How to Eat Fried Furries by Nicole Cushing

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: How to Eat Fried Furries

Author: Nicole Cushing

Type of Book: Fiction, bizarro, short story collection

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Well, it begins with a team of humanoid ferrets trying to save the world from a literal shit storm. It gets odder from there.

Availability: Part of the Eraserhead Press New Bizarro Authors Series, it was published in 2010. You can and should get a copy here:


I am going to review one bizarro book a day this week. Why? Because I love bizarro literature. I also had five bizarro books to review and figured, “Why not.” If people like Bizarro Week, it may become a regular feature so if you are digging it, comment and let me know.

Also, if you leave me a comment in this entry today before 7:00 pm PST, you’ll be in the running to win a free copy of How to Eat Fried Furries. If you retweet any of my Twitter posts with the hashtag bizarroweek, that will also throw your name in the hat to win a copy of the book. That’s right, folks. I’m giving away two free copies and yes, you can both leave a comment here AND retweet in order to improve your chances of winning. I will choose one random commenter and one random retweeter after 7:00 pm PST. You definitely want a copy of this book. So get to it!

Okay, all my business out of the way, I need to say that this was a great book to start off Bizarro Week. A fucking wonderful book. A themed short story collection wherein all the stories have a link to one another, no matter how small, this book is subversive, sickening, funny, eerie and, dare I say it, entertaining. It is random, topical and creepy as all hell. One chapter raised the hair on the back of my neck, it was so creepy. These are stories for people who like being disgusted, for whom a book cannot be too disturbing, and who don’t mind the nasty being quite funny.

I think I knew this book was going to be utterly wonderful during the prologue.

Who hasn’t, in some moment of midnight genius, concocted a plan to murder Santa Claus? I know I have.

I have, too.

But killing Santa is only part of this book. And while the title refers to furries, they are not those kinds of furries, the kind mocked on CSI. They are humans forced to wear animal suits so people will feel more comfortable with cannibalism. A recurring theme in these stories is that of humans assuming the roles of animals, either as an attempt to survive during a squirrel invasion or by force in a grim dystopia, or animals becoming human hybrids, as happened with the grotesque Ferret Force Five, who try to save the Earth from space invasion as well as stop a massive shit storm that is covering the planet in hot, steaming poo.

And then there are the people who decide to lose their skins as a means of rebellion. Ugh.

So what makes this collection of stories about shit storms and Squirrel Jesus and deformed ferrets and cannibalism so special? Well, first, the book is culturally cunning without sliding into insufferable hipster territory. The nods to 90’s brother band Nelson and Pulp Fiction amused me but aren’t invasive. She blends little dots of pop culture references into her narrative in a manner that ensures that if you get the reference, you’ll grin a bit but if it all means nothing to you, you won’t sense that there is an inside joke that does not include you.

Second, Cushing’s narrative styles are also a thing of beauty. She uses a pastiche of different narrative types to tell the stories of worlds gone mad. Recipes, scripts for long-forgotten television shows, first person journalism accounts – the way she uses varied methods to tell these stories with a common theme make this collection seem active, engaging and sharp.

Third, she is a fine storyteller. I am walking a fine line here because I want to share some of the best parts of these tales but at the same time I do not want to give too much away. So to a degree, you may have to take my word for it that this is one clever, interesting, disgusting, foul, hilarious, over-the-top yet subtle short story collection. Some of the text will just make you uneasy, like the description of Ferret Force Five in the first chapter, “Ferret Force Five, Episode VII: Hirrelter Squirrelter! A Media Tie-In for the Ages!” The description of the hot, steaming shit storm in the same chapter is both disgusting and quite funny, especially the “science” that explains the phenomenon.

“Squirrelmagedon: 2012” is bleak, dystopic and horribly funny. The Angel Uriel sends survivors rhyming messages from a bi-plane and the remaining humans do their best to appear as squirrel-like as possible. Yet as bizarre(o) as it all seems, the characters still manage to pigeon-hole their experiences into the world view they had before they experienced such calamity.

