Suicide Girls in the Afterlife by Gina Ranalli

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: Suicide Girls in the Afterlife

Author: Gina Ranalli

Type of Book: Bizarro, fiction, novella

Why I Consider This Book Odd: Ultimately, this was not such an odd book, but it is classified as bizarro and is published by Afterbirth Books, an imprint of Eraserhead. Since I review all my bizarro reads over here, this is where I decided this book should go.

Availability: You can get it here:

But obtaining this novella via The Bizarro Starter Kit (Orange) would be an infinitely better purchase. In this volume you not only get this book, but also novellas and short stories from other bizarros. Check out the kit here:

Comments: I found this book to be a sweet and charming read, but it was not what I expected and I find myself mostly lukewarm towards it. The premises – that basically every act of self-neglect, from overeating to failure to procure proper health insurance is suicide, that Heaven and Hell are under construction, and that there are levels of worthiness in Heaven – are not that bizarre. I suspect every college freshman has had a similar conversation. The idea of Satan as a goth and Jesus as a hippie are also… trite. God, I hate using that word, but there’s nothing new in the concepts and, in fact, they are common enough tropes that to see them in a bizarro book is jarring.

Okay, that’s fine, in a sense. Even in bizarro, there does not necessarily need to be something new under the sun. Bizarros retell iconic stories filtered through their own whacked-out lenses and they work more often than not. But this story was not grounded in the insane enough to forgive the various issues I had.

For example, if a book is bizarre and original enough in concept, I don’t mind if I don’t connect with the characters. I loved Jeremy Robert Johnson’s Extinction Journals, which I will review here soon. It was like nothing I have read before and the insanity of the concept was such that aside from some very shallow connections, there was no way to relate to the characters. Conversely, in some of Andersen Prunty’s short stories, the elements of magical realism in some of the pieces are mild, and some of the stories are just odd vignettes, but as tame as they can be compared to the mind of, say, Carlton Mellick III, they have an undercurrent of connection that permits the reader to relate to the characters, a pathos that bridges the gap between high weirdness and basic humanity. Ranalli comes very close to pulling this connection off in Suicide Girls in the Afterlife but ultimately, I didn’t feel it.

The protagonist, Pogue, committed suicide by electrocuting herself. She gets to the Afterlife and finds herself in a hotel until Heaven and Hell are no longer under construction. She is assigned a floor and the closer the floor is to the basement, Hell, the lower you are in the Afterlife’s hierarchy (purgatory is sandwiched between floors like John Cusack’s office in Being John Malkovich). Pogue meets another young suicide named Katina and within minutes of landing in Pogue’s room, they are bored and start exploring the hotel. One is not allowed to go to floors above one’s assigned room so they go down, with the help of a robot named Jane 62, meet denizens of lower floors, visit Hell, meet Satan, visit Heaven, and meet Jesus.

The book ends with the sort of conclusion that makes me a little nuts – was it all a dream, was it all a relativist examination of the human condition? Did Pogue not really die and was just having an electric brainstorm wherein she recreated all facets of herself into characters in her hallucination? Probably the latter and I just don’t like endings like that. This is a personal issue, I realize, but I’ve endured far too many books where such endings were cheap tricks to end that which is difficult to conclude. Others may vary wildly on this one but I cannot recall a single book I have read short of The Wizard of Oz, wherein “It was all a dream!” did not leave me feeling cheated.

There are brief moments of bizarro grotesqueness, like the shit tornados that sweep through hell and the man who is… well, committing acts of pedophilic necrophilia. There are moments of bizarro brilliance, like the food permitted on Pogue’s floor is all pie – Opera Pie, Rock Pie, and it makes a cacophony as you eat it, if you can take the noise.

But overall, the book just isn’t that odd and the story too shallow to make up for the lack of oddness. Seriously, you cannot go looking for plot holes in bizarro because you will find them. Seemless plots are not needed here, thank you. It is best just to wallow in the strangeness, the newness of ideas, the grossness of the story, the craziness of the narrative and characters. But you can’t do that in Suicide Girls in the Afterlife because the story does not employ enough true slipstream to enable you to get into the bizarro headspace that permits you to overlook plot issues and characterization problems. In bizarro, characters come and go senselessly at times, subplots dead end and the plots loop wildly, often not making sense and you overlook it because sense is not the point. In a story that has the sort of order assigned to it that this book does, as well as a narrative that is so grounded in popular imagination that it is essentially a retelling of Judeo-Christian mythos, random characters and plot issues stand out.

