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 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.

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.

Under the Skin by Michel Faber

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: Under the Skin

Author: Michel Faber

Type of Book: Fiction, horror, science fiction, indescribable

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: This is a book that walks the line between standard horror fiction with a literary bent and yet is so deeply disturbing that it is odd by default. So, since I am sort of a bad parent and favor one child over the other, I am discussing it over here because oddbooks is soooo much better than her sister. But I find it pretty disturbing and by my own admittedly uneven criteria, I’m discussing it here.

Availability: Published by Harcourt in 2000, you can get a copy here:

Comments:This is going to be a startlingly short discussion. I am a person who is, to put it kindly, verbose. Wordy. I type too damn much sometimes. I know this. And if I let this tendency go unchecked in this discussion, I will spoil this entire book for you. This is a book wherein crucial plot points are revealed in layers. As you read, Faber reveals bits and pieces that make you wonder what is wrong, why the main character is experiencing back pain, why she looks odd, why she is stalking large, well-built men, and it call becomes clear about a third of the way into the book. The horror continues to unfold apace but in the interest of not ruining this book for anyone who wants to read it, I will have to discuss it in vagaries that may not show the true mastery of this book.

So I will have to do that which I hate doing the most. I will have to ask you to take my word for it. This book is cleverly written. It is full of pathos and a character who is working her way through physical pain, mental anguish, and moral dilemmas that could potentially render her life meaningless and cause her to become in her own mind the worst sort of monster. It is literary fiction, but at the same time, it is extreme horror. There are graphic descriptions of cruelty in this book that are fucking horrible. This is a novel that will give you no comfort, none at all, save for one scene where Isserley, the main character, manages to prevent a dog from starving to death.

The book begins with Isserley, driving along the highway system in Scotland, stalking men who meet a very specific physical criteria. Isserley is in considerable physical discomfort as she flashes her large breasts in an attempt to distract her prey, but until the plot reveals itself you don’t ever really know why it is that the mental picture Faber paints of Isserley seems so imbued with wrongness. Isserley’s shabby little car has been outfitted with a switch that deploys a needle full of knock-out drugs through the car seat where her hitchhiker pick-ups sit and once unconscious, she takes them to a farm where they meet a fate that is later explained in deep, horrific detail. If I discuss much more than this, or even convey my favorite passages, I will spoil this book and it is killing me not being able to wallow in this book to the degree I would prefer.

But I can safely say that if you like books with deep moral dilemmas, you will like this book. If you like books with explicit violence, you will like this book. If you like horror/science fiction crossovers, you will like this book. If you prefer books with excellent characterization and find understanding the heart of darkness compelling reading, you will want to read this book.

The horror is not as extreme as “extreme horror” and it is not a mystery though the plot unfolds to reveal hidden truths. This is not straightforward horror and it is not straightforward science fiction. And for people who like character-driven books, the extraordinary plot in this book may distract. But despite all the things this book can be said definitively not to be, the hybrid that remains is a creepy, disturbing, gut-wrenching, thought-provoking book. I recommend it highly.

It’s Mawdsley by David Baker

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: It’s Mawdsley

Author: David Baker

Type of Book: Fiction, indescribable, contender for the grossest book I have ever read

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Because if one were to go strictly on the basis of this book, one would have a hard time determining if David Baker is completely insane or an utter genius.

Availability: Self-published by Lulu.com, you can get a copy here:

Comments: Okay, I have to be blunt. I can’t imagine you want to read this book. I’m not saying you shouldn’t and I’m not saying you should, but mostly I sense that you, gentle reader, might run screaming into the hills if you did read this. And I am not saying that because I think you are somehow weak or unwilling to read rough content. I mean, you’re here reading. Clearly, you, like me, are into the outre. Rather, I say that I can’t imagine you would want to read this book because Baker doesn’t just push the envelope. He takes the envelope, pukes on it and shoves it up the reader’s ass.

