Misadventures in a Thumbnail Universe by Vincent W. Sakowski

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: Misadventures in a Thumbnail Universe

Author: Vincent W. Sakowski

Type of Book: Fiction, bizarro, short story collection

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: It’s early(ish) bizarro and is very strange and sweet. I know for many that the word “sweet” is the kiss of death where a book is concerned, but this is sweet bizarro, not sweet like our moms would read. Although not having met your mothers, perhaps this is a bad call on my part.

Availability: Published by Eraserhead Press in 2007, you can get a copy here:

Comments: Bizarro Week continues onward with Vincent W. Sakowski’s Misadventures in a Thumbnail Universe. Don’t forget that I am giving away a copy of each book I am discussing this week and one lucky commenter will win all five. Click here for contest details and comment now, comment often!

Misadventures in a Thumbnail Universe was a wonderful surprise. The stories in this collection are creepy, surreal, beautiful, pulled from history and legend, and in one case, unconsciously reminiscent of one of my favorite speculative authors. Where Wilson’s stories creeped me out and where Rauch’s stories left me with a sense of emotional sadness, Sakowski’s stories left me feeling wistful. Using a traditional (more or less) plot structure and characterization, Sakowski’s stories invoke a sense of the unpleasant using the most beautiful language and present the utterly disturbing that registers as beautiful even as it appalls.

They Had Goat Heads by D. Harlan Wilson

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: They Had Goat Heads

Author: D. Harlan Wilson

Type of Book: Bizarro, fiction, short story collection

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Because there is some full-bore absurdity in this collection.

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

Comments: Day Three of Bizarro Week begins with They Had Goat Heads by D. Harlan Wilson, and before I begin to discuss the book, I want to remind you that one lucky reader will win a free copy of each book I review this week. Check out the contest rules and be sure to comment to enter!

Okay, on Monday, I discussed a book that is regular bizarro, with a traditional story framework but with outrageous and strange characters and details. Tuesday featured a gently weird book that focuses on the human experience more than the lunatic elements that can often be the trademark of bizarro. So it seems fitting that today we are looking at a book that is all over the map. It’s absurdist. It’s surreal. It alternates between hilarity and horror. It has a six-word story. It has flash fiction. It has short stories, consisting of simple vignettes and traditional plots. It has a creepy story that is made all the creepier because of the excellent illustrations accompanying it, making it a short, stylized graphic novel.

In fact, I’m unsure even how to begin the discussion. Thematically, I’m completely screwed. So I think I’m going to concentrate on examples of all the story types that I mention above.

Laredo by Tony Rauch

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: Laredo: Stories

Author: Tony Rauch

Type of Book: Fiction, bizarro, short story collection

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Rauch is a bizarro author, but even within that classification, he employs a writing style that is a bit left of center.  These stories are atypical enough that I consider them odd.

Availability: Published in 2008 by Eraserhead Press, you can get a copy here:

Comments: Day Two of Bizarro Week focuses on Tony Rauch’s Laredo. Before I begin, let me remind my readers that I am giving away a free copy of every book I will discuss this week. One lucky person will win a free copy of each of the five books and entering the drawing to win is as easy as leaving a comment. Read up on the contest rules here and comment wildly. Avidly, even.

I both enjoyed this collection and found it maddening. I like Rauch’s simple yet meandering approach to prose. His words at times are delightfully combined and the stories as a whole are far less insane than one often finds in bizarro fiction. But at times the stories, especially the first story in the collection, went on far too long for my tastes. And that is what is so maddening because even as I reread the stories I like the least, I could not find anything technically deficient with them.  In fact, I think the real maddening element was that I felt like these were stories I could have written myself and being unable to see them unfold as I wanted made me nervous.

So instead of force my tastes into a discussion wherein I end up panning a good story that simply was not my cup of tea or appearing as I would have wanted had I written it, I am going to discuss the stories that were, to my sensibilities, mostly excellent. This is a collection of stories that discusses longing, human frailty and occasionally gives the readers a happy ending when they least expect it. Little doses of magical realism, large doses of love-sick men, and stories that, had they been trimmed down a bit, would have been near perfect.

Bucket of Face by Eric Hendrixson

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: Bucket of Face

Author: Eric Hendrixson

Type of Book: Fiction, novella, bizarro

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Humanoid fruit and a mob tomato obsessed with Michael Jackson, for starters.

Availability: Published by Eraserhead Press for the New Bizarro Author Series in 2010, you can get a copy here:

Comments: Ah yes, a new Bizarro Week begins. And as with all my themed weeks here on IROB, I am giving away free books. This time, I want to see if I can include the contest instructions on a different entry rather than clutter up the discussions with all my site business. So check out the contest rules here and comment away!

Eric Hendrixson got the shaft when I did my New Bizarro Author Series reviews earlier this year. I got a copy of his book later than the others and it was just luck of the draw that he didn’t get included. So I decided to start this Bizarro Week with his book, but before I get started, I feel the need to remind my readers that the books in the New Bizarro Author Series are an audition of sorts. Eraserhead Press gives these authors a chance to show their skills in both writing and encouraging an audience to buy their books. The NBAS writers will only get a contract to write more bizarro books if they sell enough of their “audition” books. So if this review makes this book seem like an appealing read to you, I encourage you to buy a copy of this book and give Hendrixson a chance to continue writing his lunatic tales.

The more I read bizarro, the more I realize that in many respects, these books are retelling stories we already know, using the normal as a framework upon which they build their intensely strange stories. I think that is why I don’t understand it when people look me in the eyes and say, “Bizarro is just too weird for me.” Seriously, many bizarro books are a mild inversion of the same plots we read, watch and inhale on a daily basis, except with more interesting characterization, a better use of pop culture details and a willingness to engage in subversive surrealism. These books are the logical evolution of storytelling wherein the core, the heart, if you will, of the story remains the same but the details evolve. Bucket of Face is a fine example of that evolution.

A new Bizarro Week is coming!

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Finally, the latest Bizarro Week is on my calendar. Beginning Monday, June 27, I’ll discuss five new books (well, new to me when I read them) and, as always with my themed weeks, I will be giving away a copy of each book I discuss.

Here’s the line-up:
6/27: Bucket of Face by Eric Hendrixson
6/28: Laredo by Tony Rauch
6/29: They Had Goat Heads by D. Harlan Wilson
6/30: Misadventures in a Thumbnail Universe by Vincent W. Sakowski
7/1: Sorry I Ruined Your Orgy by Bradley Sands

One lucky person will win all five books. Here’s how it works:
–One comment on one of the five book discussions is an entry to win the books.
–If you leave one comment on all five book discussions, that results in five chances to win.
–It doesn’t matter when you leave comments on the book discussions as long as you have all your comments in by 7:00 p.m. CST on July 1.
–I’ll announce the winner shortly after the contest ends on July 1.

Of course, you shouldn’t limit yourself just to the one comment because these books are all going to generate some interesting conversation, but no one will hold it against you if you do.

So come join me for the next Bizarro Week!

Also, I have some other themed weeks in the works: ‘Zine Week, Death Photography Week, and a Women of Bizarro Week. Maybe more as they occur to me. Be sure to let me know if you have an idea for a themed Odd Book week.

