King of the Perverts by Steve Lowe

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: King of the Perverts

Author: Steve Lowe

Type of Book: Bizarro, novella, (borders on) pornographic (but not in a particularly sexy way)

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd:  Lowe created the “sexcathlon” and what I hoped were made-up sexual acts but weren’t, god help me.

Availability:  Published in 2012 by Grindhouse Press, you can get a copy here:

Comments:  I was expecting something far different when I received this book in the mail.  The cover, featuring a sleazy flasher with a bouquet of red flowers hiding his crotch, made my mind go to some very gross and demented places.  While this book was quite disgusting in some areas, it wasn’t The Diary of a Rapist made modern and set in a bizarro world.  It wasn’t even as subversively gross as some of R. Crumb’s drawings.  But it’s interesting to note how the absence of a continual onslaught of over-the-top sexual darkness made this book all the odder.  Not that there isn’t some disturbing content.  There is.  It’s just disturbing content mixed with a lot of humor.

Steve Lowe is an odd duck, which seems like a no-brainer because he is a bizarro writer.  Of course he’s a little odd, right?  Sure, but what sets Lowe apart from some of his bizarro brethren is that while he employs odd environments and strange plot details, he also manages to write excellent character-driven fiction.  And he manages to write character-driven fiction as he discusses arcane and/or wholly fictional (one hoped and one’s hopes were completely dashed) sex acts like the “Abe Lincoln” and  the “Alligator Fuckhouse.”   There were points during this novel when Lowe relied on caricatures, like the evil, money-grubbing ex-wife, and the protagonist, Dennis, sometimes was a bit too sad-sack for my tastes, but every step he takes in this book is a perverse step in regaining control of his life.

And yeah, the ending is… sort of rom-com-ish once you get past the horrifying, deeply disturbing section that takes place just before, but who cares when there’s violence, the mob, disgusting sex acts and even more disgusting sex acts.

I was a bit concerned when I realized that Lowe was mining a familiar vein – man down on his luck auditions for a controversial game show – but sometimes very interesting stories can be told within somewhat hackneyed settings, and Lowe does indeed tell an interesting story.  Hilarious too, but then again I’ve always found the scatological far funnier than the average person.

The story begins in medias res with Dennis contemplating how it is he is going to complete a particular sex act, for he has entered into a reality television contest wherein men compete to see who can complete the most esoteric and perverse sex acts.   Dennis is quickly in over his head, his innate decency at war with his desire to win enough money to take care of all the problems he faces after his financially and sexually profligate wife, Carrie, left him.  Dennis, who is actually a very nice and sexually average guy, is faced with completing a golden shower with an imposingly pretty woman.  Overcome by nerves, he is trying to get it all over with as easily as he can, but nothing really comes easy for Dennis, or without a lot of rumination:

Asking her to pee on me would go over better than asking if I could pee on her.  As far as I understand the rules of the game, a golden shower is a golden shower, regardless of the recipient.  So better me than her.

But I can’t honestly claim chivalry here.  There’s a performance anxiety element to this, like trying to piss at one of those cattle troughs in a football stadium, where you’re shoulder to shoulder with dozens of guys, staring at the wall in front of you, forcing your eyes to remain locked straight ahead and not wonder if you had the guy next to you beat in the meat packing department.  Nothing was worse than holding up the shuffling, drunken queue behind you because you couldn’t make wee-wee when the moment of truth arrived.

So how does his first golden shower work out for Dennis?

Waterboarded by a babe.

Dennis is clearly not into the experience.

I cough and blow urine from my sinuses, gagging on the bitter burning in the back of my throat.  When I can see again, I look up at her.  She’s dry heaving, holding her bucking guts with both hands, preparing to add an appletini chaser to my golden shower.  I scramble, slipping on the soiled slick tile flooring, spinning my tires in the puddle of piss beneath me.  I almost get away in time.


Poor Dennis is clearly not an emetophiliac.  And we can also learn a very good lesson from this – never ask a very drunk woman to piss on your head.  You may end up covered in far more bodily emissions than you bargained for.