On the most basic level, I think Baker is on to something. I think the extremity of this book is daring and in some places, a thing of beauty. There are places where the book is so self-indulgent and poorly written that I wanted to throttle Baker on general principle. It was all the more sad then that Baker often strayed from his strengths because when he can be arsed to write well, he has an amazing ear for accent and dialogue, a gift for dark and foul humor, and his willingness to write some of the most disgusting content I have ever read shows a bravery that is either foolhardy or could, with some restraint, result in books that everyone who likes the grotesque would want to read.

The plot of this book is deceptively simple. A young man who has no real place in the world goes on a voyage, though it is not a voyage of discovery. It is a voyage of mayhem. But it is a voyage nonetheless. If Holden Caufield had been aggressively stupid, smelly, violent, a human trafficker, a pedophile, a rapist, a racist and completely without any sort of redemption, Catcher in the Rye might have resembled It’s Mawdsley. Both of them certainly hate phonies. Mawdsley, who cannot keep a job in the UK, travels and rapes and vomits and sells his half-siblings to sodomite priests, ends up at the Academy Awards in the USA, and through a series of misadventures via the trip back to the UK, ends up looking like Osama bin Laden and paralyzed from the waist down. Thankfully, he dies and goes to heaven and shits up the afterlife. And oh yeah, Mawdsley has issues with the number two. Not sure what that was about but there you go. And also it is important to know that Mawdsley longs to utterly befoul and defile Victoria Beckham, aka Posh Spice. His repellent longing for the singer is, in fact, an important plot point in the book.

There is no real way to discuss the depths of depravity and mayhem that Mawdsley engages in without discussing the fact that this is a novel that begins as a subversive adventure into absurdism that quickly descends into anarchy, bordering on complete fucking nihilism. Nothing wrong with nihilism but the way that Baker arranges this novel makes it difficult to know what his point is at times. Yes, he’s telling a disgusting tale of one of the most despicable human beings ever to live, yet given the speech of other characters and in some places an utter lack of accurate detail, I honestly have no idea if the degeneration in writing is due to a point Baker is trying to make, a lack of attention to detail or simply fatigue and oversight on Baker’s part.

Craig Mawdsley, in the guise of a chav, isn’t really a symbol for the perceived degeneracy of those who embody such a label because Mawdsley is beyond even the worst mankind can generate organically. He is a superhuman cartoon caricature of horrific impulses. Initially, it simply seems like Mawdsley is a gross reprobate who cannot hold a job, seldom showers, walks around in his own puke and has sex with anything vaguely female who is willing. The beginning of the novel shows a clever wit, an attention to language and seemed like it was going to end up a subversive story of one chav who conquers all despite his hideousness (and in a sense, that is exactly what happens). Let me quote some passages from the beginning to show what I mean. Taken from chapter 1, called “SUDDENEPIPHANYHAVINGCUNT:”

The week previous I’d had a really hard time dealing with not being able to sign on anymore. After 3 fucking years on the Billy Joel I was suddenly being forced to get a fucking job. I’d seen all the ads for this Job Drive wank on the tele but for some reason I thought I’d never be put on it.

“You can’t do that,” I told the Job Centre dickheads. “That’s, like, the biggest cunts’ trick ever.”

“It’s what the government wants,” they said.

In other words, tough fucking tits, yeah?

Okay, yeah, it’s totally gonna be like a mix of Trainspotting and Onslow from Keeping Up Appearances. I am on terra firma with this, but Baker has no intention of staying on roads I expect and, frankly, it would have been too easy had Baker continued in this vein. But it was fun while it lasted. And it was fun, reading a merely degenerate and violent Mawdsley wreck his vengeance against more privileged and productive members of society. Take this excerpt, as Mawdsley takes offense to a student on a bus:

So what I did was, to make the nightmare more real for the wankstain, I leaned across me seat and str8 up mugged the Backstreet Boys bastard. He didn’t even try and stop me. He just watched me hand calmly weaselling about inside his coat pockets and bring out his wallet, “You want to look after this, m8,” I said. “I tell you what, I’ll look after it for you, yeah?” I didn’t even check to see what was in it. I just put it in me tracky bottoms’ pocket and ignored the prick for the rest of the journey like.