The Egg Said Nothing by Caris O’Malley

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: The Egg Said Nothing

Author: Caris O’Malley

Type of Book: Bizarro, fiction, novella

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: It’s bizarro, of course.

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

Comments: So Bizarro Week comes to an end with Caris O’Malley’s The Egg Said Nothing, but of course I need to get some business taken care of before we can move on to the book discussion. Because I really want to showcase the awesomeness of the New Bizarro Author Series, I am giving away a free copy of every book I discussed this week. All you have to do to enter to win a copy of O’Malley’s book is to leave a comment to this entry and I will put your name in the drawing for the book. Leave the comment today, 2/18/11, before 9:00 pm CST.

To the book. I’m gonna come out right now and say I am unsure if I really know how this book ends. I have an idea that I might know but I am sort of unclear if I genuinely understand how O’Malley concludes this book aside from the fact that that the protagonist seems to get caught in a never ending spiral of trying to do the right thing but being prevented from succeeding. He is literally being prevented from making difficult moral decisions by the man he once was. I tried to talk about the book with a friend and she immediately referenced the movie Inception, which I have not seen and likely never will, and I probably shouldn’t have mentioned it but you never know – that information may mean something to one of you.

Let me offer as much of a synopsis as I can without completely spoiling the book: Manny lays an egg. He wakes up one morning and he finds himself bare in the nether regions with an egg between his legs. Manny is sort of hostile and paranoid. He’s probably got that avoidant personality disorder that’s become all the rage now. He finances his life by stealing money from wishing fountains. He spends most of his time watching television. But when he sees the egg, it triggers in him something that is a mixture of the maternal and the paternal and he tries to take care of the egg. He goes to a diner and meets a waitress whose teeth, skin and scent enchant him. They hang out at a laundromat and eat vending machine food. They fall in love fast because they have to because this is a novella and they have sex and the egg… Well it doesn’t hatch so much as it breaks and what is inside is unexpected. What is inside I will not state explicitly because I think that would be the first link in spoiling the chain of the plot but the contents of the egg begin a series of circular events that test Manny’s mettle, his love for this new woman who offers him a new life, his morality and his sense of reality. Manny is given the chance to prevent a series of events that will trigger a world-wide catastrophe but he will have to make decisions no man should be asked to make. All in all, this is a really loopy, sad, absorbing look at a miserable hipster who lays an egg and changes his life only to have to destroy all that makes him happy in order to achieve a higher moral end.

Gah, I hate synopses that vague but the fact is, this is one of those books you need to buy and read and absorb. It crams an astonishing amount into a novella and despite the brevity, will cause you to think in depth about the plot. You will wonder about Manny’s morality. You will find yourself Googling quantum physics and wondering if there is a way the plot could have happened. It will make you question at what point we are asking too much of a person, in that post-college way when you wondered, if time travel were possible, if you would have strangled an infant Hitler or killed your grandfather in order to save the world if it meant that you were essentially ensuring you and your family would never exist.

And in the midst of creating these sorts of thoughts, O’Malley also creates a hero I could identify with all too well. I loved Manny. Loved him. If I had a penis and was single, I could have been Manny (before reading this, I dreamt I gave birth to an enormous goldfish and knew it was a baby even as it swam in a big tank though the doctors and family told me it was a fish so maybe I was in a the right frame of mind when I began this book). Manny’s love of John Hughes films also covered a bit of common ground with me. But mostly I loved Manny because he was such crank before he fell in love.

Take this passage that occurs early in the book, just after he discovers the egg:

When I woke up, I had this odd sensation. My lower half felt more sensitive. Felt exposed. If you’re the sort of person who sleeps nude, you might not understand. Or maybe you will. Maybe that’s why you do it. But, for my own reasons, I never do. It’s uncomfortable for me. I have a healthy sense of of shame about my person. Only rarely does someone come into my apartment. And if that person comes in while I’m sleeping, that person will not find me without my clothes on.

I hear Manny on this one. I don’t even like being barefoot. If a fire breaks out in the house and I am naked, I will have to remain naked because I will have to round up the cats and get them out of the house and there will be no time to get dressed so unless I am in the shower when the fire breaks out, I have seriously mitigated the chances of being found naked by firefighters or helpful neighbors trying to stop the conflagration. I’ve given this a lot of thought, as has Manny. We know you can never work too hard to ensure a state of complete body coverage.

But Manny shows even more so how we are on a common wavelength, following immediately from the above paragraph:

And that person will never find me in any state of undress because people do not come into my apartment without me knowing about it. And I would ever let anyone in while I was sleeping. I’m not the kind of guy who leaves a key under the mat so visitors can come as they please. I have a single key to my apartment on my chain. The only other copy is buried in a park six miles away. It is in an unmarked hole. And everything I just said about the whereabouts of my spare key is a lie because I don’t want you to know where my goddamned key is.

While I have not become as lock conscious as Manny, I will say that if I still lived in an apartment, I would mimic putting a deadbolt on the side where the hinges are. I can’t believe I never thought of that on my own and I totally do not think his eight locks are a sign of complete paranoia. I say this not only because of the naked matrix but also the dreaded “finding a couple of drunk drag worms in my living room in the middle of the night, scaring the cats” scenario that played out in my funky, downtown, shithole apartment in 2000. There is a fine line between paranoia and plain common sense and I may not be the person to declare Manny a genius among men, I know that, but I liked Manny more than any character I have read in a while, which probably says a lot about me, I think.

Just the way Manny thinks is wonderful to me:

There the egg sat. If it had eyes, I’d say it looked at me hopefully, but, since it didn’t, I’ll say instead it looked at me speckled. It was a light blue with reddish speckles. Like I think a robin’s egg might look, only bigger. But I’m not aware of ever seeing a robin or its egg, so I have no real way of knowing.

I like this manner of meandering, this sort of non-linear wandering through a logical yet disorganized mind.

Because Manny is eminently logical, though utterly random:

On a big enough scale, everything is less weird than something else. It’s more probable for me to have laid an egg than for me to have laid a perfect twelve-inch replica of the Statue of Liberty. Which, in itself, is a thousand times more likely than laying a perfect functioning replica of Ivan Raimi.

This is sort of weird in a way because this is the second time in less than a year that I have found myself on a near-perfect wavelength with a male character named Manny. I absolutely loved and seriously understood Manny DeLeon, the hero of Stewart O’Nan’s Last Night at the Lobster, an utterly norm book. If it happens a third time, I suspect I will have to get some sort of literary intervention.

My love for this Manny makes perfect sense because despite being the sort of man who is paranoid, grumpy, sort of grubby and of decidedly poor eating habits, after inspecting his nethers to see if passing the egg had damaged him in any manner, Manny begins to nurture the egg. He pulls out blankets and tucks it in. He calls 9-1-1 for advice but comes up empty handed and just wings it, so to speak. He regards the egg:

It looked kind of like me, I think. As much as such a thing can look like a person. It looked like an introspective egg.

“What do I do with you?” I asked the egg.

The egg said nothing.