For example, the Salvadore who meets Pogue to escort her to the hotel? No idea what he was or who he was meant to be. Another character informs Pogue that Salvadore does not meet suicides as a rule, that he mainly escorts the rich white people who make up the upper echelons of Heaven, living on the top floors of the hotel. With his pencil thin mustache, I am reminded of Salvador Dali but I am unsure what connection to make from that. The hotel is too regimented and makes too much sense for a any surrealism to be at play. And why did he meet Pogue if he generally meets those from upper floors? No idea. And the character who explained it? In a throwaway line we are told she is really a cross dressing man. Why is this important? No idea. Jane 62 explains that there is not a Jane 61. I guess her name is just supposed to be… wacky? Inexplicable? Salvadore explains that those who are already in Heaven and Hell are fine, but the newcomers must stay in the hotel until renovations are complete. So why are Jesus and Satan there? Presumably they had a place in the old Heaven and Hell and do not need new accommodations. These are the sorts of plot issues that one should not have to think about in bizarro literature.

To address the characterization issues I had, Pogue and Katina are two of the most unlikely suicides I have ever read in print. Both are inquisitive, engaged, almost perky in their excitement to roam and discover what is what in the afterlife hotel. Why did Pogue commit suicide? We are only told she had her reasons. If there is a veil in the afterlife that wipes away the spiritual angst and misery that causes suicide, we are not informed of it. They are both fun to read about, however, one of the graces in this book, and that they both seem like restless, happy girls, neither carrying the cosmic burdens that suicide implies, is a problem.

And therein lies the problems I had with this book: Either the bizarre needs to be so outre that a personal connection is not needed and the awe and wonder at the world created overshadows the mundane needs for proper plot, or the mildly weird needs to make a connection with us, which requires it to make sense as well as probe certain universality of feeling. This book is neither fish nor fowl. It does not offer a paradigm amazing enough to suspend disbelief and it does not offer an odd conduit to real emotion. It is too normal for one, too shallow for the other.

Add to it that I read it in under two hours, and I suspect I cannot really recommend this book to anyone. That is not to say that I will not read Ranalli in the future. Far from it. I have read descriptions of the plot of Mother Puncher and it sounds crazy and dystopian enough that I hope it skirts the ho hum qualities of this book. Ranalli’s work is quite readable. Her prose is sound and in some places, a thing of beauty. That I found this book lacking did not reflect on the quality of the prose itself – she had very few clunker sentences and in a way, the fact that she can write well made disliking this all the worse. But this story simply did not work for me, given it’s brevity, the lack of unique plot, the problems with the plot and the seemingly inappropriate characterization.

Piecemeal June by Jordan Krall

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: Piecemeal June

Author: Jordan Krall

Type of book: Fiction, novella, bizarro

Why I Consider This Book Odd: I hate to keep invoking the name of Eraserhead Press, but there you go. I also read a synopsis that led me to believe this was an utterly lunatic book. It didn’t even come close to describing the lunacy.

Availability: Published in 2008 by Bizarro Books, an imprint of Eraserhead Press, you can get a copy here:

Comments: Oh dear Lord. How do I even begin? Because I am a closet pervert, I ordered this book thinking it was going to be a bizarro pornographic romp. It isn’t, not really, even though the June of the title character is a sex doll come to life, created in the image of a porn actress, and the main character, Kevin, has sex with her. Despite that, this is high bizarro that leaves me conflicted. Too many descriptions of sweat and feet and more feet. But there is a cat. An awesome cat. So you can see my dilemma.