Crossan couldn’t stand to hear her talk this way. Hadn’t she listened to enough of his sermons to know that the Book of Revelations predicted a cleansing, purifying bloodbath at the end? Didn’t she know Jesus would win? Admittedly St. John had left out the part about three decades of hiding from a squirrel army. But other than that it was all working out according to plan.

The best story in the collection is “A Citizen’s History of the Pseudo-Amish Anschluss.” This story, more restrained than the poop-filled, gross, outrageous plots of the other stories, was easily one of the creepiest, eeriest things I have read this year. I don’t want to discuss it in depth because frankly this is one of those stories I consider “worth the price of admission.” It’s a story most readers will come back to in moments of mental silence, remembering the absolute but understated horror of the piece. But let me share one passage from this story, and even with zero context, I think the power of Cushing’s prose will be clear:

I heard the Black Suit Ladies knocking gently–ever so gently–against the basement windows, the front door, the back door, the downstairs windows, the upstairs windows. Their tiny wrists tapped their elegant nails against each window, sending each pane of glass a-titter. “Bossie, time for milkin’!” they all called out in unison.

I didn’t answer.

I knew I had time.


I will surrender to the Black Suit Ladies. Not yet, but soon.

If you are reading this now, you must be one of them.

When a bunch of women, who reminded me of Mrs. Danvers, are gently insistent that a woman become a cow, we are dealing with a palpable level of creepiness.

One of the reasons I started off with this book for Bizarro Week is because I can’t remember the last time I read a first effort that was this damn good. I am a reader who appreciates many genres and this book covered horror, humor, the grotesque, the foul, the insane and the unthinkable in a way that even satisfied the part of me that still has the stink of an English Lit grad student. Cushing got this book published in the Bizarro New Author series but in order to hear her voice again in another book, we readers have to buy this book. This series really does permit us to vote with our dollars. So if you read here often and I’ve steered you right before, consider buying this book. I highly recommend it and spending money on Cushing’s book will ensure we have more books from her in the future.

And because I liked it this much, I bought two copies to share, and again, you can win a copy if you comment to this review or if you retweet any of my tweets with the tag #bizarroweek. Contest ends Monday, November 8 at 7:00 pm PST.

ETA: nmallen won the Twitter retweet giveaway and Dan won the copy for comments in this entry. Thanks to everyone who commented to win – keep an eye on the site as I will be hosting another book giveaway on Thursday for another New Bizarro Author!

House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: House of Leaves

Author: Mark Z. Danielewski

Type of Book: Fiction, horror, ergodic literature

Why I Consider This Book Odd: Well, because it is ergodic literature. Full stop.

Availability: You can get a copy here:

Comments: I’ve been away for a while, fellow odd bookers. I sometimes get hung up on a review or discussion and because I am not-quite-right, I cannot move on until I have addressed the issue. I think the problem is that in many ways discussing House of Leaves is not unlike discussing Finnegans Wake. There is an arrogance and hubris involved in thinking you can really get a handle on the entirety of either book. I’ve flirted with the House of Leaves before, but not until recently did I read the entire thing, from beginning to end in one go. By the time it was over my book was in tatters (and I was paranoid enough at the time that I wondered if the book construction was meant to echo the house’s obliteration), I had book fatigue and I barely remembered why I loved it so much in the first place. I left it, didn’t think about it, read some lighter fare and gradually let myself like the book again. Hence trying to review it and sensing that perhaps I understand it but wondering if I am full of shit.