So he covers the egg with towels and sets up a space heater to ensure this egg that sort of looks like him survives. Someone calls him and tells him to destroy the egg but he doesn’t, even though the voice calling him sounds like his own. And in the name of all that is wordy with me, it kills me but I sort of have to stop because it is here that the metaphysical ramifications of the book show themselves and to discuss them in depth will destroy the reason to read this book. Just know that in a world where time is linear and dimensions are finite, none of this book is possible. The end of the book happened before the egg was ever laid but the egg had to be laid before the end could happen and it goes on in this manner, making you realize that you should have known by page 11 that none of this was going to end in a manner that seemed possible:

The egg was akin to a child, an unwilling, unknowing collection of matter, thrust into a nasty world. Imagine, for a moment, what it’s going to be like for whatever’s inside that egg. Even if it’s human, life is going to be hard

You see, by the strange quantum physics in this novella, he knew what was inside that egg even if in that portion of limitless dimensions available to him he didn’t know he knew. And once you read the book and ponder that fact, this whole book, ostensibly about a cranky dude who watches movies on TV and lays an egg and falls in love and has to make all kinds of draconian decisions when all he really wants to do is watch The Breakfast Club, eat potato chips, nurture his egg and hang out with his new girlfriend, is really a manifesto about the nature of reality and morality. Manny is Everyman, No Man, and lives in an existential clusterfuck that ensures his life is not going to turn out how he deserves even though he proves despite his curmudgeonly paranoia that he is a man who is capable of love, dedication and selflessness.

I think that despite the fact that I love the characterization in this book and just like Manny in general, that the real reason that you should read this book is that in all the potential choices of how to handle Manny, O’Malley never took the easy way out or resorted to cheap sentimentality. There is no deus ex machina. There’s just Manny, the egg, the girl, modern technology and terrible choices. The phone psychic who knows her shit cannot save him. The girl, whose name is Ashley, cannot save him. And the hell of it is, even he cannot save himself because as this book proves, Manny is literally his own enemy.

And sorry all I can provide you with is a lot of talk about the metaphysics of the book, vague discussions of how well O’Malley handles the plot, and portions of Manny’s thoughts that were especially akin to my own paranoiac synapses. But I want you to buy this book and read it cover to cover and come back here and tell me what you thought. This book shows O’Malley has a fine sense of the odd, a clever but snarky mindset and a masterful hand at plot and he needs to be able to write more books. As awesome as the New Bizarro Author Series is, authors have to prove they can be money makers in order to get a book contract. Let’s all buy this book and ensure we get to hear more from O’Malley.

And today is the last giveaway, and I want to thank everyone who commented faithfully. I wish I had a million dollars and could give a book to everyone who comments, but since I can’t, please be sure to come back because I plan to have more themed weeks in the future. March will be zombies and, yes, there will be free books. But please leave a comment if you would like to enter the drawing for a free copy of The Egg Said Nothing. You have through 9:00 pm CST today, 2/18/11, to leave a comment and that comment will enter you in the drawing.

I want to thank everyone who helped make Bizarro Week so fun for me. I appreciate the authors for spreading the word and I’ve enjoyed reading all the new people in my comments, notably Hira H, Omino, Evil Gringo, Monsieur, my excellent friend Ted from Romania, and all my friends from my personal blog. I love talking about books, I love giving away books and this week has been a blast because of all the excellent people who commented here. Thanks to every single one of you.

Felix and the Sacred Thor by James Steele

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: Felix and the Sacred Thor

Author: James Steele

Type of Book: Bizarro, fiction, novella, bestiality, indescribable

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: This is one of those times wherein just saying “Bizarro, duh,” doesn’t even begin to cover it. Oh my god, this book is why bizarro exists as a genre because there is no other category that could come close to classifying Steele’s weird book.

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

Comments: Before I dive head first into this book, let’s get Bizarro Week business out of the way. Because I think the New Bizarro Author Series is an amazing idea that needs a lot of attention, I will always give away a free copy when I review any book from this series (and I may give away more books in the future – we’ll see how the old bank account looks after I finally crack and file my taxes). So if you want to enter the drawing to win a free copy of this book, all you have to do is leave me a comment to this entry. So simple. You have until 9:00 pm CST today, 2/17/11, to leave that comment, so get cracking.

I have to be brutally honest here and just get the negative out of the way. This book contains two things I loathe deeply: references to gaming and forced sodomy. Seriously, the former is an irritant and the latter is an OMG because I just get freaked out by the image of so much non-consensual buttsex. I’m a girl. What can I say. It’s all just a part of who I am. So almost needless to say, this book irritated me and made me uncomfortable. Though the forced sodomy is handled in a manner that makes sense in the narrative and because I have reached the limit of what I can tolerate in terms of feminist advocacy with the whole “raped to sleep by dickwolves” situation, I don’t find anything offensive in this book. Don’t mistake being squicked out from time to time with being offended. I mean, it’s a book in which everyone is into bestiality (I had to create a tag for it, and frankly I was surprised I didn’t already have one) and the characters exact justice using very large animal dildos. Honestly, there is no way anyone who is the least bit prudish, easily upset or easily offended should read this book. But then again, most people who are prudish, easily upset or easily offended are likely not reading this site.

I am a woman for whom nothing is shocking once I get used to it so I was not really that put off by the content in this book but man, Steele made me uncomfortable as hell in just the first few pages. Not a “let’s go online and start a flame war” sort of uncomfortableness, but rather an “I need to encase this book in concrete and drop it in the ocean” sort of way. But I got over it and while I cannot wholly say if I like this book in its entirety, I don’t know if it needs that sort of advocacy. It is so demented and bizarre and gross it calls out to be read by every fan of the outre in the same way David Baker’s book does. In fact, I think the world needs to get these two in a room and sweat them out, bottle their salty leavings and pour it on normal people to see what happens. Bloody revolution followed by a really perverted orgy, I suspect. That or issue restraining orders against them so they can never meet. Either way.

But let me be clear – it is a personal reaction, looking at the cartoonish sodomy in this book, a satiric device to show how casually people have come to accept their continual degradation in a society and remembering that horrible scene from American Me. And even within this personal reaction, I can see clearly that Steele is going for the extreme, pushing the envelope in a manner that will either appear hilarious or disturbing to the reader. That is partly why the bizarro genre exists – to write of the extreme, even when it is mixed with technicolor dildos and social justice.

Also, summing up this book is going to be harder than any other bizarro book I have ever discussed but I started a regimen of Prednisone yesterday and feel up to the task: Felix, like everyone else on the planet in this dystopic tale, is overeducated and underemployed. And like most of the people in the world, he has trained to be a Stress Management Specialist. You see, everyone in Steele’s strange world is into animals – those who are into people are the perverts. Felix is an Equine Stress Management Specialist and in an attempt to prove himself as a superior ESMS he tries to jack off a horse except he gets more than he bargained for. He gets the Sacred Thor, an enormous horse johnson that turns different colors and changes size when it “levels” up. It levels up by fighting these sort of nuclear toaster things that have embedded themselves into people, mostly the unemployed who stand in lines for months to get a job. Oh, and getting a job is a fabulous thing in this world because even though the workers are subjected to multiple acts of forced sodomy each shift, customers committing suicide, and surveillance that requires dozens of supervisors per one employee, everyone wants to contribute to the greater good. Oh, and everyone gets sustenance via these places that emit nutritional grease people breathe throughout the day. Felix discovers the source of the toasters, as does a coterie of people also being led by rubber dongs and a strange battle ensued. I cannot reveal the ending but it is suitably dystopic and god, it sets up a sequel and I am secretly thrilled because I wonder how Steele would top himself and want to see that happen.