There are moments when you simply cannot give an adequate synopsis of a bizarro book, and this is one of those moments. So just let me throw out some sentences that sort of attempt to explain this book. There are crab people from what I think is another dimension and the unethical pornographers who do their bidding. There is also a crab king called Simon. He loves the real actress June is based on. He has sex with ears sometimes, or mashed together body parts of the people the crab men kill, squashed together into weird, perverse configurations. There is a guy named Kevin who lives over a porn shop. There is a cat called Mithra who delivers pieces of June until Kevin has a full sex doll, but also gives tarot readings and drops meaningful cards at the right intervals. There is a seer named Latrina whose back is a swirling sewer and who travels via toilets. There is a brain-damaged boxer. There is an ending that will make you wonder if you have, in fact, gone temporarily insane.

So with that out of the way, let me focus on the two elements of the book that remained with me after reading it: FEET OMG FEET and the awesome cat.

Kevin, the protagonist, has a penchant for feet. Now bear in mind, at one point a toilet explodes in this book, spreading filth far and wide. One character is pretty much a walking sewer. Poo does not bother me. Hell, I would go so far as to say that I find poop pretty funny. I’m not into scat but damn if scatological humor doesn’t make me laugh my ass off. Fart jokes? I’m your girl. And all the sweat the disassembled June emitted was unpleasant but I could cope. But feet? Sweaty feet? Smelly, sweaty feet? As my friend Arafat would say, “Jesus Allah Fuck!” I very nearly went fetal during parts of this book.

Take, for instance, this passage:

He put his nose to the toes and inhaled the stench. It was as if his brain became a television and he watched as a teenage Kevin knelt at the feet of his high school Spanish teacher. She was a statuesque older woman who forced him to first massage her feet while he sniffed them. Then she peeled a banana and fed it to Kevin using only her feet. He could still taste the fruit mixed with the pungent flavor of Ms. Booth’s soles.

Mithra meowed and brought Kevin’s attention back to the bedroom. His nose was still touching the top of the foot. There was something in between the toes. He stuck a finger in there, cleaning out the gunk. Bringing the finger to his nose, he smelt banana. Kevin was pleasantly shocked. The sex doll’s foot has banana-flavored toe jam.

Emphasis not my own and I very nearly cried typing that out.

But that wasn’t even the worst of it. My fellow fearers of feet, behold:

…. Regina, the manager, called him into her office…. Every day, without fail, she came dressed in a skirt, pantyhose… Regina babbled on with rhetoric and rhetorical questions while Kevin stole glances of her pantyhose and scuffed black slip-on dress shoes. He wondered if they were sweaty… Were the pantyhose freshly washed or was she wearing them for a while. Would her feet have an additional vinegar stench?… Regina lifted her left foot up and the shoe fell off of it. Kevin first saw the bottom of her foot, the pantyhose were linty and worn thin. Then the smell hit him.

God. Jesus, Jordan, what the hell?

I may be taking this too hard. I sold shoes to get through college. I had some… unpleasant days at work.

Okay. Moving on.

So even if feet scar you a bit, Mithra can help. Mithra rules. Mithra the Cat makes up for all the feet in this book and then some. He is the coolest fictional cat ever!

Sea of the Patchwork Cats by Carlton Mellick III

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: Sea of the Patchwork Cats

Author: Carlton Mellick III

Type of Book: Fiction, Bizarro, Novella

Why I Consider This Book Odd: Carlton Mellick III. Eraserhead Press. Bizarro. It should all be clear to you now.

Availability: Published in 2006 by Avant Punk, an imprint of Eraserhead Press, you can get a copy here:

Comments: I wasn’t real happy with the last CM3 book I read. Which surprised me because I generally find all of his works something to talk about, not something to rant about. I had read Sea of the Patchwork Cats a while back, but due to a cat-related emergency (my cat that looks like Hitler lost a leg to injection-site sarcoma and I sold around 2,000 books to finance the surgery), I sold my copy. I recently bought it again, and this book reminded me of how I became so enchanted with the bizarros.

CM3 at his best has an earthy, yet ethereal quality to his prose. This is such a contradiction that in a sense, all I can say is that once you read him, you will understand. The often outre subject matter is filtered through a poetic mind that finds beauty in ugliness, romance in horror, happiness in despair and doesn’t need to use ten words when one will do. His prose style often reminds me of Hemingway with its word conservation. Which for me is a good thing because simple phrases permit me to fill in the blanks, to create visions in my head. I am one of those people who could not care less what the characters in books look like because ultimately, I decide what they look like even when the author tries to tell me. If you are one to prefer lots of descriptives, you may disagree. As always mileage varies, etc.

