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

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: A Hollow Cube Is a Lonely Space

Author: S.D. Foster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Such a sad, bleak story.

Museum of the Weird by Amelia Gray

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: Museum of the Weird

Author: Amelia Gray

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jim Hale better train his dog.

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

Later in the story:

Frogs croaking.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

“You did not.”

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

“What’s your name?” she said.

“Ray,” said the penguin,

“That’s a nice name.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sorry I Ruined Your Orgy by Bradley Sands

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: Sorry I Ruined Your Orgy

Author: Bradley Sands

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

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

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

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

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

Sex Dungeon for Sale! by Patrick Wensink

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: Sex Dungeon for Sale!

Author: Patrick Wensink

Why I Consider This Book Odd: Well, Eraserhead Press published this book, and they are generally a pretty good weather vane for oddness. But I also suspected the book was odd because the author contacted me so he could send me an ARC because he wanted me to review it (yes, an ARC!!! I swear to god I almost wept because only certified, authentic reviewers get ARCs, right? Right?). If an author reads this site for any reason, chances are his literary output is going to be odd.

Also, I heartily encourage this trend of sending me actual books. Not only would I get free books, but my delusions of grandeur mean I am likely to review said book because I am still in the early OMG THIS MEANS I AM A REAL CRITIC stage of the game. So yeah, send me your odd books, odd authors. Also, I am not above using the emotion card, so send them to me because I love you. All of you. Even that weirdo living in a basement who keeps e-mailing me chapters of his novel about his dog’s wang.

Type of Book: Fiction, short stories, flash fiction, bizarro

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

Comments: Okay, yeah, this was my first book offered to me because I review odd books, but don’t let that make you think I am gonna give this book a sweetheart review on that merit alone. Also, I’m not giving it a sweetheart review because I’m a known sucker for flash fiction and short, short stories. I’m giving it a sweetheart review because it is a good book. The stories, some odder than others, are all pretty solid, and one of the stories has resonated with me as being not only a clever concept, but haunting and upsetting.

This book may actually be a good bridge into bizarro for some readers because while it is odd, it does not cross wholly into the full-bore weirdness one experiences reading Carlton Mellick III, one of the best-known bizarros. Additionally, these stories are very much, for the most part, grounded in reality, not incorporating the heavy use of magical realism that one sees so much of in bizarro. I find magical realism amazing when done well, but it is no black mark against Sex Dungeons for Sale! that the stories are so grounded. I know many think that bizarro is schtick, the replacement for pulp sci-fi for a more jaded generation and they are wrong. While bizarro’s certainly entertaining, increasingly the writers in the genre produce literary quality works, pieces that would not be out of place in Zoetrope or Zyzzyva. That is why I think, for those who want to dip their toes into high weirdness, Wensink’s book would be a good starting place. I could see some of these stories in edgy mainstream lit journals. They are odd, but odd in a way that is extremely relatable.

Severance by Robert Olen Butler

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: Severance

Author: Robert Olen Butler

Why I Consider This Book Odd: This book has an absolutely lunatic premise. It is said that a decapitated head can remain in a state of consciousness for 90 seconds. In heightened states of emotion or agitation, people can speak at the rate of 160 words per minute. Combine the two and you have the micro stories in this book.

Type of work: Fiction, short stories, flash fiction

Availability: Published by First Chronicle Books in 2006, this book is still in print. You can buy a copy here:

Comments: It’s weird, including a Pulitzer Prize winner here, but hell, I already got me a Nobel Laureate, so why fight it. The acclaimed can also be so very, very odd.

So, as I said above, this book combines the premise of consciousness in a decapitated head and the ability to speak quickly when under duress. This book is a series of tales from heads speaking approximately 240 words. I initially did not like this book and set it aside for a few months, but when I picked it back up again, I fell in love with it.

The tales from heads separated from bodies range from the touching, to the horrific, to funny. Anne Boleyn’s words after her head is severed from her body are to her daughter, Elizabeth, and they are heart wrenching:

…but still there is my sweet girl my Elizabeth her pale face and her hair the color of the first touch of sun in the sky, the pale fire of her hair, she turns her gray eyes to me and I know I am soon to leave her… and I say rise my sweet child and she straightens and lifts her face and I bend to her, I draw near to her, I cup my daughter’s head in my hands

The story from Lydia Koenig, a woman who was beheaded by her son in 1999, is just dreadful:

…my baby, my own baby boy his bones deep and untouchable inside him, I dress him in pink thinking it makes no difference I hold him baby and then in plaid and he has freckles on his nose… and the man is gone and my baby cries all night through, though he is no baby he is returned and he says help me find a vein help me tap this vein and I cannot…

The story from Gooseneck (Gansnacken), a dwarf who was a court jester to Duke Eberhard the Bearded, who beheaded him in 1494 for sad, but funny actions beyond his control:

…I am jester not a sailor the goat breaks his knot and bolts just as I leap from the rope and fly at my stricken lord and fall heavy upon him, crotch to face, and alas I am already full excited at my joke, like a lover

The book contains many famous beheadings, like John the Baptist, Mary, Queen of Scots, Lady Jane Grey and similar, but also has more modern, less famous decapitation victims telling their tales, like people beheaded in the Middle East since 9/11. There are two non-humans in the book – a chicken, whose body indeed ends up crossing the road, and the dragon slain by St. George (who is also included in the book). There is a man beheaded in 40,000 B.C. and insanely, the chicken speaks better than the dragon, who speaks better than the Cro-Magnon man. Most insane and odd of all, Butler records his own putative decapitation in 2010, losing his head when he sticks his head ill-advisedly out an elevator.

This book is a short little read, but you may find yourself going back to reread the tales. It’s a delightful, odd little book, built around an odd but amazing premise, the sort of idea that makes you smack yourself on the head and wish you had thought of it yourself. The brief stories are richly detailed and full of both history and emotion. It’s amazing what Butler can do in 240 words. I am a well-known lover of excellent flash fiction and Butler’s flash is breathtaking.