Despite my only somewhat tongue-in-cheek reaction to the content of this book, the fact remains that this book is steeped in very clever satire about the state of education and worker satisfaction as well the whole idea behind superheroes. Add to it text that is at times funny as hell, and that’s some good incentive to read through what I, as a person with two X-chromosomes, call the icky bits.

This? This was an icky bit. It freaked me out but I can also see how people of a certain mindset would find this deeply interesting. Me? It sent me to Google to search the term “horse sheath” because despite my advanced age and somewhat dissolute past, I am, in many ways, still innocent about the genital workings of horses. Anyway, here’s Felix showing his skills as an ESMS as a chorus of angels sing:

The horse spread its legs a little as the angels added guitars and electric bagpipes to their orchestra. Felix rubbed faster. The bagpipes and violins kept up with his pace. Light from the heaven strobed in time.

Something was different about this horse. For one, nothing has come out of its sheath. Usually, after just a few rubs, a penis would slip out and flop around, ready for Felix to perform various stress management maneuvers that could only be learned in college.

He rubbed harder. Still nothing. Felix had never had trouble finding a horse’s penis before. He felt something inside the sheath, but where was it? Perhaps it was stuck, or clogged from years of non-use? This horse needed help bad.

Okay, so this was uncomfortable. A little. Just wait. Felix observes a galaxy in the horse’s sheath and it goes on from there:

He slipped his arm elbow-deep into the sheath and felt around. There was the universe. He held it in the palm of his hand. He felt the meaning of life, but it was too depressing so he shook it from his mind and forgot about it.


His forearm emerged from the sheath. The angels rang bells and shouted in triumph and jubilation. Felix pulled out to his wrist. The angels performed Rock Concert Movement #75: Group Sex in the Mosh Pit. Felix pulled and pulled, and finally he fell backwards and landed on his rear, horse penis resting in his lap. It was a full two feet long and five inches across the flare.

It was green.

Felix blinked.

It was translucent, too.

Reached to the elbow… Pulled and pulled… :twitch:

But anyway, this is how Felix gets the Sacred Thor, a powerful weapon that a stallion in the clouds tells him he will know how to use as he spends time with it. The horse eventually explains, later in the book:

“Epic quests don’t involve the internet or TV! They involve sex toys and manly, hard-bodied, larger-than-life heroes defying physics, logic and insurmountable odds, spitting out quotable, highly marketable catchphrases all the while.”

Sad but true and acidly satirical. Pretty funny too.

So Felix takes the Sacred Thor, a life-sized horse dildo, and not knowing exactly what his purpose is, he tries to have sex with the Sacred Thor, which isn’t having it. After lubing it up, hilarity ensues and here is where I knew Steele was a clever writer because he followed up the tense manipulation of a horse sheath with this:

He tried applying lube directly to the Thor, but the Thor shook off all the lube and whacked Felix upside the head.

When he regained consciousness six hours later, he searched the net for advice. Nobody had ever heard of a life-sized horse toy, let alone one that needed to be tamed. Frustrated, Felix tried sucking on the dildo, but every time his lips went near it, the Thor smacked him across the face.

Yeah, I laughed and compared my fate to Felix’s as both of us had been forced to resort to the Internet within the first 11 pages of this book.

Then Felix, who cannot find full employment in the world of horse release, has to work at a store that kind of sounds like Target or Walmart. It is here that there is so much forced sodomy that I just wanted to cry. It’s a terrible place to work. He has many supervisors who give him conflicting tasks and rape him to show dominance. Customers commit suicide at such a rapid pace they begin to smell and no one cleans them out. Felix has the Thor with him at work and good thing too because he first encounters the flying toasters and he and the Thor defeat them.

But that scene, despite the fact that I refuse to quote from it is important because it both shows the dehumanization of workers in this society and how they have come to take rape as their due in order to have a job that doesn’t even pay, but it also explains Steele’s dedication, which I will quote:

This is for everyone who shopped the Christmas season of 2009.

I hate all of you.

Yeah, Steele worked retail, god help him. Maybe even still works it. I know nothing about the man but that dedication and the horrors Felix faces on the job mean I just know, man I know. And believe me, everyone who knew me Christmas season of 1995 when I managed a Nine West store in Lewisville, Texas, knows how close I came to terrible violence. Instead, I had a nervous breakdown. Good times.

Really, at this point I am just quoting passages that I found interesting or funny because unless I just basically reprint the book here I cannot do it justice. Just know there is an epic battle with animal dildos that all change color and get bigger as they “level up.” Ugh. Gaming references. But many of you lack my neurotic aversion to gaming so, you know, it may be okay for you. But this next passage shows even better the work dystopia in Steele’s world. Albert, a pedophile security guard, just wants to make a difference but he can’t. He can’t be a cop and as a security guard, he can really only sit and look at magazines as working makes his bosses suspicious.

Years ago, management sensed its guard might be taking extra breaks when no one was watching, so, to ensure its employees weren’t wasting company time, fourteen cameras were installed and aimed at the guard’s booth. But to do this without spending money on equipment, management moved all fourteen cameras from the factory and placed them around the booth.

In a way, Steele is sort of a combination between J.G. Ballard, Barbara Ehrenreich and that movie Zoo. A perverted dystopia where no one is happy but thinks they are, and forces spend all their time making sure no one spends an extra minute buying a soda at work.

And in places this book is seriously funny:

“What is this place?! Who are you?! Who do you work for?!”

The man gasped. “My name is Pat. This is my novelty toaster company, keeping the American kitchen quaint for nearly a quarter century.”

“Don’t mock me with mission statements! What’s going on here.”

And then there is forcible sodomy again. Again. AGAIN. Sigh…

But there is humor with the butt horror!

A woman, a little older than Felix, carrying something large. He squinted. It was a dildo shaped like a dolphin’s member, except bright pink and about five times longer than it should have been.

Felix studied hard in college. This will not be the first or last time he is able to discern from across a room the animal penis a dildo is based on.

There is a humorous scene with a girl named Martha, or “Tha” for short, and her room walls are screens that show her perpetual IMs and blog posts, as she swirls in a chair and answers messages and e-mails and responds to comments as they show up on her four walls. And don’t worry about how this fits into the book. It does and you should buy the book to find out. But anyway:

Tha heard a noise that did not come from the speakers. It was a loud thud, and it sounded uncompressed. She mentally wrote an emo online journal entry about the disturbing sound. Instantly she received 267 responses expressing sympathy and wishing her good luck making it through the troubling time.