Now, you might feel sorry for the student loan re-payments tit. Now I’ve got 3 words for you, yeah? Bellend. The thing about them StudentCunts is, when they’re older and turn out to be the SmartCunts of the future like what they’re fucking supposed to be, it’ll be them what’ll be RobbingCunts. Trust me. They’re LongRangeCunts, them student dickheads.

Seriously, I loved the first 30 pages or so of this book. I found it ridiculously funny in some places. Like here, when Mawdsley is looking for his numbered time card so he can clock in on his first day on the job.

When I got to the front of the queue I searched the rack for me number but it wasn’t fucking there, was it? If the lights and the noise weren’t bad enough, all the queuing up dickheads behind me proceeded to batter me head further telling me to hurry up, the ImpatientCunts.


I looked over me shoulder and there was this sweaty fat fucker what looked like a fucking farmer, ready to kick 1 off on me.

“I CAN’T FIND ME FUCKING NUMBER,” I said, showing him this bit of paper what some Job Centre muppet gave me.

The dickhead grabbed a card out of the rack and flapped it about in me fucking face. “HERE IT IS, YOU DICKHEAD,” he shouted. “333.”

Written along the top in ballpoint was the number 333, not 333 like I told the fucking prince me number was. So I told the nobhead, “THAT’S 333, YOU FUCKING NOBHEAD. MY NUMBER’S 333.”

“YEAH,” he said. “THIS IS 333.”


He looked at me like I was a fucking prick or something. “IT’S RIGHT HERE, YOU FUCKING PRICK. 33-FUCKING-3.”

I was about ready kick 1 off on the dickhead when this other dickhead showed up. I sussed he was the gaffer because he was wearing a better class of apron and shower cap than every1 else, bright red instead of the standard white to prove how shithot he was compared to all us LowerDownCunts.

I asked the jumped-up prick where me clocking-on card was but he was having note of it.


Chances are you may not have found this passage funny but I did. I laughed like a snorting hellbeast when I first read it but when I shared it with Mr. Oddbooks, he sort of looked at me like I was a fucking prick or something.

The first day of the job ends about the way you think it might: pissing into the brown vat of whatever he was hired to stir. The reader finds out that Craig Mawdsley is a known quantity in the British press, called “Craig Cunt” in sensationalist headlines about his antics. We learn he owes money and will likely get hurt if he does not pay. We learn he has to report to a meeting on New Year’s Day in order to keep getting benefits. But it’s right about page 31 where the… what can I even call them – descriptions of orgy filth so bad it couldn’t even be recreated on the Internet? Litanies of sexual horror and violence so appallingly cartoonish in their scope that after a while, the words stop making sense and ultimately you sort of find yourself reading the words and hearing them phonetically but no longer know the meaning? Not sure, but that happens, a celebrity name-dropping orgy happens, only a paragraph long, but a horrible foreshadowing of what is to come.

Let’s skip a lot and get to chapter 8, called HAPPY FUCKING NEW YEAR, YOU ABSOLUTE FUCKING PRICK. He goes to the New Year’s Day meeting he has to attend to go back on the dole and meets a woman. He proceeds to have really gross sex with her only for her to tell him she has full-blown AIDS. Certain he is going to die from AIDS, Mawdsley kills the woman and then goes to a Diseased Dick and Fanny Clinic to get tested and it is here, on page 54, where the content goes to a place from whence it can never come back, one degenerate, horrible situation after the other. The real horror is how funny the book continues to be as it descends into depths too foul for me to feel comfortable quoting. An AIDS counselor masturbates as Mawdsley tells her all the things he would like to shove up his ass and when Mawdsley gets home, he has mistakenly been given a Platinum Card with an improbably high limit. It is with this card that Mawdsley begins to travel. Convinced he will be dead from AIDS in a month, he begins his world jaunt of rampage.

