A Greater Monster by David David Katzman

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book:  A Greater Monster

Author:  David David Katzman

Type of Book: Fiction, experimental, indescribable

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: The reasons are numerous and many.

Availability:  Published by Bedhead Books in 2011, you can get a copy here:

You can also order this book from The Strand.

Comments:  Jesus Christ.  The best way I can begin this book discussion is to dare every single one of you to buy the book and read it.  I add the dare so that your pride forces you to get the book lest you seem the sort person who shies away from a challenge.  I need you to feel your honor is at stake.  However, it will be a dare you will be glad you took.  A Greater Monster is a book you will need to read at least twice, and even then you will be able to pick it up a third, fourth and fifth time and right around page 40 you will feel like you are reading a new book again.  Given that this book has 367 pages, that’s a bargain.  In a sense, you will get a new book every time you read it.  So really, it’s an economical dare.

The best way to describe the book is to call it experimental fiction because after the first 40 pages or so, it defies any traditional narrative.  It’s a drug trip that has a beginning of sorts but no real end.  The protagonist slides from one hallucinogenic experience to another, each itself having no beginning and no real end.  It’s disorienting and peculiar.  But at the end it is a religious experience for the protagonist, a deeply personal descent into the unreal and irreal that make it almost alienating to read.  The protagonist wants this trip into a world that has no meaning – if he doesn’t experience real meaninglessness, his life will become even more meaningless.   And each trip he experiences means only to me what I assign to it because there is no meaning once the trips begin.  Only experience.  A nauseating but ordered beginning turns into the protagonist careening in unordered experiences.

I had to read this book in a manner similar to the way I read House of Leaves.  The first time I read it in bits and pieces.  It’s a dense text and, without any linearity of plot, I don’t recommend reading through it in one attempt the first time you read it.  I honestly don’t know if the book would do you any good reading it all at once.  It would be like experiencing someone else’s delusions.  Before my senior year of high school, I developed pneumonia and had such a high fever I began to hallucinate.  My mother found me in the hallway, waiting in line to go to the bathroom.  Evidently I was convinced Chinese laborers were using the house as a rooming house and we all shared the same toilet.  I could see odors as colors and felt sure there were cows hiding in my room, producing methane gas that manifested as the color orange.  Small blue people ran across my bedsheets, warning me I needed to sit up or I would die.  My books spoke in foreign languages, the mirrors showed me unseen rooms in the house, and when I later told all of this to the doctor, he flat out did not believe me.  My mother told him, with no small amount of anger, that all of that had happened and I still don’t think he believed us.

I hallucinate now with very low fevers and most medical personnel give me the side eye when I report it.  I seldom say anything anymore.  I’ve had a couple of nurses tell me they do the same thing but mostly I know I am not believed.  I used to be offended by it but now I know better.  The fever dreams and hallucinations of one man can never really resonate with others unless they, by chance, had the same fevered dream, the same tendency to hallucinate, the same peculiar mindset.  That sort of cross-over seldom happens and you find yourself wondering how anyone could see a cow’s flatulence. And that’s why you need to read this book in little bits at first.  Otherwise the protagonist’s experiences will become too much as you try to make sense of them.  In smaller bits you won’t try to find the common thread, the element that links all these stories together.  There may be one but because this is not my hallucination, my drug trip, my terrible fever, the thread is elusive at best.

It took me several months to finish this book the first time.  I would back up and try to connect everything I was reading but ultimately that was a loser’s bet.  You just have to read in snippets and when you are finished, let it digest and then read it all in one go.  This book is a bizarre, at times alienating experience and that may sound unappealing but actually it was quite divine.  It was like taking a vacation into someone else’s mind.  It was a violent, unnerving, disjointed trip into utterly foreign fever hallucinations and that experience is enjoyable and frightening and fun if you don’t try to force it to make any linear sense.

The Plight House by Jason Hrivnak

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: The Plight House

Author: Jason Hrivnak

Type of Book: Fiction, experimental, borderline ergodic

Why Do I Consider This Odd: This book is a test to see what you know about the depths of human despair and it’s also a distraction you can use, reading it to the despairing one until he puts down the gun or she hands you the bottle of pills.