Tha had the urge to write another emo journal entry, but nothing was happening. There was no music. No color. The world was gone. Should she sleep? Did she have to go to the bathroom? There was no way of knowing.

Yep. That was me in 2003. And Facebook wasn’t even a thing yet back then. The world is indeed a strange and horrible place at times and Steele cleverly comments on it whilst thrusting dildos around from scene to scene.

It was about page 61 when the insanity that I have been told is part of my charm was pinged. Let me give you a snippet of the conversation that begins on 60 and continues on to 62:

“You lie.”
“Why would I do that?”
“You tell me.”
“Well, I might lie to conceal my true intentions.”
“And I might lie to make myself more important than I really am.”
“I’d believe that.”
“I might also lie to hide the fact that I’m telling the truth.”
“Come again?”
“Since I’m not lying, I might tell a lie to satisfy you so we can move on.”
“Or to conceal your plan.”
“Who said I have a plan?”
“Everyone has a plan.”
“Not everyone.”
“Sure they do.”
“No, they don’t.”
“Of course they do.”
“Do I look like I have a plan.”

This is the conversation of a man holding a horse dildo and a man holding a lion dildo. This is either fucking hilarious or deeply insane and, really, no reason it can’t be both.

So we have a society of people who are highly trained to sexually service animals and the market is glutted, where there are no decent jobs and those that are decent require sodomy and seldom pay wages, there are a bunch of people running amok with animal dildos in a place where people eat by breathing grease and there are exploding toasters put into people by a madman whom the spirits behind the dildos want defeated. Got it? This is a seriously deranged, insane, clever, nasty, twitchy, funny book. Like all its bizarro brethren it has too many typos for my tastes but Steele is a man who, like Baker, needs to write a second book. Steele, his use of two of my bugbears aside, is clever, funny and demented. So I say buy this book. I warned you but I also think you should buy it. I read it and I’m just fine. Sort of. Mr. Oddbooks says he wants the statement “Felix had never had trouble finding a horse’s penis before” printed on a t-shirt and I may arrange that for him, so really, this was a win-win situation.

And don’t forget, you should try to win the free copy of this book I am giving away. Leave me a comment here today, 2/17/11 before 9:00 pm, CST and I’ll enter your name into a drawing. It has been asked how I determine the winner. It is literally a drawing. I read the names from all the comments to Mr. Oddbooks, who writes them on slips of paper and folds the pieces of paper up into little squares. He puts the squares into a Tupperware dish, puts the cover on and shakes it all up for a minute. He brings the little dish to me and I close my eyes and pull out a square. I’m sure there is some sort of computer program that could randomize it better but I like this hands-on approach.

Love in the Time of Dinosaurs by Kirsten Alene

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: Love in the Time of Dinosaurs

Author: Kirsten Alene

Type of Book: Fiction, bizarro, novella

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Bizarro, fish, barrel

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

Comments: Ahh… Hump day for Bizarro Week. Before I discuss the book, let’s get the business out of the way. I am giving away a copy of this book and all you have to do to enter the drawing for the book is leave me a comment on this entry. The contest runs through 9:00 pm CST today, 2/16/11. Just comment and I’ll put your name in the drawing to win a copy of this book. Easy as using a keyboard to type a name.

Now for the book discussion. Before I say anything about Love in the Time of Dinosaurs, I have no idea if the title is a play on Love in the Time of Cholera or if the book in any way mirrors what I can only assume is a literary masterpiece. I can only assume because I’ve tried before several times to read Gabriel Garcia Marquez and just couldn’t do it. I hate to admit that I may, in fact, lack a certain gravitas where my literary tastes are concerned but hey, I’m a grad school dropout. So, I may be missing out on an excellent chance to compare a bizarro text to a traditional literary text but I’m not gonna rush out and read Marquez any time soon just to make sure. This will not be the first time my intellectual laziness works against me so instead I’ll just play to my strengths.

Love in the Time of the Dinosaurs mines familiar veins. A soldier in a terrible war falls in love with a woman across enemy lines. A man falls in love with a woman from another culture and the couple faces incredible odds. And there is always some sort of commonality in tales of warfare. But within these familiar tropes, Alene lets loose with some incredible scenes of carnage set in a genuinely bizarro world wholly unlike our own, which only stands to reason because unless one subscribes to really fundamentalist beliefs about dinosaurs as antediluvian animals that died when it rained for 40 days and 40 nights, dinosaurs and humans generally only occupy the same turf in Sid and Marty Krofft productions.

The bare bones of the plot, without excessive spoilerage, are as follows: A monk, whose name we never learn, is also a soldier in a war against the dinosaurs. The dinosaurs, whom the monks refer to as Jeremy, came as a sort of plague when a mystical creature went into hiding. These creatures, called the Steve by the head monk, are of varied descriptions, among them fish-headed, winged cats and rhinos with rat heads. The Steve had many secrets and taught the head monk Zohar but when the dinosaurs came, the Steve left. And then the war with the dinosaurs began, with the monks acting as soldiers, trying to keep their walled-in monastery safe from the rampaging dinosaurs, who work together as a tactical army to defeat the monks. Alene’s unnamed monk manages to stay alive long enough to meet Petunia, a new breed of dinosaur, and he falls in love with her. Once his fellow monks clue into the purpose behind his solo visits into the forest, they threaten the love that has come to sustain the monk. Can the monk and Petunia survive the warfare around them? Will they be forced to choose sides? Not gonna tell you, of course.

God, I beat the same two drums where bizarro is concerned. I bitch endlessly about the editing, and that was not a real problem with this book. But I also bitch about the brevity and in this case, I really think this book needed to be about three times as long. At least. Alene created a richly textured other-world, with strange monks with odd traditions. She created an entire, organized dinosaur culture that splinters off into factions. In her world, strange magic taught from the Steve permits men with their bodies blown off from the center of their sternums to live, with a single leg transplanted where their lower viscera and limbs used to be. This is one of the longer books in the New Bizarro Authors Series but man, I needed more. I needed more scenes with the monk and Petunia. I needed more interactions between the monk and the other monks. I needed more scenes within the monastery. Alene is a fine writer and I wished I could have read the complexities of the relationships between the monks and between the monk and Petunia because I sense in her hands, this alternate universe would have rivaled the worlds created by accomplished fantasy and science fiction writers. What was excellent characterization could have been far richer with more length.

And the characterization, even in minor characters, was excellent. The unnamed monk telegraphs early on that he is not of a hivemind with the other humans. Saving his fellow monk Oomka, the monk catches a ride on the back of a pterodactyl and the ride is killing the creature:

Wet tears stream from the eyes of the pterodactyl. I feel an unwelcome surge of compassion and pity, and draw the ray gun back from its temple. Its body quakes feebly as its torn wing flaps at double speed under the extra weight of Oomka and me.
Our bodies shoot through the air toward the treetops. This is the end. The Jeremy is dead, or will be in a few seconds when it hits the ground. I feel a surge of pity and compassion for the animal and try to shake this strange feeling from my head, not wanting to die mourning the fate of my enemy.