He has sex with a prostitute and puts a Posh Spice mask on her face. He flies to Ibiza and drinks and wallows and tries to rape a drunken woman. He wanders until he accidentally comes across his dad’s house. In this section is the most irredeemable passage I think I have ever read. Mawdsley’s stepmother is nine months pregnant and is evidently annoying so Mawdsley’s dad hits her over the head with a skillet and goes off, leaving Mawdsley in charge of the unconscious pregnant woman and his two small half-siblings. Mawdsley puts the Posh Spice mask on his stepmother and rapes her as she lays on the floor. Her water breaks and she begins to give birth as Mawdsley violates her. The baby is born sucking Mawdsley’s penis and he throws the newborn through a window. He eventually steals his father’s Smartcar, burns down the house, and sells his siblings to pedophile priests and it just goes on in this manner until Mawdsley ends up at the Academy Awards in Los Angeles.

It was here that I no longer had any idea what Baker was up to. The horrific content aside, at least Baker’s accents were on mark. At least he culturally had his ducks in a row. At the Academy Awards, Baker either gives up or is making a point I am unable to discern. For you see, he seems like he is describing an Elks Club Roast if it were hosted by sex fiends and celebrities. The audience is sitting at tables, eating and drinking. Okay, maybe he’s never seen the Academy Awards. But then he has George W. Bush address the audience, because, you know, sitting Presidents always address the Academy Awards, right? Right?

But then you read what he has Bush say and you wonder, along with me, what the fuck:

“Ladies and gentleman,” he said, suddenly doing the biggest fucking fart I’d ever heard. “Excuse me…”

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said again. “Being the biggest, most powerful bellend in the world has brought loads of shithot things into me life, yeah? It’s got me money, minge, shithot nose gear. But the thing I like best about this President bollocks… is the violence, yeah?” Every1 in the room applauded and nodded like they had total respect for the tosser. “I can kill muthafuckas at random and no muthafucka can do owt. Coz I’m the President. The Big Man

Bush recounts horrible things he has done to Muslims and the crowd goes wild. The Awards show is essentially live action pornographic acts between currently relevant American stars, like Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt with socially irrelevant actors like Macauley Culkin and for some reason, the rap star 50 Cent and so many more. Even better is the mix of British stars the average American would have no idea about, like Noel Edmonds. Cyndi Lauper makes an appearance. Spielberg. Someone named Hilda Ogden. So many names, current, old, and completely without any applicability to an awards show, do horrible things to each other on stage. Then the after party begins, the orgy continues and Mawdsley loses his chance to defile Post Spice. The whole terrible thing goes in for 20 pages or so and it means nothing, all those acts, all that depravity. It has no significance and it was tiresome as all hell to read.

Because if it did have any significance, I can’t tell what the hell it was. And there’s the rub. Baker is clearly a talented writer. He began strong and the point began to splinter for me. Is the point that everyone, even the leader of the free world, every actor, performer and musician (and God, though I don’t want to get into God right now, really), is as degenerate as Mawdsley? If so, he approaches this sort of class commentary with a brick rather than a pen as the scope is too blunt and all-encompassing. Is the point just to be disgusting and therefore using appropriate accents and usage as well as details are beyond the point? How about a look at racism and how Muslims are handled in the press? Hard to see given that everyone in this book is horrible and the press is all too willing to call it as they see it with Mawdsley. Is the point a nihilistic exercise in literary mayhem? Honestly, I don’t know.