I am also a fan of this sort of clipped sentence structure, because it harks back to one of the grandfathers of weird, Bukowski, a writer who defiantly refused to set scene. Many bizarros also refuse to set too much scene. The subject matter – an alcoholic, lonely man whose better nature has been masked by the drink – is also an homage, even if unintended. And think of it this way: It requires a boatload of talent to tell the story of a completely different world when practicing word conservation.

Sea of the Patchwork Cats is the story of a man who awakens from a drunken stupor to find that the entire world committed suicide while he was out cold. He takes up residence in a house that eventually is swept out to sea. After spending time adrift in a sinking house, he eventually comes to rest next to a stone house carved to resemble two women sitting back to back. He finds what he thinks are human women encased in ice inside the sinking ship of a house and manages to rescue three, only to find they were really victims of a bizarre porno scheme to breed human women with animals. Once inside the house, the house takes on qualities one would associate with a Danielewski novel. It shifts, it changes internally, but one constant are the calico cats who live inside the house. Eventually the man and one of the animal human hybrids have to come to an unsettling agreement with a spirit in the house to be able to live there.

And as always with a bizarro novel, a plot synopsis does so little good in describing what the book really is, what it is about and what it means. It is both an end of the world novel and a novel of new beginnings. It is a story of entrapment and of freedom. It is a story of horror and of beauty.

House of the Sleeping Beauties and Other Stories by Yasunari Kawabata

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: House of the Sleeping Beauties and Other Stories

Author:  Yasunari Kawabata

Why I Consider This Book Odd: I knew it was going to be a helluva ride when I recognized the name of the man who wrote the introduction to the book.   The writer Yukio Mishima in 1970, failed to inspire a revolt in the Japanese military and attempted to commit seppuku, a form of ritual suicide via disemboweling.  He was then given the coup de gras and was decapitated by a friend who took part in the attempted rebellion.  When such a man gives the introduction to a book dealing mainly with thanatos, with a little eros thrown in, you’re dealing with a very odd book.  This may be the most deeply odd and disturbing work ever written by a Nobel Laureate, though heaven knows I find more and more incredibly odd works written by unlikely writers.

Type of Work: Fiction

Availability: Originally published in 1961, the copy I read was reissued in 2004 and is still in print.  You can get a copy here:

Comments: I finished this book weeks ago but the spectre of writing a  review completely stalled me.  I kept telling myself to get over here and write but I could not do it.  I don’t know exactly why but I suspect it is because I found this book enthralling and repellent.  Amazing and disgusting.  I consumed it rapidly and wanted then to vomit it back up.  Seldom has a book so engrossed me while leaving me so unhappy.

This book consists of a novella, “House of the Sleeping Beauties,” and two short stories, “One Arm” and “Of Birds and Beasts.”  Each work is horrific, beautiful, sickening and compelling in its own right.

“House of the Sleeping Beauties”:  Again, I find myself at war with other people’s descriptions of  what comprises literary eros.  Evidently, eros means soulless sex involving eggs, as discovered in Story of the Eye, or it means  a misogynistic look at a boring old man’s past encounters with women.  How can a book be an example of eros and thanatos when it is all death and no passion?  How can it be eros when there is no love, when there is no sex, when there is nothing but the limited emotional range of the protagonist, an aging man who seems to hate all women?  How can it be eros when the protagonist has no emotional depth or even revelation in sensation from a sex act?  These are rhetorical questions, as I understand why, in a sense, this book falls into the eros and thantos category, but my mind rebels against what many modern critics consider eros. (And perhaps the most important question is why did I read this book so raptly, and I am unable to explain that either, but I did and I suspect most readers find themselves similarly engrossed.)

The tale’s protagonist, Eguchi, is 67-years-old and visits the House of the Sleeping Beauties, a sort of brothel wherein the girls, all very young, are drugged insensate at night so that old men can sleep with them.  The word sleep here is literal, because the old men do not have sex with the sleeping girls as they are impotent due to old age. Eguchi hides what he says is his ability to sustain an erection from the Madam in order to be permitted to sleep with the girls (it may all be in Eguchi’s head – one is never sure if Eguchi is really still virile or if it is wishful thinking on his part).