The monk does not die, but that what he thinks may be his final thoughts are compassion for the creature he killed in his quest to save his own life illuminates a lot about the monk and it would have been nice had Alene more space to develop these matters of character. The small amount of space made some of it feel rushed.

The romance between the monk and Petunia also suffers from being compressed, if only because Alene presents a compelling tableau: a monk sick of war, dreaming of comfort with his new love, dreaming of a life he can, in fact, only dream about because reality will not permit it. During a scene where the monk loses an arm and almost his life, in the place between life and death he thinks of Petunia:

I feel a tug on my arm and look down to see Petunia reaching up into the sky. Her hand is wrapped around mine. She is pulling me down. I am in her arms. I feel as if a bluish-gray cloud has encased me.

Petunia is very old as well. She is stooped, her soft leathery skin wrinkled and pockmarked. She smiles warmly at me. Her face is familiar and comforting. I am in her arms, and she walks with me toward a house in the tree rocks. Above us, the fireflies are beginning to descend, one by one, until they fall in a torrent, a deluge of fireflies. They swirl through the air as I push the door open in front of Petunia. We enter our house.

So do the fireflies.

If you read this book and this scene does not make you feel like you sort of want to tear up, all I can say is fuck you because such deceptively simple writing affected me. I know, I know, he’s a monk in an alternate universe and she’s a dinosaur. But he’s dreaming of growing old with his beloved and living in a house with her where fireflies come and go. This is on page 46. Think of what Alene could have done had this book been far longer.

One thing Alene does not skimp on is violence. Horrifying scenes of blood, gore, and unseemly inhuman recreations of body parts should be at stark contrast with scenes of monk and dinosaur growing old together with fireflies but they aren’t. Alene’s simple, spare style lends itself will to both sentimentality and extreme violence and gore. The monk and Oomka are in a tree on watch and battling raptors:

I yell and swing my ray gun around, but it is too late. The monster has withdrawn into the leaves, taking the bottom half of Oomka with it. The top half of Oomka looks at me, his yellow eyes bulging as fluid and blood pour from the remaining half of his torso. Two exposed ribs dangle below a line of jagged flesh. Organs spill out over the tree limb, coating the branches beneath in vivid red. He coughs, and a mouthful of blood trickles down his chin, staining the front of his orange robes.

Never fear, however, because losing the bottom two thirds of his body does not spell the end for Oomka. That scene I quote above where he and the monk are on the back of a pterodactyl and they fear they will die along with the Jeremy when they hit the ground? As they fall, Oomka saves the day in a nasty but inventive manner:

Oomka turns himself around so that his back is against my chest, and he rips open his ribcage. His hollow body cavity acts as a parachute, slowing our speed dramatically. We coast toward the trees and drop slowly through the canopy, unharmed.

Much more blood is shed in this book. If you like bloody battles in a surreal setting, guerrilla warfare with dinosaurs, Alene has got you covered.

I will tell you with brutal honesty that part of the reason I loved this book is because Alene’s style reminds me of my own, back in the days when I tried to write. She has a spare, concise manner of word usage that conveys a lot of imagery without straying into being overly descriptive. I had to fill in a lot of mental blanks as to what things looked like and I prefer my fiction that way. She gives what is needed to get her idea across and nothing more, and that she conveys such vivid ideas with such sparse word usage speaks of a wonderful talent. I want you to buy this book so we have a chance of seeing what happens when Alene is not confined to a novella length work. I suspect, if given the chance, she could be a very strong bizarro voice. I very much recommend this bloody, violent, sweet novella. It’s got love. It’s got carnage. It’s got dinosaurs with guns.

And just to remind you, you can win a free copy. Leave me a comment on this entry today, 2/16/11, before 9:00 pm CST and I will enter you in a drawing to win a copy of this book.

Muscle Memory by Steve Lowe

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: Muscle Memory

Author: Steve Lowe

Type of Book: Fiction, bizarro, novella

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: At the risk of sounding repetitive, it’s bizarro and bizarro is always odd.

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

Comments:We begin day two of Bizarro Week with a reminder that each day I am giving away a copy of the book I discuss. All you have to do to enter the drawing for the free book is to leave me a comment. It’s that easy. You have until 9:00 pm CST today, 2/15/11, to leave me a comment, and that comment will put your name in the drawing. Giving away free books is how I show my gratitude to my readers (and it also drums up attention for my site – let us not think I am not without ulterior motives) so comment!

Muscle Memory is a clever, sad little book that employs one of the most cliched plot lines ever: a person wakes up in a body not their own. We’ve seen this at play in so many craptacular movies, mostly aimed at teens, like Freaky Friday and Vice Versa. But Steve Lowe’s use of this trope is decidedly different and if there is any cliche in it, it is the sort of triteness that contrasts well with the strange plot, small town humor and melancholy sadness that made reading this book a pleasure.

The plot is, like a lot of bizarro, deceptively simple: A man wakens in his wife’s body and realizes his entire town has switched bodies with the person or animal they were closest to when the switch happened. Husbands and wives wake up in each other’s bodies, a suspected sheep-shagger is in the body of a ewe, the dog is meowing and the cat is barking. Hijinks should ensue and they sort of do, in the sort of small town quirkiness one sees in Chuck Klosterman’s novels. But the ramifications of body-switching in Lowe’s novel transcends the zany and heartwarming things that happened to LiLo and Jamie Lee Curtis as they discover how hard the other has it in this world and their love and respect for each other deepen, etc. No, though Lowe uses humor liberally through the book, like the appearance of Terry Bradshaw in a dream and the recurring jokes about bestiality, this book takes a far more penetrating look at the human condition.

You see, Billy is married to Tina and they have an infant son, Rico. Billy wakes up in Tina’s body but she does not wake up in his. Billy’s body never wakes up at all because the night before the switch happened, Tina, in the throes of post-partum depression, poisoned Billy with antifreeze. So while Billy has to learn to navigate in his wife’s body, as he and his neighbors try to figure out what happened, as the government comes to investigate, Billy has to come to terms with not only the fact that his wife murdered him, but also the very real possibility that if things return to normal, he will return to a dead body. No matter what happens, his life will never go back to normal. No matter what, Billy’s physical body is buried in Tucker’s barn, as he and his friends try cover up Tina’s crime from the authorities. There will be no happy moment wherein he and his wife embrace, each aware of what it really means to walk in the other’s shoes. His marriage is over any way you cut it and he may soon be dead himself if normalcy is restored.

Lowe mimics a small-town style of speech that is not wholly familiar to me but reads well, and that sort of vernacular does two things. First, it gives wide latitude for broad humor and second, it applies itself well showing that deep existential experiences are not the sole purview of more high-minded literary characters. It is a language that permits humor and realization that in amongst the folksy language and the “aren’t small towns cute?” sort of mindset reading such dialogue creates, there is great human depth as well. Because even as these people burst into singing Olivia Newton John songs in bars, they are dealing with some deep problems. Like Billy’s startling realization that he had no idea what his wife felt, that she had been in state of psychological despair and he had not noticed.