Availability: Published by Pedlar Press in 2009, you can get a copy here:

Comments: I have a strong feeling that this may be a book that requires a certain level of experience to understand. Of course, feelings of misplaced responsibility and grief are common enough, so I don’t want to discourage anyone from reading The Plight House. But I do think that unless you have tried to end your life or tried to prevent someone from ending his or her life, this may not have a certain resonance. I say all of this because, as I indicate above, this book is borderline ergodic. The way Hrivnak constructed his book forces you to interact with the text in a manner that forbids passivity and can defy understanding unless you are willing to work hard. The content is also so very specific and tied to an extremity of experience that could, for some readers, be alienating.

That having been said, I think you should read this book. This isn’t House of Leaves level ergodic. This is a book that can be completed in one sitting, if you don’t mind the feeling of being flayed now and then. But fair warning: this is definitely not a book for those who prefer linear narratives.

Brief synopsis: The protagonist met his friend Fiona when they were nine and they became inseparable. They created a strange otherworld they called the “Testing Range” wherein they created trials for the people they knew, trials that verged on torture but had a specific end and meaning. An untalented violinist who loves her music but is afraid of rats would be put in a cage full of rats for a night. If she survived, she would have the talent of a virtuoso for a year. At the end she would have to make the choice to expose herself to rats for even longer in exchange for another year of talent or she would lose her talent forever. The protagonist and Fiona create these trials for everyone around them. Fiona has a neurological condition but as she gets older she also seems like she has some sort of personality disorder. When Fiona’s family moves, the protagonist tries to keep in touch with her but eventually he can’t find much to say to her anymore.  They’ve become too different.

He attends college and gets a job but his friendship with Fiona has left him avoidant and near schizoid, craving solitude to the point that he lives his life in a darkened room, sleeping only to dream and waking only to record his dreams. He manages to hold a job but one day receives a letter from Fiona’s father. Fiona has broken into the grade school she had attended with the protagonist. She slashed her wrists and died. In her belongings, her father had found a page from the “Testing Range” notebook that she carried with her and he contacted the protagonist and asked him if he could explain what was written on the page. The protagonist, racked and wrecked with grief, decides to write The Plight House, a test for Fiona and a chance for him to achieve a sort of redemption in the face of crushing sorrow.

Using the magical thinking that we all engage in, the super-powerful what-if we practice when the unthinkable happens, the protagonist imagines what would have happened if only the Plight House had existed before Fiona made the decision to kill herself.

The Plight House is the missing element from the night Fiona broke into the school, its failure to appear there no different from the absence of a stolen property or a garment devoured by moths. I picture the manuscript sitting ready on a clean, well-lit desk, a batch of sharpened pencils at the side. I picture Fiona noticing it in the course of her wanderings and stepping cautiously into the light, aware of a twist in the game.

She would have understood within the first few pages that the test was not written by a doctor or a parent or, even, fundamentally, by a friend. And its coldness would have come as a great relief to her. I knew from the outset that the test’s chance of success would inhere in its refusal, first, to sing her back toward a world that she despised, and, second, to use guilt as a straitjacket. My only hope was to create a resonance , duplicating both in myself and in the text the particular frequency of despair that was driving her toward suicide. I’m not sure what, if anything, it would have meant to her to experience that resonance. But so long as she understood that she had been seen, and therefore accompanied, in that worst of all possible moments, I could have lived with her decision.

Of course, that’s not true. One does not write a book like the tests in The Plight House, an exercise to prevent the worst, if one is going to be sanguine if the worst actually does happen.

In fact, the final words of the last paragraph make it clear that the narrator means very much for this book to be used as a means to prevent the worst, with no eye to any other alternative but salvation and preservation.

If it becomes necessary to administer The Plight House, do so without apology and without expectation of thanks. Her tears of protest may rend your heart, but remember the alternative. She stands to lose everything, and so, therein, do you.

The synopsis and quotes I produce above are contained in the first 29 pages. That’s the only linear part of this book. Then the Plight House begins.