This book. Oh dear lord. I have a wretched habit of bending the page when I find a passage meaningful to me. It’s a foul, filthy thing to do, and as a bibliophile, I hate myself for it, but I was never an underlining or highlighting sort of gal. The hell of it is, I went back to the dog-earred pages and read and read and half the time I had no idea what it was that grabbed me the first time. I comfort myself in my wasted effort that the book was in miserable condition by the time I was through – spine destroyed, pages loose, the front end page fallen out completely. I have no idea what I loved when I was reading it so it stands to reason that this is going to be less a review than a discussion of why I like this book and if it is messy and incoherent, it won’t be the first time and it won’t be the last. All I can say is that when a book is half footnotes, I don’t think it is a cop out to quote chunks of text that speak to me or explain my points.

In this discussion, I need to emphasize two things: 1) In my opinion, Johnny Truant’s story is the reason to read this book and it may seem weak not to address all the text concerning The Navidson Record. But it’s my party, and to be frank, all the details are the trees and Johnny is the forest and I think to analyze all of the endless references and throwaways that Danielewski uses in this book, you miss the humanity of it; and 2) I refuse to change my text color when I use the word “house” or refer to anything having to do with the Minotaur. Just not gonna do it. It seems forced, affected and precious when anyone other than Danielewski does it.

So, with that out of the way, a plot synopsis: An old, blind man by the name of Zampanò dies and in his apartment, Johnny Truant finds an in depth analysis of a documentary film called The Navidson Record. The book recounts Zampanò’s analysis of the film, interspersed with numerous foot notes from Zampanò, Truant and an editor. There is an unnerving catch, however: The film does not exist. Zampanò’s in depth analysis, including copious research, is of a film that does not exist and the resources he quotes do not exist. The analysis becomes so entrenched at times that the reader wonders if the real catch of the book is the “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin” minutia that often goes into academic research. The level of introspection given by fictional research into every element of this fictional movie gives the book so much self-referential claustrophobia that the reader finds herself going mad as she reads it, which, of course, is the entire point.

The written analysis of The Navidson Record tells the story of a family that moves into a house in Virginia. The house is seemingly sentient and able to change itself on the inside without affecting the outside measurements of the house. It creepily rearranges itself internally, becoming larger than the outside proportions, finally creating a hallway that leads into a maze. A search party is sent into the maze with disastrous and appalling results, but at the end of the failed missions, the house collapsing then righting itself, The Navidson Record is a love story, wherein an icy and adulterous model, Karen, finds herself fighting to save her relationship with Will Navidson. Yes, I think it is a love story. I realize just about everyone who has read this book may disagree with my assessment, but the enduring themes of this book are, in fact, love. Maternal love fighting through mental illness, self-love fighting through emotional collapse, and romantic love enduring the unthinkable and impossible.

But for me, as I say above, the reason to read this book is to know the tale of Johnny Truant. Johnny tells the story of his life in footnotes to The Navidson Record, letters from his mother from the Whalestoe Institute, a home for the mentally ill, and a diary he kept during and after his immersion into The Navidson Record. Johnny is a drug abuser, and as the son of a mentally ill woman who died institutionalized, it is hard to say what causes Johnny to drift, then dive headfirst, into mental issues of his own, but Johnny is the heart of this book, the love story of Will and Karen and the peril they live through notwithstanding. Johnny’s story of his life, as he reveals it piecemeal, in a manner that makes it hard to know him if you skip a word, is the reason why I continued reading when I felt I just couldn’t take another damn five-page footnote.

Already Dead by Charlie Huston

This post originally appeared on I Read Everything

Book: Already Dead

Author: Charlie Huston

Why Did I Read This Book: I had put this book on my Amazon Wishlist at some point, probably because it is about vampires, which are always relevant to my interests, and my very good friend Arafat sent it to me. I wanted to read it because the Washington Post had this to say in its review: “(t)his book’s core audience is among the young, the cool, the hip, and the unshockable.” And this folks, is why I review books myself and seldom pay attention to anything any established reviewer says anymore because as a middle-aged, uncool, really unhip woman I can tell you that this book ain’t all that shocking, in a pearl-clutching sort of way. Unless you have spent your life reading Jane Austen with a little Nicholas Sparks thrown in for modern relevance, this book is simply a well-told, nicely updated vampire/detective riff.