Lowe shows Billy’s casual cluelessness very cleverly. Billy surely had witnessed his wife Tina nurse their son before but when he awakens in her night gown, inside her body, tasked with nursing Rico, he has no idea how to arrange the nightgown so that he can feed the baby. Luckily, his neighbors, Julia and Tucker, are there, and Julia, though she is in Tucker’s body, explains that there is a flap in the nightgown that makes nursing much easier. This is handled with a small amount of slapstick, as Julia has to show Billy how to use the gown, using Tucker’s oversized hands. But the scene, along with Billy’s admission that he would feign sleep so Tina would always be the one to get up with their son, shows a man who is completely apart from his evidently emotionally fragile wife.

But Lowe’s use of broad humor and silly details keeps this from being a completely dark experience. The whole novella is peppered with the ridiculous. For example, the cat has just barked at Tucker (in Julia’s body):


“Yeah, no shit, whoa.”

“So this is like one of them Twilight Zone things, right? Or maybe it’s more like Dark Matters or something.”

Tales From the Dark Side.”

“Yeah, that was the black and white one with the dude in the suit who kinda talked like Captain Kirk before Captain Kirk was on.”

“No, that was Twilight Zone. That was Rod Serling. Tales From the Dark Side came after.”

“Oh. Yeah.”

Yeah, this is a perfect encapsulation of how terrible situations breed the most banal conversations.

When their neighbor appears in the form of a sheep, it’s another moment of hilarity but also indicative of how rumors spread quickly in small towns. Tucker is speaking to Billy:

“… Wait, did you see Edgar?”

“Jesus, yeah, I saw him.”

“Dude, I told you about that like six months ago. Didn’t I? Didn’t I tell you he was doing that with his livestock?”

“Yeah, so you were right. I owe you a case. But to get back to the important point here…”

And oh yeah, Edgar’s full name is Edgar Winter. Ha!

Billy and Tucker go to the local watering hole to see if they can get any information about what has happened. Theories float around about aliens and the government testing secret gas. Townspeople having secret affairs reveal their trysts when they show up in the bodies of their lovers with ensuing slapstick. The men sit around drinking and razzing Edgar about being a sheep-shagger. Then, when the men in the bodies of their wives and womenfolk and barn animals are well soused, the jukebox comes on with “Unchained Melody” (or at least I think that is what the song was):

The lyrics hit my brain like a sledgehammer. Something catches my throat and pricks at the edges of my eyes. I hear Tucker next to me sniffle, and I can see his lips moving. Despite myself, I start mumbling along, too. Didn’t even realize I knew this song until the words start falling outta my head.

Tucker looks at me and sings, “Are youuuuu…still miiiiiiiiiiiine?”

Floyd spins on his barstool to face us. “IIIIIIIIIIII need your loooooove.”

Joe Vickers flips his wife’s cheap blond hair back and yells the same up at the ceiling.

But even as this novel fairly drips with the ridiculous, and the most ridiculous scene being the dream sequence with Terry Bradshaw, this is silliness with a heart, a sad core of loss. Billy, Tucker and Julia move Tina to the barn to bury her and Billy, in his wife’s body, tries to find an appropriate outfit to wear to his wife’s funeral. In Tina’s body, he looks in her closet and picks out a dress he bought for her, a dress that had offended her, that proved how out of it Billy really was, and he had no idea why. It becomes clear to him when he puts on the dress.

So I put the dress on. Takes me five minutes to realize the stupid thing only has one shoulder strap. The other shoulder is bare. And it’s long in the back, but has a really short front that comes up to a slit.

And I can see my underwear.

It’s not until Billy is literally in Tina’s body that he understands how much he really failed her. Buying her inappropriate clothing, taking her for granted, not knowing the most basic things about her day, being so spaced out that she was able to put antifreeze in his beer and he didn’t even notice.

Billy realizes all of this in a sudden rush, after Terry Bradshaw comes to him in a dream and tells him that the government will switch everyone back soon, and the implications of this are not discussed explicitly, but the implied idea is that Billy will return to his dead body buried in the barn. But since Tina’s essence, her soul or consciousness or whatever it is that defines identity was in Billy when he died, there is no guarantee her essence will be able to return to her body. This is not Freaky Friday. This is the destruction of a family.

I ain’t in the dream no more. I’m back. I’m in that other dream again, the one where I’m Tina and Tina’s me. And I’m dead and buried and covered by a rusting hunk of junk in my neighbor’s barn and I’m a depressed mother who’s now a widow and a widower at the same time. I feel like I’ve lost a wife and a husband, ’cause when you get right down to it, that’s what happened.

I have two quarrels with this book. One, like many bizarro endeavors, it could have been edited a little better, but the problems are small, so really, maybe that isn’t a quarrel. My other issue with this book is the relative brevity. This discussion should make it clear that Lowe managed to create a complex novella but the actual text of the book covers less than 60 pages. The New Bizarro Author Series gives unproven writers a foot in the door – if they sell enough books from their first effort, they will have a chance to produce more books with Eraserhead. If they don’t make their sales goal, their first effort will be their last. It may put Lowe at a disadvantage that his novella is so short because one of the complaints I hear most often about the bizarro genre is that the books are costly given the amount of content. For a bibliomaniac like me that seldom is an issue (and now that I have a Kindle it matters even less) but I hope Lowe does not have too many problems selling this short book.

But here’s an incentive for people who may be on the fence about spending close to ten bucks on a book this slim: In the month of February, Steve Lowe is donating all of the profit he makes selling this book to a foster care charity. Click here to read all the details. So if you are on the fence about buying a copy, let this charitable endeavor tilt the scale in favor of purchasing it.

And again, I am giving away a copy of this book. All you have to do to enter to win a copy is leave me a comment on this entry. Contest runs today, 2/15/11 until 9:00 pm CST. Comment early, comment often!

Uncle Sam’s Carnival of Copulating Inanimals by Kirk Jones

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: Uncle Sam’s Carnival of Copulating Inanimals

Author: Kirk Jones

Type of Book: Fiction, bizarro, novella

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Bizarro is always odd. Always.

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

Comments: And a new Bizarro Week begins!

This Bizarro Week is going to focus on books from the New Bizarro Author Series. Eraserhead Press takes a chance on new writers, allowing them to put out a book and if they sell enough copies, they get to publish more books. If they don’t sell enough, the first book with Eraserhead will be their last. Sort of draconian in a way but in a world where the number of publishing venues seem to grow smaller every day, a foot in the door is no small thing. So I plan to focus on the NBAS this week.

And best of all, I plan to give out a free copy of every book I review this week. In order to enter to win a copy of Uncle Sam’s Carnival of Copulating Inanimals, all you have to do is leave a comment to this entry before 9:00 pm CST. I’ll announce a winner shortly after. Anyone anywhere can enter because I take perverse pleasure in mailing strange books to the hinterlands. So hop to it.

Now to the book discussion.

