and it’s not entirely logical for me to say that I automatically believe the opposite of anything he has to say, but that’s actually close to the truth.