The Orange Eats Creeps by Grace Krilanovich

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: The Orange Eats Creeps

Author: Grace Krilanovich (I can’t find her site – if anyone knows where it is, let me know please)

Type of Book: Fiction, experimental

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: It is written like a drug-induced nightmare with no plot, characterization or coherence of thought and because I had to stop reading halfway through yet still want to discuss it.

Availability: Published by Two Dollar Radio in 2010, you can get a copy here:

Comments: I have been on a bad streak lately, book-wise. I struggled through a bland horror novel by one of my favorite writers and lost about two weeks as I forced myself to keep reading though  I longed to quit and move on to something else. By the last 30 pages, I just skimmed and by the last ten pages I gave up. I followed it with a book that was supposedly about the social and sexual politics of using one’s body to make money, via stripping or peep shows or similar. When it became clear that the politics were really going to be whining about how hard it is to be a girl, like even middle class white chicks get called a slut if they sleep with a boy OMG, I put it down.

And that cheesy book of whining about sexual politics was followed by The Orange Eats Creeps. Well, it was followed by my final stab at the book. I began reading it back in March and had to put it down because I could not make sense of it. I began reading again in May and gave it my last try in June. I can’t get past page 95. I stopped reading with the knowledge I was never going to finish it.

That was a difficult thing for me to do. I have, in the past, taken a very hard line with my reading habits. If I begin a book, I tell myself I must finish it. But lately I cannot make myself operate this way. I just don’t have time left in my life to struggle through books that don’t interest me or books that are not good. Which is why it sucked so much to give up on The Orange Eats Creeps because it did, ultimately, interest me, and it was not a bad book. It just was too uncontrolled, too scattered and too lacking in what one needs to make a novel; you can open this book to any page and begin reading and it will make no more or less sense than if you begin reading from the first page.  (And if it seems like dirty pool discussing a book I didn’t finish, I don’t make a habit of it, but I have done it before. But that book deserved it…)

Before I begin my discussion of the first 95 pages of this book, I need to get a rant out of the way. This book’s marketing was so utterly misleading that I suspect it pissed off many readers. Unless things are very different at Two Dollar Radio, most writers have no say in how their book is marketed. If I am wrong and Krilanovich approved of this approach I am all apologies, but I can’t imagine any writer would want their work so dreadfully misrepresented. This book is not about junkie vampires roaming the Pacific Northwest and encountering strange sights as they search for the protagonist’s sister. This book is not a new, fresh look at vampires, an adult’s replacement for the Twilight books. When I heard about this book and read some of the blurbs written about it, I thought, “Oh wow, this sounds like Near Dark but with grunge in the place of Southern culture on the skids.” That was not the case. Arguably, this is not a vampire novel at all. It is a stream-of-consciousness narrative that has no plot, no real characterization, and is the epitome of an experimental novel. It is difficult to follow, it has no linear story-telling, yet was marketed as follows:

A band of hobo vampire junkies roam the blighted landscape – trashing supermarket breakrooms, praying to the altar of Poison Idea and GG Allin at basement rock shows, crashing senior center pancake breakfasts – locked in the thrall of Robitussin trips and their own wild dreams.

In this book blog of mine, have I ever called anyone an asshole before? If I haven’t, let me start now. Whoever wrote the above, which is from the inside cover flap of the book and was reproduced on several book sale venues, is an asshole. Seriously. Because while some of the above is true, it paints a picture of this book that is not true, giving no hint to the fact that this is a difficult book, a book written in an experimental style.  That was a mistake because despite the fact that I found this narrative so jagged and jangling, so much so that it was like a kaleidoscope in the form of a book, this book has its moments of narrative brilliance. Passing it off as a junkie vampire hobo book during the time Kurt Cobain ruled the Pacific Northwest robs this book of its purpose and taints it because those who wanted a vampire novel can only walk away annoyed.