And that’s problematic. Because if you are going to combine a gross out with a social message, if you are subverting the traditional “coming of age” novel, if you are going to lambaste every element of society, it’s going to be hard to pull all that off in one book. I applaud Baker for being audacious enough to try but it didn’t really work. At the end, I had such novel fatigue and the atrocities had come so loose and fast that they no longer carried a punch. I guess I can say that if Baker’s goal was to render the appalling mundane, in that he succeeded.

The novel continues apace, with Mawdsley becoming a “handispaz” and ending up looking just like Osama bin Laden. He does some more appalling things – being confined to a wheel chair doesn’t slow him down. He dies, finally, and winds up in a department store in heaven wherein God shows himself to be a chav and not even as smart as Mawdsley. It was a relief when it ended.

But as much as this novel made me want to roll up a newspaper and smack Baker across the nose and scold, “Bad writer!” the fact is, this is a daring book, it was entertaining in unexpected ways and Baker has a decidedly clever wit and managed to create the worst literary character ever. Ever. You will never read a character as horrible as Mawdsley and for many of us, that is reason enough to read this book. I still cannot say to you specifically that you should read this book and I can tell you I will never reread this book, but I will be very interested in what Baker does next because despite the problems I had with this book, Baker is clearly a very good writer. Also, because I am a pedant, I have to say it is one of the best edited self-published books I have ever read. It was better edited than some books from actual publishing houses, so do not be put off by the self-publishing taint many use, snobbishly, to dismiss independent books. David Baker took care and effort with this grotesque and outrageous book and I feel a certain fondness for him. I really do look forward to seeing what his next effort will look like.

Selfish, Little: The Annotated Lesley Ann Downey by Peter Sotos

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: Selfish, Little: The Annotated Lesley Ann Downey

Author: Peter Sotos

Type of Book: Non-fiction, pornography, indescribable

Why I Consider This Book Odd: Peter Sotos wrote it. If that is not enough, just Google his name and it will all become clear.

Availability: I have one of the 1000 copies Void Books released, but it looks like Void has since rereleased the book (at a much more reasonable price, as well). You can get a copy here:

Comments: This is not going to be a coherent review. There is no way it can be.

The first thing that needs to be said about this book is that it is not an analysis of the murder of Lesley Ann Downey. It is not a biography about the 10-year-old child who died at the hands of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, the trickster and the moron who committed what came to be called the Moors Murders. They took pictures of the little girl, naked and bound, and recorded her as she spoke, begging them to let her go. It was one of the most outrageous murders in the 20th century, the sheer horror of the media remnants of the crime surpassing even the pictures Harvey Glatman took of his victims. It took Manson to top the duo, in terms of shock and fetish value of the murder victim. It shocks me, the number of people online who picked up this book thinking it would be either a fictionalized account of the girl’s life or her biography. Despite the title, there is remarkably little of Lesley in this book, in terms of cold, hard words. But as Sotos makes clear, she permeates every page. She is his muse.

This book grew out of his epilogue to Ian Brady’s load of horseshit, The Gates of Janus: Serial Killing and Its Analysis, which I reviewed on this site. Sotos was the only one, it seems, who had Brady’s number. Somehow, knowing that enabled me to read this book a little easier. Not much. Just a little.

Sotos is hard for me to read. He is relentless. I have to put him down and come back to him. I can never read him in one go. He upsets me. He makes me sick. At times, I do not understand him and when I do, it bothers me because it makes me wonder about the sickness that lurks in my own soul. But I comfort myself that what is happening to me is that Sotos is provoking a reaction, not a realization, which is why I think this book exists.

I expose myself to Peter Sotos for the same reasons I expose myself to any number of artistic darknesses: I have to. It is a compulsion and one I gave up fighting years ago. Sotos leaves me bewildered, unsure about what I just read. Parts of the book are unclear. Was it truth, a remembrance of actual sexual couplings? Fantasy? Is he describing himself or is it a fiction? And would knowing the truth make any difference?

I don’t know.

I flat out do not know.