Availability: Published by Del Ray in 2005, you can get a copy here:

Comments: This is a book that should have annoyed me but it didn’t because Huston incorporates infuriating writing habits, cliched characters and plot devices in a such a way that they seem fresh and interesting. Moreover, he blends and recreates genre in a way that others have tried and mostly failed to pull off.

For example, I loathe hard boiled detective novels. I find the old school Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane novels to be emotionally flat, unengaging and tiresome but Huston takes this genre and makes it work in a manner I could not have expected before reading this book. Joe Pitt, a vampire private detective, is the main character in this novel and he embodies the sort of emotionally flat, badass, private detective who has a soft spot in his heart for the sweet but damaged Everygirl but gets sucked into a web by a gorgeous, icy, double-crossing dame. Except we understand why Joe is remote and somewhat tortured – he’s a vampire and as demonstrated in the book, one break-in to his refrigerator can cause his death. The sweet but damaged Everygirl has AIDS, and his vampirism makes a relationship hard, all the harder because he can give her eternal life if he wants but has no idea, in the way these sorts of emotionally stunted men can be, of going about it. And the icy dame is icy, to be sure, but also has a Chinatown-style problem that telegraphs to the reader that this is going to be bad news and will not end well, but forces us to want Joe to help her anyway.

I also loathe novels that refuse to use proper quotation punctuation, mainly because it has been my miserable experience that when authors do this, it is the only “innovation” in the novel because they are trying to show their indie cred by eschewing rules instead of relying on good writing. Not gonna lie, this book irritated me in sections because in passages filled with large chunks of dialogue, using em-dashes solely to indicate speech got tiresome and I lost the thread of back and forth. But it was not as intrusive as I initially feared. I would have infinitely preferred traditional dialogue markers not because I am a norm helplessly clinging to the old ways, but because it’s easier to read.

So in a sense, this book had a lot stacked against it from the beginning. But I read it quickly, enjoying it more than the parts of its sum should have allowed.

This is what I think I was looking for when I picked up the Ellen Datlow-edited modern vampire story collection that I panned. This is a modern take on the vampire tale, and zombies are handled in a way that makes sense to me (I am not a big zombie fan either – zombies themselves are seldom interesting to me, though certainly that is not always the case). In the novel, a virus causes vampirism, a need to drink blood to feed the “vyrus” that both holds the victims in thrall to their need for blood, but keeps them stronger and healthier when they do drink. The “Vampyres” in this novel have set up their own society in New York, each clan having inviolable perimeters and Joe refuses to join any clan, remaining a free agent who bumps around in the world of upper class Vampyres, radical rogues and absolute criminals.

When he is hired by a clan called the Coalition to find a missing girl who is attracted to gothic and Vampyre culture, Joe is forced to deal with “shamblers,” people who become zombies due to a bacterial infection that is transmitted a number of ways, including sexually. He also finds himself in a world of intrigue, where he is, of course, double crossed on a dime, and has to make uneasy alliances with humans and Vampyres if he wants to find the girl, deliver her to real safety and get out alive.

I think one of the things that won me over is that Huston gets goth culture right, or at least what I recognize as goth culture from my own experiences. Joe Hill’s Heart-Shaped Box was not a bad novel, but his characterization of goth and death metal culture were way off (yo, they are two totally different things and really don’t cross over as much as one might think – the culture that gave us Siouxsie and the Banshees and Bauhaus is far different from the culture that lead us to Death and Cannibal Corpse). Writers mischaracterize these subcultures more often than they hit the nail on the head.

Amanda, the goth-kiddie runaway Joe Pitt is tasked with finding has the gothic emotional-nihilism-as-a-mask-for-vulnerability-down. The street kids Pitt deals with are more gutter punk, and have the wardrobes and musical references (Skinny Puppy for the win) to prove it. Having once spent years living in gutter punk or drag rat enclaves, I immediately recognized some of the kids in this book. It was a very good thing indeed to see subcultures represented so accurately.