Though Lowe handles quite well Dennis’ progression from abandoned schlub to a man who manages his life and has a chance at genuine affection with an honest, decent woman, I think the reason to read this book is for the hilarious and bizarre descriptions of Dennis’ attempt to win the title of King of the Perverts.  To avoid spoiling the plot, I’ll have to restrain myself from going into too much detail but I really want to share some more of Lowe’s demented sense of humor.  He also has an excellent ear for dialogue and a style that is very appealing in its simplicity.  His clean and fluid style enabled me to read the squickiest of details without feeling overwhelmed by the sexually… interesting parts.

And there were many sexually interesting (and gross and hilarious) parts, a couple of which I swore had to be the result of Lowe’s fevered imagination.  Alas, a Google proved me wrong.  An “Alligator Fuckhouse” is a thing, people, though the online descriptions varied, as they so often do in such matters.  The “Abe Lincoln?”  Totally not made up and, interestingly, a source of great guilt for Dennis once he finishes the act.  So in a way, this book was an education of sorts.  A deeply gross education.  I’ll give a little context for the quotes but not too much.

Here’s a funny scene, when the game show organizer is giving Dennis a critique on his performance:

Peter’s voice kicks up an octave with excitement as he explains,  “We had to tweak the order of the challenges a little bit, but you managed to pull off two of them tonight in one spectacular performance.”

“I did?”

“Yes, you did!  First, you hung in like a trooper and went the distance to finish off that donkey punch but then you went the extra mile and snuck in an angry pirate.

“An angry wha-wha?”

“Technically, there were a couple of things not quite right with your angry pirate.  You nailed the cumshot to the eyes to produce a squint, but for a proper AP, you were supposed to follow with a kick to the shin to get her hopping around like she has a ‘peg leg’.”  He makes air quotes when he says peg leg.

“Your little bunny did that to herself tonight by running into the dresser, but the result ended up being the same – one pissed off bunny hopping around on one leg, squinting.  The angry pirate!”

It’s indeed a perverse world wherein one can find out one has completed an angry pirate without even knowing such a thing exists.  It was hard not to pity Dennis.  He feels very uncomfortable involving unsuspecting women in the perversions he is asked to perform, but his situation in real life is so dire (his ex has left him in horrible debt and gave birth to another man’s child while married to him, putting him on the hook for child support so he really needs the money from winning the contest) that he forces himself to continue.  And when he feels he wants to stop, he has a lunatic handler named Mongo who forces him onward in his perverse quest.

It’s also a perverse quest of the damned.  Poor Dennis.  His dirty sanchez does not end well and he wakes in the ER with no memory of the night before and a nurse named Sarah mocking his plight.

Was there a bar fight?  Did I get hit with a bottle?   That doesn’t seem familiar at all.

I can see stairs.

Did I fall down stairs?

And why do I still smell ass?  Something in here definitely smells like a butt.  I wonder if another patient in the ER has shit themselves, but Sarah sees me sniffing the air like I’m tracking foxes on a morning hunt.  She solves the mystery for me by pointing at the  tiny sink set in the wall next to the tiny desk.

“That smell is you,” she says.  “Wash your hands and face really well with that antibacterial soap.  Wouldn’t want anybody getting E. coli because of you, Señor.”

Oh, Dennis…  But perhaps this was his instant karmic-payback for involving unsuspecting women in his quest for the title of King of the Perverts.

This is novella-length book, coming in at 111 pages, and Lowe manages to cram a lot into those pages.  There are moments when it feels rushed but I also think that Dennis’ mess and desperation of his life had to be handled in a rushed manner.  What is remarkable about this book is how full a character Dennis is.  Lowe has a gift for creating believable characters with depth even in the middle of a ludicrous or extreme plot line.  I remember the body-switched husband and father in Muscle Memory, a man who is having to deal with horrible realities as the world around him is going mad in a comedic way.  This is not something you see a lot of in bizarro – excellent character development and growth are at times thin on the ground in the genre.  You can lose track of his excellent characterization in the midst of his extreme plot, but it’s there.

All in all, this was a very good follow-up to Muscle Memory.  Lowe’s humor, ear for dialogue, love of the nasty, fine characterization and willingness to plumb the depths of absurdity make King of the Perverts an excellent book.  It has its problems – like the rom-com sort of ending I alluded to earlier – but that which works in this book far outweighs that which doesn’t.  I recommend this book and would love to hear from anyone who managed to complete an Alligator Fuckhouse without going to jail afterward.