My Landlady the Lobotomist by Eckhard Gerdes

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: My Landlady the Lobotomist

Author: Eckhard Gerdes

Type of Book: Fiction, novella, bizarro, experimental prose

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Well, it was published by a bizarro imprint, so that was my first clue. But upon reading, I found that I had never read a narrative style like the one Gerdes employs.

Availability: Published in 2008 by Raw Dog Screaming Press, you can get a copy here:

Comments: This is a book that I almost didn’t review because the very thought of trying to talk about it made me ill-at-ease. I feel this way because from time to time, despite being an indiscriminate reader, I come across a book that makes me search for words and ideas I fear I may not have. I have a good education backing up my opinions, and odd literature certainly is a part of my daily life, but this book is different. It is not different wholly because it is so experimental. I recently reviewed an experimental novel here and had no problem explaining why I thought it a very bad book. But when things don’t work, sometimes it is far easier to say, “Here are the myriad reasons this book stank!” than to say, “This book is good and I don’t entirely know why.”

But I’m gonna give it a shot anyway and if I end up looking like a dumbass, so be it.

My Landlady the Lobotomist is the story of loss, of a man whose mind becomes a splintered place as he deals with the loss of his lover. The narrative divides his grief from his break up into metaphors, stories that reveal his emotional struggle. These stories are fantastic, imbued with a dreamy surrealism that remains ethereal even when the stories descend into gritty detail. The stories are sad dreams, pillowy nightmares and while these stories have a tint of reality to them by dint of the emotions Gerdes shares, the reader is always certain that these tales are nothing more than biochemical reactions in the narrator’s brain.

Which is why it is so appropriate these stories begin with the narrator speaking about living in a boarding house with other men, their landlady a woman known to take parts of their brains to adjust their behavior when their actions become too excessive in any manner. The narrator is helping stage a play for children about Godzilla but the play then takes on a life of its own, as Godzilla rages against the monster She-sus, but also a dragonfly is seeking its angelfish, struggling against the sea, a thugfish and other elements as he ultimately loses her.

I’ll be completely honest here. There were moments I had no idea what was happening in this book and when that occurs, I generally blame the book. But this time I think it was me, literalist that I am, seeking stable ground in a book where the only real knowledge I could have was that love will probably die. So I should have hated this book but I didn’t. This is not a case of the dim embracing the difficult in an attempt not to show their dimness (or at least I hope it isn’t) but rather an admission that despite at times realizing I was in over my head, I loved the prose nonetheless. The humor, the desperation, the at times lovely turn of phrase Gerdes employed.

O Recursion Recursiveness! Every way I look, it’s all the same thing. There is only one blue angelfish, as far as I can tell. I’m not going to settle for catfish. If I need to outwit the thugfish, I will. Shouldn’t be very hard. But the first move is that the Angelfish has to return on her own. If I drag her back slapping and screaming, I come all up in the thugfish’s face, the ocean will declare war on the land and nothing will be achieved. She is not a prize to win. She is a person who is capable of making up her own mind and coming to her own conclusions. If she prefers prison to joy, then she’s with Mrs. Brently Mallard. How sad. But I can’t force freedom down her throat. I can’t make her want to be happy. I know she’s thinking about me. Up from a bubble in the sea, I heard her voice singing a line of a song we both loved. The line was, “the fish will rise from the sea for thee,” and I think was an old English hymn, but for us it took on a very personal meaning. There I go, reminiscing about my lost love. I didn’t want to do that.

This is not the most dancing of passages in this book, but reading it happened upon one of the moments when I was able to grab onto a serious sense that I understood the narrator. His married or not-entirely-single girlfriend chose her standby over him, and with the narcissism of a man who cannot believe he has been rejected for an inferior, a thugfish, he convinces himself she would really be happier with him, if only she would choose happiness. Of course she has chosen what she wants, but there is no way to really look at losing in this manner as her making the correct choice. And even as he is convinced she is singing for him, I really thought instead of Prufrock, who in his maudlin honesty knew that the mermaids would not sing for him.

This novella could be, for me at least, intensely funny at times. Because the narrator’s neurosis seeps through in every story, even the part of his brain that considered itself a monster still had feet of clay.