While I have seen this book described as edgy or like a Tarantino film, I didn’t see that myself. While this is definitely not a typical pulp horror story or a sparkling take on vampires, the edginess in this novel does not come from hip pop culture references or hard core violence. I realize my take here may be rendered somewhat questionable because I am steeped in transgressive literature in a way that casual horror readers may not be, but the real edginess comes into play because Huston manages to weave a Spillane-type detective into a new version of the vampire (and zombie) mythos, creating a wholly new and well-conceived merging of genre. Perhaps the true edginess is that Huston made me like a protagonist I knew I wanted to hate, uses dialogue punctuation in a way that would ordinarily make me snert, yet gets so much right in this intricately plotted book that I loved it in spite of the ways I suspected it should annoy me. His characterization, plot management and eye to renewing the old in horror left me with much to commend and with so many writers attempting to recreate genre and failing, perhaps any sense of edginess in this book comes simply from doing it right. I will definitely read more of Huston’s work in the future. His novel Six Bad Things sounds particularly good. It is always fun to come across a novelist I know I am going to like and realizing he or she has a body of work already waiting for me.

The Book of a Thousand Sins by Wrath James White

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: The Book of a Thousand Sins

Author: Wrath James White

Type of Book: Fiction, short story collection, extreme horror

Why I Consider This Book Odd: This book is not odd in the way many of the quirky, weird, off-beat and off-kilter books I review here often are. This book is only odd in that it is of an extreme, and that extreme is horror. This ain’t a book for the squeamish and the extremity of the content is what I think makes it fodder for my odd mill.

Availability: Published by Two Backed Books in 2005, it appears not to be in print any more since the imprint itself is no longer in business. You can, however, still score a copy on Amazon if you don’t mind paying at least twice cover price:

Comments: Wrath James White interests me on a personal level. Admittedly, all I know of him is what he puts online about himself and what he reveals about himself in interviews. He is someone I can see sharing a beer with, and talking religion and philosophy into the wee morning hours. He’s an interesting man with an unusual life arc and based on what I had seen of him and what others writers say about him, I bought blind three of his books. Not unusual for me. Before Richard Laymon died, I knew nothing about him but bought five of his paperbacks I stumbled across in a used bookstore based solely on the covers. I am a bibliophile and the -phile part makes me take chances on the unknown.

So, I had three White books, and one was his collaboration with one of my favorite horror writers, Edward Lee. The book, Teratologist, was possibly the most disappointing book I read in 2008, and I paid an arm and a leg online to get a signed, hardcover copy. I had not read a single review of it when I bought it and likely would have bought it even had I read a few but even so, I did not enjoy it. The book couldn’t even keep the names of the characters straight, sometimes getting the names wrong, as well as misspelling them (“Michael” frequently became “Micheal,” sometimes in the same page). I am a picky reader – every book on the planet has a couple of errors, and I am that snotty reader who generally notices them – but the grammar, spelling and punctuation in Teratologist were egregious to the point of distraction. Problematically, the topic was also a miss for me, a contrived and unlikely attempt to force a confrontation with God via the creation of human monsters using a vile drug that mutates the human sex drive. The grandiose and philosophically questionable nature compelling the book’s plot put me off. I bought my White books in 2008 and after reading Teratologist, I put the others away. I recently discovered them in the back of my nightstand cupboard, pulled them out and decided to give it a go. The Book of a Thousand Sins was strike two.

I always feel odd giving bad reviews on fiction, even when I emphatically think a book is not good. It is one thing for me to pull apart non-fiction books on conspiracy theory and new-age nonsense that asserts the soul of Einstein is on the planet Marduk. It is another to find fault in fiction because all fiction comes from a place of inner experience and not to like fiction is, in a sense, finding fault with the author him or herself, even if that is probably not the best way to look at things.