A Hollow Cube Is a Lonely Space by S.D. Foster

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: A Hollow Cube Is a Lonely Space

Author: S.D. Foster

Type of Book: Fiction, bizarro, short story collection, flash fiction

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Because it is. Hope that helps.

Availability: Published by Eraserhead Press in 2011, you can get a copy here:

Comments: So my love of short stories and flash fiction should be well known by now, but it bears repeating that one has to really fuck things up for me not to enjoy a short story collection. And I’m happy to tell you that Foster fucked nothing up. This is a very good short story collection, maddeningly good. I say maddeningly because I suspect that much of his writing was amazing to me because his stories so often appealed to my own mental quirks and, frankly, personality issues. I’d like to say there is something for everyone in these 23 stories but people are weird and obnoxious in so many ways there is every chance that some of you might not love this book as much as I did. So, given all of the human perversity I often face as I discuss books, I’m going to share the stories that pinged me as amazing and hope for the best.

Foster begins this collection by appealing to my innate animism. “The Course of Clementine” tells the story of a little piece of fruit, a clementine to be clear, and her voyage from tiny “sour green baby on the branch” to a grown piece of fruit purchased at a supermarket. She knows her history, told to her from Father Tree, and has a modest but deep ambition to be consumed, as to be eaten and enjoyed is her destiny. She worries as she sees other clementines rot, she worries she may not taste good. Almost like a child from a divorced family, she worries endlessly, taking on all sorts of little issues as her fault. She often feels inadequate to other foods and she ends up living her own worst nightmare. This is ultimately a very sad story, and for a woman who apologizes to the floor when she drops a fork (and to the fork, too), I now look at all the food in my refrigerator and wonder about its mental state.

“A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Chimp” is the story of an orphaned chimp who was bullied by his peers, who find his higher aspirations laughable. He spends his time with the birds and becomes a singer, leaving the jungle and finding a soft-hearted landlady who will rent him a room until he can get a job. He finds a job singing but he is not treated as an artist – he is treated as a novelty act and paid in fruit. His landlady puts him out and he finds himself forced to live with an uncle at the zoo. He continues to sing but one night loses his shit completely, returning to the zoo to face the life that humans will let him have.

For the first time in my life, I was glad my parents weren’t alive to see me like this. But then again, maybe it’s all they would’ve ever wanted for me.

Such a sad, bleak story.

Placenta of Love by Spike Marlowe

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: Placenta of Love

Author: Spike Marlowe

Type of Book: Fiction, bizarro, novella

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Many reasons. Many. The best one I can offer here is that this book features an artificial intelligence with borderline personality disorder who exists in a large placenta.

Availability: Published by Eraserhead Press in 2011, you can get a copy here:

Comments: Placenta of Love is a very strange, unsettling but interesting and hilarious book. It’s quite insane, with a disturbing concept executed in a well-developed alternate world.  Punctuated with descriptions of a theme park on Venus, Placenta of Love tells the story of an automaton pirate called Captain Carl, who is created by a robot maintenance worker called Zampanò (a nice reference to House of Leaves, so yay to that) to have superior intelligence. Zampanò treated his pirate automaton as a student, teaching him philosophy and other subjects. Then one day Zampanò’s cat, Jiji, an intrusive but seductive beast who likes frequent “spankies” shows up to tell Captain Carl that Zampanò has died.

“Why don’t you turn him back on?” Captain Carl asked.
“Zampanò was human. His body is real. You can’t just turn him back on,” Jiji said.
“Well then. We’ll cobble together a new one. We’ll insert his back up, and…”
“Human bodies don’t work like that,” Jiji said. “He’s gone. For always.”
“Oh,” Captain Carl said. “He should have backed himself up.”
“An important lesson for us all,” Jiji said.

Jiji then gives Captain Carl a large, orange vibrating finger that is essentially a dildo with three settings because she likes being rubbed with it. Jiji is indeed a perverse little cat, but I really preferred her to the mate Captain Carl ends up with. Better to have a demanding cat than an enormous, destructive, needy placenta as a wife. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Trashland a Go-Go by Constance Ann Fitzgerald

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book:  Trashland a Go-Go

Author: Constance Ann Fitzgerald

Type of Book: Fiction, bizarro, novella

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: It is the tale of an undead stripper, or maybe a formerly dead stripper, in an endless waste dump.