Godzilla remembered that he was hungry. He ate an ice cream van and would have had bad brain freeze had he still had his forebrain. Plus he had sensitive teeth anyway because he so seldom flossed or brushed his teeth. And his feet hurt. He wished he could wear some comfortable loafers instead of always going barefoot. Smashing buildings barefoot cut up his feet badly.

Godzilla with brain freeze and sores on his feet, battling for his love and he complains…

I wish I could sit down with Gerdes and pick his brain over this book about a brain because as I began reading, I was certain the narrator, once he shed himself of the part of his brain that could not let go of the Angelfish/She-sus (or his landlady forcibly took it from him) he would stop obsessing, he would recover and move on somehow. But that was not the case. He lost his forebrain but still rampaged, still mourned even after the rusty ladle scoops out part of his cerebrum. The book does not necessarily need a firmer conclusion but the end left me itchy, as if there was something in this meditation of loss that I missed somehow. I think I am, at times, a reader who craves conclusion and this fantasy shows, all too clearly, that no matter how robust one’s imagination, no matter what forms one takes in one’s mind, there are some wounds that never heal.

The second chapter niggles at me the most. “The Running of the Rapids” was the chapter I enjoyed reading the most but the chapter that made the least sense to me. A recently single father takes his sons to an annual event in the town, wherein townmembers throw themselves into a rocky river and no one makes it out, drowning, smashing into rocks, bitten by snakes. I’ve reread it twice and while I like reading it, I wish I understood who or what the swimmers were meant to represent. We get a small sketch of each one, all vastly different people, and if they are to represent the various parts of the narrator’s psyche, then there was almost no sense in reading this book as no one makes it out alive. But perhaps I am thinking too hard. While experimental, this is still bizarro and perhaps meant to be absurdist, meaningless actions with meaningless consequences. But I don’t think so. Yet I also don’t know.

Should you read this book? I don’t know the answer to that either, but ideally I think I want you to read it so you can comment here and tell me what you thought of the book, maybe give me your insight. I don’t think you will regret reading it. I enjoyed reaching every chapter, each story, outrageous and fantastic, sly and clever, aching and bleeding. It’s hard as a person who reviews books to say that I liked something but am not entirely sure why, but that is the conclusion I reached with this book. I like it and that was enough. I suspect I will reread it again some time in the future and see what it says to me then.

She and I: A Fugue by Michael R. Brown

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: She and I: A Fugue

Author: Michael R. Brown

Type of Book: Fiction, experimental fiction, memoir

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: The author and I “know” one another from butting heads in some blogging communities before I lost my will to argue online. We find the other extremely questionable in our approaches in political and social realms (he is an Objectivist Libertarian and I am a Bleeding Heart Liberal, each of us married to our own belief systems in a way that beggars belief to the other). I first encountered the author in a community devoted to stupid behavior online. Two years later, I forget how I did it, but I discovered his full name and the name of his book and to reward me for not being as much of an idiot as he initially judged me, he sent me a copy of the book. So that was a bit odd. Then the book itself proved to be an odd experience, to be sure.

Availability: Published in Petrarcha Press in 2009, you can get a copy here:

Comments: I debated on how to handle this book in my review. I was tempted to go with snark but I can’t. I may not pull any punches but I plan to be as honest and candid as I can while I explain why this book is one of the worst books I have ever read. In a way, being snarky and comedic might be stomached easier because they are easier to dismiss. “Oh, a liberal clown didn’t like my book, lol.” I also tell myself that there is nothing unkind in complete honesty.

So since I am being honest, I need to say outright that this is an awful book. It is awful for many reasons and I am going to discuss all those reasons. It may seem like overkill, but when you don’t like the author, it’s too easy to say, “It sucked, take my word for it.” I don’t want you to take my word for it. I want to give you all the evidence that led me to the conclusions I reached. I don’t want anyone to walk away from this far-too-long review and think I dismissed the book because I would rather be buried alive with a full bladder than ever again read Ayn Rand or listen to one of her devotees go on at length.

This is the longest discussion I have written to date and am putting the bulk of it under the jump.