A Whisper of Blood edited by Ellen Datlow

This post originally appeared on I Read Everything

Title: A Whisper of Blood: A Collection of Modern Vampire Stories

Author: Edited by Ellen Datlow

Type of Book: Fiction, short story collection

Why Did I Read This Book: I love short stories. I love short stories about vampires. I love Ellen Datlow. I saw this in the bargain section at Barnes & Noble and I love cheap books. (It seems like I love a lot of things, doesn’t it?) It’s actually a book that contains two books of vampire fiction Ellen Datlow edited, Blood is Not Enough and a Whisper of Blood. So really it was a two for one bargain book. How could I lose? So I grabbed it and saved it so I could read it close to Halloween.

Availability: Released by Fall River Press in 2008, it no longer appears to be in print, but you can get a used copy here:

Comments: This is a hard one because overall most of these stories were entertaining and well-written. Yet many missed the point entirely or I am being too strict in what I consider a modern vampire story. I tend to think it is the former. Many of the stories really pushed the boundary of what it means to be a modern vampire story and not in a good way. In a “this really has nothing to do with vampires in any way, shape or form unless one redefines the notion of vampire to have nothing to do with the concept of a vampire in a context in which vampires are recognizable” sort of way. Yeah. Seriously, that mangled sentence is the mental gymnastics one must go through to find vampires in some of these stories.

A vampire does not have to suck blood to be a vampire. Most vampire fans also do not demand a strict adherence to vampire canon in order to find worth and entertainment in a vampire story. But on some level, the vampirism cannot be so postmodern in its interpretation of vampires that an audience has to analyze the story to the point of banality to find the vampiric element and too many stories in this collection demanded that sort of analysis.

I’m not going to discuss every story in the book but I’ll hit what I consider the high lights and low lights.

The ones that did not work for me:

“The Pool People” by Melissa Mia Hall uses rape as a metaphor for vampirism and while the story is intriguing, the fact of the matter is, this is one of the stories that stretches the notion of being a vampire. A teacher being assaulted by students is horrific, not vampiric. This story stretches vampirism into a metaphor for all modern violence and in so doing, stretches the concept of the “modern” vampire to the breaking point.

“Dirty Work” by Pat Cadigan flat out is not a vampire story. Period. Full stop. It’s an interesting science fiction tale but it has no place in a modern vampire anthology. I did my best, I questioned myself and asked if I was being too literal in my interpretation and came to the conclusion that asking for some form of vampiric behavior in a story included in a vampire anthology is not too much to ask. It’s a story of a “pathosfinder” who is overwhelmed mentally by an empath in a futuristic world. This was possibly the most tiresome story in the book for me, 35 pages of not very much happening at all, just… I think the issue is that I am not a fan of this sort of sci-fi, especially when I encounter it in a book ostensibly about vampires.

Interestingly, one of the other stories that did not hit me right was also a Pat Cadigan tale called “Home by the Sea,” wherein people are dead in a sort of post-apocalyptic world but still move around. They’re not really vampires so much as they are sentient zombies. A wife has sex with a man who is ostensibly still alive and he gives her the gift of life. Again, sort of entertaining, but also again, not really vampires in any sense, even modern. Vampires take life, they don’t give it, and given the zombie-like nature of the characters, it was hard to see what the point was of the story exactly other than just existing as a horror tale. It works as a horror tale. It does not work as a vampire story.

The last story I speak of in the “do not want” camp comes from Edward Bryant, “Good Kids.” This one I just plain didn’t like. In it, four girls in night-time child care facility discover their caretaker is a vampire. They turn the table of violence on him when they encourage the rest of the kids in care to act with them in an ending with a TWIST. Bleah to red herring endings and double bleah to precocious kids who as a group don’t speak or act as any kids I have ever known.