Availability:  Published by Eraserhead Press in 2011 as a part of the New Bizarro Author Series, you can get a copy here:

Comments:  Discussing this book is troublesome to me because as a first effort, I can see just how it is Constance Fitzgerald is going to be an excellent writer once she has more experience under her belt. I really like her writing style and see a lot of talent, but ultimately this story did not appeal to me.

A short synopsis:  A stripper named Coco takes the pole on stage only to find a jealous rival has greased it down. She goes flying off the pole into the sound equipment and dies.  Her craven boss and his rapey/necrophilic assistant cram her into a dumpster so they won’t have any trouble with the law and she wakes/comes back to life in an endless dump.  Many disgusting things happen. Many. She is befriended by a fly, she meets the queen of the trash world and has to engage in a battle of wits and will to survive.

The hell of this discussion is this:  what I don’t like about this book may really appeal to some of my readers.  Seriously, I know there are several of you who are all, “Dead stripper in an endless wasteland of trash – where do I sign up?”  So I’ll include some quotes so you guys can get a really good taste and smell of what this book is about.

So here’s what I don’t like about this book.  First, Coco, the main character and heroine, is largely irritating, and while annoying women can be fun, I need to care whether or not Coco lives or dies.  I need to care that she is miserable and I need to like her enough for the humorous parts to be worth reading.  I don’t.  Coco is tiresome, bitchy, and so unpleasant that I am totally on the side of the stripper who greased down the pole.  Who could blame her?  

D.D Murphry, Secret Policeman by Alan M. Clark and Elizabeth Massie

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: D.D. Murphry, Secret Policeman

Authors: Alan M. Clark and Elizabeth Massie

Type of Book: Fiction, themed short story collection

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Because the whole book is based on the delusions of a seriously mentally ill man.

Availability: Published in 2009 by Raw Dog Screaming Press, you can get a copy here:

Comments: I’ve been thinking about the mentally ill a lot lately. I technically have mental illness, but given my recent methods of fighting back as well as the relative mildness of my condition, I am getting very close to being The Sanest Person You Know. Earlier this year I read Pete Earley’s book, Crazy: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness, a sickening and sobering look at the mental healthcare system nationwide, but especially in Florida. When the face-eating cannibal case hit the headlines, my first thought was, “I bet he was a schizophrenic.” News said it was bath salts but the autopsy said all the face-eater had in his system was marijuana. I looked it up and sure enough – Rudy Eugene had a rich history of untreated schizophrenia, resulting in many assaults and several arrests.

It is with Earley’s book and the recent graphic example of the mental health care system failure in Florida in mind that I am writing this discussion. There is a lot that is funny in this book. Clark and Massie wove a mentally-ill conspiracy so well that it is pure genius – at times I wondered, briefly, if the conspiracy was real, that perhaps Murphry was ill but was also being used as a pawn by a malevolent force. So strongly does Murphry believe the truth of the misfires in his brain that the reader, even with strong clues that this is indeed a mentally disturbed man acting out what is happening in his mind, cannot help but think there is some truth to such energetic and labyrinthine delusions.

It is impossible to discuss the structure and plot of this book in much depth because to do so would utterly spoil the book. So I plan to give a bare-bones plot synopsis and then discuss the parts of chapter one that resonate with me. D.D. Murphry is a mentally ill, mostly homeless man. When a social worker helped him get on disability or some sort of Social Security, he interpreted that as having been hired by the “True Government” to spy on and take action against the “False Government.” His interpretations of various situations, as filtered through his damaged mind, range from the hilarious to the deeply disturbing, often depending on how it is he decides to react. He believes a librarian named Kate, who fears and loathes him, is his secret bride, given to him by the “True Government.” He believes her nasty reaction to him is a facade assumed to throw off others and he longs for the day he can finally consummate their marriage. Kate inadvertently provided a large source of fuel for Murphry’s delusions, as she taught him to use a computer and access e-mail. Murphry sees spam as secret communications from the True Government and Clark and Massie really shine when they show how he manages to find real life corollaries in the simplest things that match the messages he thinks he received in the e-mails. Murphry careens from humorous misinterpretation to grave acts of utter mayhem as he tries to make the world a better place for the True Government and foil the actions of the False Government.