Sotos is notorious for many reasons, but chief among them is that he once produced a ‘zine called Pure. In issue 2, he used copies of actual child pornography from a magazine and was arrested for obscenity and possession of child pornography. Only the second charge stuck and he received a suspended sentence. Is he a pedophile? There is a common misconception that he is. As in everything else in life, that is subject to definition. I know others violently disagree with this assessment, but in my head, until you behave inappropriately with a child, what exists in your brain is not enough to label you a pedophile. There are those who think that his use of images and his obsession with children like Lesley and Masha Allen (whose story he included in Show Adult and it made some foam at the mouth and boycott a book that had a release of only 113 copies) make him a de facto pedophile. Since his arrest for possessing kiddie porn, and the fact that he continues to write such transgressive fiction, it seems likely he has a huge target on his back and would be arrested very quickly if he did assault a child. But even though I say he is not a pedophile, he exists in a mental realm that will disturb even the most ardent freak. If he doesn’t disturb you, as the kids say, you’re doing it wrong.

Sotos is a transgressive writer, a real transgressive writer in a world where mainstream writers like Douglas Coupland and Bret Easton Ellis are still considered transgressive. Being strange, being quirky, being sick is not enough in my mind to be transgressive. You have to horrify or you have to provoke, and people misunderstand what it really means to provoke, thinking it a cheap shot for short reaction, but I am talking about real provocation here. You may have to hit your reader between the eyes with a sledgehammer and hope they see what you wrote when they recover from the blow. In this, Sotos succeeds. The problem is that when I see what he wrote, I filter it how I see fit and who the hell knows if my thoughts are correct.

In reading Sotos, you must understand that you will read that which cannot be unread. You must have the stomach for it and it is not his fault if you don’t. Morality is not needed here. Just a willingness to see what you will never be able to unsee.

In my brain, even extreme literature has a middle road of experience. You experience the art at the edge of reason, then come to the center to see what it is you experienced. Even mainstream fiction has a middle road, the place where meaning is clear, if banal.

I put reading Selfish, Little into the same cannot unsee category that I put Throbbing Gristle’s song “Hamburger Lady.” I still recall the first time I listened to it, on a loop, appalled, fascinated. Sotos fascinates me in the same, sick vein. There is a horror to it all that enthralls me, makes me read, makes me endure when I want to put the book down and never pick it up again.

But Throbbing Gristle’s middle road, and indeed the middle road for Genesis P-orridge, is far different than Sotos’s middle road. After hearing “Hamburger Lady,” I understood how very terrible it can be to be alive. Furthermore, Throbbing Gristle’s frontperson, P-orridge himself, or herself, as I am not sure which is correct anymore, became another sex, a third sex, and however unsettling it may be seeing him with breasts and plumped lips, he shows us there are many ways of being human. (Throbbing Gristle also performed a song about one of the Moors victims called “Very Friendly.” Just mentioning it so we can come full circle in a way… “Ian Brady and Myra fucking Hindley, very very friendly…”)

But when I look down Sotos’ middle road, the place I must come to digest and make sense out of his words, all I see is Sotos. Sometimes there is a greater truth, but mostly, it is just him. He is less coming to terms with the world around him than coming to terms with himself and it is an intensely personal process that has little universality to it. Sotos is not here to show you transgression, though he is transgressive. He is here to show you himself, however provocative he is. All you see at the end of the middle road of contemplation is Peter Sotos. This is not a fault nor is it a condemnation. It just is what it is. You yourself have to decide if Sotos himself is enough of a transgressive epiphany.

Sotos wrote this book to explain himself, in a way, to make clearer his obsessions:

Every book I’ve ever written begins and ends with Lesley Ann Downey. Every single one. Every thing I’ve ever fucked has been a stab at the idea of her somehow in my pathetically happy hands. Not as flesh and hair and precisely examined childhood but as simple, personally degrading pornography.