I am beginning this Bizarro Week with Kirk Jones’ book because I am finally able to do one of those “It’s X mixed with Y if Z was really a school bus on Mars” sort of statement. I can really never come up with those because to me they are always such a horrible stretch and I am pedantic in so many pointless ways, but this time, as I was trying to explain this book to Mr. Oddbooks, I came up with the perfect summation:

If you put Charles Dickens’ tendency to heap ignominy and ill-use on his young heroes, Horatio Alger’s optimism for the merits of work and a job well done, a progressive eye for worker rebellion, a chat room of forniphiliacs, and the entirety of Tod Browning’s Freaks in a fast moving caravan and crashed it into an IKEA store, this book would be the result. Truly, this will be high concept. (In the interest of full disclosure, this book doesn’t technically portray forniphilia but that’s as close a phrase as my rudimentary research into sex with furniture revealed. I don’t think there is an exact word for this but if you read the book, I suspect my label will be clear.)

This book really did take some pretty disparate elements and blend then into a relatively smooth book. The plot, as is typical with most bizarro, is quite insane. Gary has led a life of woe. He lost an arm working as a wee boy, only to lose his parents later in a terrible car crash. He also loses a leg and finds himself a beggar. A chance question to a fellow two-limbed man, asking about a potential job, led him to yet another accident in which he is turned into an enormous blob of self-contained vitreous humor. Things happen, as they do, and he becomes a trainer for furniture – animated furniture. Traveling in a carny-style show, a HAARP device keeps the carnival just ahead of the terrible weather that seems to stalk the carnival, and Gary finds he has something of a skill for dealing with the animated furniture. Oh, and the furniture has sex with each other on command and those who watch the performances vomit to show their appreciation, as you do. Gary meets the blind niece of Uncle Sam, a girl called Liberty, and they fall in love but their love is threatened by Uncle Sam’s nefarious activities. The ending is suitably cathartic, restoring order and ending this book of strange combination in a dreamy manner that should not have worked but did.

How does the furniture become animated? Well, that’s a mystery I can’t share or it would spoil the whole book for you but it’s suitably creepy and unsettling. Uncle Sam’s methods of maintaining his carnival are harsh and cruel and endanger everyone around him, even his loved ones.

As I said in my description of the words, ideas and style Jones uses, this book takes some very disparate elements and combines them into a narrative that feels similar to other things but is wholly new. The beginning had a very Dickensian feeling to me. This is the first line of the book:

Those who cared to peruse the historical records of Gary Olstrom, now known as the man made of tears, might observe that an extended streak of bad luck began for him, ironically, with a stroke of good luck at age eight…

Gary is near a mirror when it shatters and severs his arm and his boss quickly informs him that not only does he not have any insurance or means to go to the hospital, but he also will not receive his first paycheck as he will have his pay docked to cover the cost of the mirror. Very bleak to the point of wondering if there was gaslight. It goes on from there as Gary loses his parents:

While the news of their fiery crash distressed him initially, he recovered a few days later when he discovered that their departure from this world was preceded by their visit to the orphanage for disabled children, where Gary was shipped the next day.

It just gets worse in an Oliver Twist, workhouse for the poor sort of way. The orphanage sends Gary to work in a textile factory at age 12:

But upon re-spooling one of the nylon machines, Gary lost his footing, and, as a result, his right leg. Like many before him, his claim for compensation was denied, his employment terminated, and he was held fully responsible for cleaning his remnants.

But in among this modern slant on Dickens, there is a small amount of Horatio Alger and maybe a hint of Samuel Smiles, as well, for Gary never hates the shop owner who exploited him as a child and in fact considers his tight money management skills something to aspire to in his quest to prove himself. As a supervisor of other children at the textile factory, he is careful to deny all insurance claims made by his maimed peers. Even after he loses an eye, Gary is still quite certain that he will fight his way out of the gutter and continually looks for productive work. He danced for change, stole a cane from a blind man, and even when discouraged, managed to embrace the system that had deformed him, feeling, like the heroes in Alger’s tales, that hard work and determination will get him off the streets.

One day, he observes a man missing an arm and a leg and, his ambition still intact, asks for advice:

“Sir, by what means do you sustain yourself?”

“I’m employed by Uncle Sam, at the furniture factory,” the man replied.

“Would it be possible for me to acquire a job with him as well,” Gary asked.

The man looked doubtful. “Come with me tomorrow and we shall see,” he said, explaining, “I was in full health when I began working for him, and have been allowed to stay in due to seniority. Otherwise, I’d likely be accompanying you in the gutter. But I might be able to get you in. Meet me in front of the factory tomorrow.”

And Gary spurs himself into action, stealing a razor and tarting himself up as best he can, still too willing to become a cog in a machine that had already cost another man his arm and leg, only too happy to be similarly employed. But in another terrible turn of luck, his contact is crushed by a bus outside the factory and in another Dickensian detail, Gary steals his coat and gets mistaken for him as he enters the factory. Uncle Sam puts him to work, a disaster renders him made of tears and he hits the road with the carnival.

On the road, he learns to manage the furniture, encouraging couches to have sex with each other under the big tent, to the vomiting approval of the perverts who come to see the display. But as he interacts with the others in the furniture freak show, he begins to understand something is wrong, traveling to different cities in a wagon carnival caravan, leaving trails of murders in its wake. By the time he narrows in on the problem, his lovely Liberty is in peril and he faces with no small horror the terrible abuse the sentient furniture is experiencing.

But Gary, despite the brevity of this book, has a definite character arc. He reaches a point where he is no longer willing to be a company man and begins to question things, made angry by the ill-treatment of the furniture and concerned about the strange conspiracy around him. When he finally understands what is happening, he and the furniture storm Uncle Sam’s convoy, and Jones uses language that made me think of an epistolary version of the scene in the Frankenstein movie where the villagers storm Dr. Frankenstein’s castle, and I began humming La Marseillaise:

From the tent, a billowing cloud of shadows erupted, spreading across the landscape towards Gary and his inanimals. With them they carried weapons of graphite and shields of parchment, so they might rewrite history, revitalize movements and substantiate self-oppression.

This sentence is also a good example of some of the damn fine writing Jones executes in this book. Despite, or maybe because of the bizarre premise, he manages language in a manner that is quite lovely, creating beautiful scenes without venturing into baroque over-description.

All in all, this was a fabulous novella. Of course, I have no idea what Jones’ influences were – though increasingly I have some contact with bizarro writers in other venues, I still try my best to remain in my own little headspace wherein I know little about the authors whose work I critique. But the fact remains that this novella for me evoked Dickens, Alger, and Browning while utilizing elements of an interesting sexual fetish and ideas of labor revolutions. A nice little love story in a dreadful alternate universe not wholly different from our own but still different enough wherein the media is literally made of shadows and HAARP devices are portable. There were some small editing problems but compared to a lot of bizarro books, they hardly bear mentioning.

I hope Jones manages to sell plenty of copies because I think he’s got a unique voice, and that may sound spurious since I think his voice reminds me of so many other voices and ideas, but the only conclusion that leads me to is that Jones is likely an indiscriminate reader and consumer of various media. You read and watch enough, your voice becomes full of the best of what affects you. This was an excellent, strange, well-written, inventive book and I definitely recommend it.

If you’d like a copy for yourself, be sure to enter the drawing for a free copy. Just leave me a comment to this discussion and you’re entered. The contest ends today, 2/14/11, at 9:00 pm CST.