Gardens of Earthly Delight by George Williams

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book:  Gardens of Earthly Delight

Author:  George Williams

Type of Book:  Fiction, bizarro (sort of), short story collection

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd:  It’s hard to put into words…

Availability:  Published by Raw Dog Screaming Press in 2011, you can get a copy here:

Comments:  The title of this book references the Hieronymus Bosch painting, The Garden of Earthly Delight and it is in reference to Bosch that I can best explain how it is that Williams is odd.  Williams clearly structured his stories in various manners so as to hark back to that famous triptych – man in paradise, man in sin, man in Hell. In fact, the cover of this book is a fragment of the center panel of The Garden of Earthly Delight – my favorite part of the painting – and is why I decided I would read this book when RDSP contacted me regarding some of their newer titles last year. The cover features, in the midst of extraordinary and intense revelry, a naked couple, reminiscent of Adam and Eve before the Fall. They are sitting in a glass bubble, separated from the chaotic carnival around them, but the bubble is cracking. Before long they will be in the world, no longer in a safe place of innocence.

With a cover like this, I had certain expectations of the stories within the book and Williams delivers. He writes stories that indeed mimic the progression from paradise into hell.  But there was an element to his writing that recreated the cracked glass bubble in a manner I could not have expected. Williams is a minimalist writer, his words echoing the simple, uncomplicated affection the two naked souls in the glass bubble expressed in the midst of sexual revelry.

Additionally, Williams has a muffled quality to his writing that ordinarily would have irritated the hell out of me, but somehow worked well with his subject matter and overall style. There is a remove in his writing, a distance between not only the reader and the story, but the writer and the story as well. Williams writes without using any sort of conversational punctuation, a style I loathe, and Williams is a writer whose minimalist approach definitely keeps the reader focused on the surface of the story.  I never once felt a deep kinship with any of the people in this book because I was observing, not absorbing.  Minimalism as a rule does not interest me much, but Williams’ style is so in keeping with Bosch’s theme conveyed via the couple in the cracked bubble that I want to read more of his work and see if this was a happy accident or quite deliberate.  I hate to invoke his name because he comes up too often as a reference every time anyone reads minimalism, but there is a definite Raymond Carver feel to these stories

Actually, if I think about it, this collection is a Raymond Carver/Flannery O’Connor hybrid.   You can best see that confluence in the story I liked best in the collection, “Dickson.”  In “Dickson,” an unnamed couple have an undetonated nuclear missile that had washed ashore for them to find, despite the Air Force’s frenzied attempts to locate it.  They show it in small towns in Tennessee, charging a fee to look at it. They meet up with a Pentecostal preacher who persuades them to let him use the bomb to show in his sermons in exchange for 20% of the tithes the preacher takes in.  Whether or not the bomb is real will spoil the story but even avoiding spoilers still leaves plenty to discuss.

The Cannibal’s Guide to Ethical Living by Mykle Hansen

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book:  The Cannibal’s Guide to Ethical Living

Author: Mykle Hansen, illustrated by Nate Beaty

Type of Book: Fiction, bizarro, cannibalism

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Okay, it’s like a Jonathan Swift satire mixed with that long riddle people tell on road trips about the man who orders seagull and runs screaming out of the restaurant with a tasty helping of Occupy Wall Street on the side.

Availability: Published by Eraserhead Press in 2010, you can get a copy here:

Comments: Oh, this was a fabulous book, and it gives me an excuse to create a “cannibalism” category. It’s one of those books that is the exception that proves the rule. Hansen tells without showing and 90% of the book comes from the protagonist’s one-sided conversation with a man called Louis, both of which are in chapter one of  What Not to Do When You Write a Novel, but Hansen gets away with it.  Why André’s conversation is one-sided is one of those things I cannot reveal lest I utterly spoil the book. In fact, this is going to be a bear to discuss because I cannot reveal many plot elements without just ruining the book.

Bearing that in mind, here’s as brief a synopsis as my enthusiasm will permit: Aboard the good ship l’Arche, along the coast of an island called Cristobo, André and his partner Marko have been engaging in questionable culinary behaviors. One is that they serve unusual meats to millionaires. They lure in jaded millionaires with offerings like giraffe, dining aboard the ship in monied secrecy. But André and Marko also have an ulterior motive catering to millionaires – millionaires evidently make good eating and André embraces the idea of eating the rich. But millionaires also have friends with ships and the L’Arche is under siege as André and Marko scramble to find a way to escape. Louis, a long-time frenemy of André’s, plays a crucial role in all these goings-on but that’s where I have to stop. To discuss his role will expose too much of the story.

With the synopsis out of the way, but before I begin to discuss the meat of this book, as it were, I need to say that this is one of the better-written bizarro novels. Beautiful word flow, gorgeous word choice, decently-enough edited, I wanted to cry midway through it.  I mean, there were some editing issues, but lately I’ve been smacked in the face and possibly on the ass with several terribly edited books. This book was the reward for not chucking out all the strange literature I try to consume and sticking exclusively with Dickens and Austen until the day I die.

And it’s so wonderful that Hansen got that right because this is a novel that demands intense attention to words. When writing of foodie cannibals, one needs a fussy precision and Hansen pulls it off brilliantly. Hansen conveys the near-neurotic attention to detail that foodies often exhibit. Not being a foodie myself, I have no idea if this is food-gibberish or not, but it sure has a decided foodie-riff to it.

…before you leave this place I will prepare for you my Millionaire in Limousine: steaming roasted loin of venture capitalist slow-braised in Madeira, served on a bed of squid-ink cabbage poached with chestnuts and Lardons Millionaires. You’ve never had anything like it. I also insist you try my Aspic Sweetbreads of Heiress Dissolu, molded in a swine’s head terrine and tiaraed with clove and apple. So light and delicate, you’d think it’s made of perfumed dreams.

You see André takes very seriously the consumption of long pig.

This is no mere restaurant – it’s a cathedral of food! Pilgrims to l’Arche have by our rare and exquisite flavors been transported, transmigrated, have communed with the great mystery, have wept with joy, have been saved.

Eating rich men is evidently quite a religious experience. And it is through monologue like this that Hansen deftly creates intense characterization. André does very little in this book, and he speaks mainly to Louis, who never responds, but at the end you end up with André as a character-in-full.

Eyeballs Growing All Over Me… Again by Tony Rauch

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: Eyeballs Growing All Over Me… Again

Author: Tony Rauch

Type of Book: Fiction, short story collection, bizarro, gently odd

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: It has enough qualities of bizarro and the gently odd that it is not mainstream reading fare.

Availability: Published by Eraserhead Press in 2010, you can get a copy here:

Comments: I’ve read Rauch before and found his collection of short stories in the book Laredo to be serviceable and entertaining enough to be worthy of a good review. However, Eyeballs Growing All Over Me… Again is a better collection. Less verbose, less neurotic, more confident – this collection is all together a tighter, cleaner, more relevant book. Rauch’s confidence as a storyteller has improved since I last read him. His stories show their purpose without a lot of hemming and hawing, sometimes even eschewing what I would consider a typical ending or a normal resolution. Not every story in this collection worked for me, but those that did not strike a chord likely failed to reach me for subjective reasons. With one exception, there isn’t an objectively bad story in the bunch.

That is not to say there were not problems. Like almost every bizarro book I read, this book had editing problems that were intrusive enough for me to notice. It’s a shame when an author writes a very good book and routine editing does not catch basic mistakes. This is an issue I continue to have with bizarro books as a whole and one I suspect will not go away anytime soon, yet I also suspect I will keep mentioning it until it stops annoying me. The most egregious issue with this book is that hyphens and em-dashes are used interchangeably. The interruption when I read hyphenated words and had to go back because I realized they were hyphenated and not words connected by an emdash was intrusive to the flow of the book. Perhaps this is a problem only in the e-book. Perhaps it was caught and I was reading an old copy. Who knows, but bear in mind this book did not escape the problem I often have with bizarro editing in other areas as well. On the other hand, this book does overcome one of the biggest complaints I personally receive about bizarro – the books are too short. While I don’t mind paying even for short books, I know many look at book purchases using a cost-benefit analysis and often find bizarro books too short for the price. That won’t be a problem with this Rauch collection.

This book is divided into three sections of stories and there are too many for me to discuss all of them, so I will stick to the ones I consider to be the best, though interestingly, I think the story from which this book takes its title is the weakest in the collection.

Museum of the Weird by Amelia Gray

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: Museum of the Weird

Author: Amelia Gray

Type of Book: Fiction, short story collection, flash fiction, bizarro, gently weird

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Because the stories, if not technically classified as bizarro, are bizarro nonetheless. And when they aren’t bizarro, they are gently weird.  Sometimes outright weird.

Availability: Published by The University of Alabama Press in 2010, you can get a copy here:

Comments: I have a favorable disposition toward women named Amelia. I knew a girl in high school named Amelia Beebe and she was one of the most interesting people in high school, but whitebread suburban high school experiences being what they are, I don’t think she and others realized it. I also have a favorable disposition toward those who love cats and the first entry I saw on Gray’s blog was a discussion of losing a kitty to feline leukemia. We lost a kitty to the dread disease and my heart bled for her, reading that entry.

Lest you think I am going to give this book a favorable review because of my various favorable dispositions, please note that I did not know about the cats before I started writing this review, and already had my opinion about the book pretty well formed. Of course I knew her name is Amelia before I began discussing the book, but since I can find it in myself to detest writers with my own name, her name played into my decision calculus hardly at all.

It is her writing that ensured a rave review. Fanciful, strange, unsettling, oddly sweet, vaguely sickening, amusingly awkward, Gray has a writing style that ensured I went back and reread a couple of stories immediately after finishing the book, just because they were that good.

There isn’t a bad story in this collection, and my innate hypergraphia is taking a nap at the moment, so I will just focus on the best of the bunch.

Let’s begin with “Waste.” This was one of those stories that, as I read it, made me feel like I was going a little insane. It’s a strange piece that I found compelling despite the fact that I find eating pig horrifying. Perhaps I liked the story because Gray’s characters explore the whole, “when does it stop being pig and become pork.” A man who works collecting medical waste from doctors’ offices shares odd culinary experiences with his neighbor, a woman with lovely collarbones who works as a line cook in a vegetarian restaurant. Olive is an exotic foodie, creating culinary experiences out of the strangest meats, making a sickening but sweet sacrifice that Roger may not wholly appreciate but at least his experiences with medical waste gave him the stomach to cope. As a woman who loves to cook, is meat-shy, and given to feeling deep disgust for any body process that would require a medical waste pick-up, it was unusual how much I enjoyed this story. Sometimes I enjoy having my disgust pinged, I guess.

Food horror actually played a significant role in this collection. In “Dinner” a woman finds herself with the unenviable task of eating a plate of hair in order to ensure her relationship continues smoothly, even though no one particularly knows why the plate of hair is on the table or even why it is important. A short, short story, this read more like the retelling of an unsettling dream than a story, a dream I have not had myself yet understood.

This dream-like element to storytelling continues in “A Javelina Story” wherein a hostage negotiator finds himself paired with five javelinas at a hostage scene wherein boy scouts are tied to chairs. The pigs just want to eat, the hostage-taker misinterprets their actions and everyone learns an odd lesson.

Many of the stories are flash fiction, so short that you don’t really process the punch until you feel the bruise on your psyche. Take “Unsolved Mystery.” Very short piece about the investigation into a serial killer with a bonesaw. These are the last two lines:

What I don’t say is, God’s a clever bastard and I do respect him. He’s everywhere.

“Thoughts While Strolling” does what it says on the tin. This story spoke directly to my particular sense of humor.

Jim Hale better train his dog.

That dog runs the perimeter of Hale’s yard, treading the ground until he makes a ditch. Dog says, “Hey, come over here.” When you do, that damn dog gives you a recipe for lemon bars which omits egg yolks and disappoints you sincerely. 

Later in the story:

Frogs croaking.

Turn them over and tickle them, the young boys say to the girls. After much conversing and screeching, one brave girl picks up a slick frog, green as a fig. She flips it over so delicately in her small palm that the boys stop their shoving and feel strange for watching. The girl extends one slender finger and runs it slowly up and down the frog’s exposed belly. When the frog urinates on her, she looks at the boys with loathing. She will later go on to swallow two goldfish alive.

“Diary of the Blockage” made me nervous because I can all too easily see this story happening to me. After a particularly upsetting incident involving a large iron pill, Mr Oddbooks can tell you that I will likely die from a foreign matter lodged, “it seems, between my esophagus and windpipe.” The narrator of the story tries to get the substance to come up but cannot. And much like me, she finds it hard to seek help for her problem:


I did not call the doctor. I went so far as to find my insurance card, but I could not imagine the remember Miss Mosely, well she has had a thing lodged in her throat all within range of anyone with half a mind to be within earshot of the the office window. I feel very sincerely that bodily functions have their place, but why would the toiletries and makeup and personal privacy industries all be such multimillion dollar successes if the place for those bodily functions was in public? To say otherwise is to disrespect culture.

This story was really on the mark for me, a neurotic who is determined to stay well enough that I never need to avail myself of a bedpan, though I did once vomit on one of my cats because I was  slow moving due to leg surgery and had stomach flu. I sense this story may be a pregnancy nightmare, too, for the lump in the throat later takes on a life of its own, in a way. All I know is that it was very important to the paranoid part of me that now takes my evening pills in far smaller clumps.

The best story was “The Darkness.” A penguin and an armadillo meet at a bar. The penguin has Fought the Darkness and can speak of little else, and the armadillo has spread vegetable oil on her shell in an attempt to look pretty and shiny.

“You are a penguin and I am an armadillo,” the armadillo said. “My name is Betsy.”

“That’s a beautiful name,” murmured the penguin, who was more interested in the condensation on his glass. “I fought the darkness.”

“You did not.”

The penguin swiveled his head to look at Betsy. He had very beady eyes.

“What’s your name?” she said.

“Ray,” said the penguin,

“That’s a nice name.”

The penguin explains what he means by The Darkness and Betsy really wants to stay on track with flirting, changing the subject, but Ray demands his due.

“I suppose you think I’m some sort of lesser penguin, just because I fought the fucking darkness and tasted my own blood, because I haven’t protected a stupid fucking egg.”

Betsy felt tears welling up. Don’t cry, she said to herself. It would be really stupid to cry at this moment.

“I honor your fight. I did not mean to disrespect you.”

Ray sank back. “It’s no disrespect,” he said. “I’m just a penguin in a bar, drinking my gin out of a fucking highball glass for some reason.”

“I was wondering why they did that,” the armadillo said.

“Doesn’t make any goddamn sense,” said the penguin.

And it really doesn’t make any sense but the story is delightful nonetheless, encapsulating all that is so banal about so much of human interaction in these unlikely beasts as they attempt and perhaps succeed just a little at making some sort of connection. I read this one aloud to Mr. Oddbooks one night, unconsciously slipping into the redneck accent of my youth that I repress as second nature.

This collection was just too wonderful for me. A letter from a woman to her apartment complex complaining about the year’s Christmas decoration contest. One story told the strange tale of a man married to a paring knife and another married to a bag of fish. A man takes up residence in his suitcase, much to the dismay of his girlfriend. Vultures come and loom over an entire town. Bizarre, magical, strange, nauseating stories, all crafted from a mind so focused on my own nightmares and uneasy dreams that I felt myself becoming paranoid at times. Luckily, Gray is such a talented storyteller that her gift was greater than my nervousness and I highly recommend this book to all who find themselves wondering what would happen if one was able to splice Garrison Keillor, Bradley Sands and Raymond Carver into one writing force.

Sorry I Ruined Your Orgy by Bradley Sands

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: Sorry I Ruined Your Orgy

Author: Bradley Sands

Type of Book: Fiction, bizarro, flash fiction, short story collection

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Well, one of the stories is called “Crawling Over Fifty Good Pussies to Get One Fat Boy’s Asshole.”

Availability: Published by Lazy Fascist Press in 2010, you can get a copy here:

Comments: We end Bizarro Week with Sorry I Ruined Your Orgy by Bradley Sands, and I need to remind you that today is also the last day you can run rampant in the comments in order to enter my free book drawing. I am giving away a free copy of each book I discuss this week, and here are the details on how you can enter to win. Comment freely. Comment with vigor. Comment with the knowledge that each comment adds to the sum total of democratic good in this world.

It’s fitting that I am ending this week with Sands’ collection of flash and short fiction. Some stories are absurd. Some are surreal. Some are really fucked up. Some are just a meaningless romp with words. Some are deeply layered and strangely touching. All of them have the demented hand of Sands going for them, but the breadth of story-type made this one of those collections where I am yet again struggling to find a common theme to unite the collection other than the relatively useless, “It’s good, read it.” So again, I am just going to discuss the stories I liked the best in the collection.