Indeed, the Madam is not concerned at all with Eguchi’s member when she chides him not to do anything disgusting with the girls.  “He was not to put his finger into the mouth of of the sleeping girl…”  That line haunts me for some reason, but it is clear the proprietress of the House of the Sleeping Beauties does not think Eguchi is capable of any greater outrage against the sleeping girls.  And yeah, Eguchi sticks his finger into the mouth of one of the girls.  Of course he does.  That should almost go without saying.  That finger was the only penetration in the story.

Those who visit the house and go to bed with the drugged girls are themselves eventually drugged, but get to spend time with the sleeping girls while they themselves are completely conscious.  Though Eguchi tells himself that he could, theoretically, do whatever he wants to any of the sleeping girls without detection, tellingly, he never does.  Eguchi’s wants to lay next to a virginal, sleeping girl, because actual sex with conscious women causes him to be exposed to their messy, nasty lives, something he cannot bear.

Another verbose review.

Alice, the Sausage by Sophie Jabès

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: Alice, the Sausage

Sophie Jabès, translated by Catherine Petit and Paul Buck

Why I Consider This Book Odd:
I initially heard about this book in the sadly ever-increasingly inactive LiveJournal community, Disturbing Books. (Check out the archives over there sometime.) It was every bit as insane and grotesque as I had been led to believe.

Type of work:

Published by Dedalus in 2007, this book is still in print. You can get a copy here:

: This book is a posthumanist hellhole. I say that with nothing but praise.

I could not have loved this book more. In an ocean of chicklit where women strive for beauty and true love at all costs, balancing careers and men and an oh-so-cute bumbling personality flaw, like overshopping or the tendency to be amusingly clumsy, Alice is an anti-heroine who completely destroys herself without ever looking back. Irrational, afraid, unable to see herself as she really is, she commits continual and irrevocable acts of mental and physical violence against herself until there is nothing left for her to do but commit the most lunatic act of degradation.

Alice begins this novella as a beautiful, aloof virgin until a visit with her father destroys her view of herself in a simple yet believable way. Her father tells her she is no Marilyn Monroe and that in order to get by in life she must be nice to men. Alice is lovely, and the reader never really knows why her father says this to her, but those words, uttered distractedly and likely with no greater goal behind them than unthinking misogyny, destroy her sense of self utterly. They create a chasm within Alice that she begins to fill with food, eating ravenously.

Seeking help and comfort, Alice turns to her mother, who is of no help. A vain woman clinging to youth, she dismisses Alice, telling her that as long as she removes all her body hair and doesn’t starve herself, she will be okay. Reeling, and still eating, Alice acts nice to men as her father instructs her, and picks up the first man who really responds to her. She has sex with him, inviting him to visit her the next day. He does return, has sex with her again, and leaves her money, creating a path Alice merrily skips down to her own destruction. She loses her job as a librarian and becomes a full-time whore.

Alice incorporates food and the obviously oral into her acts of prostitution, making the “ice cream cornet” the act that distinguishes her from other prostitutes. I’ll let the reader draw his or her own conclusions as to what an ice cream cornet as a sexual act entails. Alice incorporates food into her sex job, using the money to do nothing more than keep a roof over her head and food in her home.

Alice’s life degenerates. She still takes care of herself in the manner recommended by her mother – eating and removing body hair – but she sleeps all day when she is not performing sex acts, stops cleaning, becomes super-obese, and becomes so repellent that eventually her clients include only an elderly man who wants to take Alice away from her dank, unpleasant life, and a set of good-looking twins who escaped from an insane asylum, Fulvio and Flavio. She sexually services the twins and feeds them even though they have no money to pay her. When her mother steals the elderly client and runs off with him, Alice is left with only the twins, no source of income, and decides to sacrifice herself to crazy love. Eating until she can barely move, Alice plots her end. While I won’t spoil the ending entirely, the title alone should give it away.

The book, while disgusting to the extreme in sections, is also beguiling in its descriptions of the foods Alice crams into herself. The book even contains a glossary at the end so that the reader knows exactly what Italian delicacies it is Alice consumes. Pastas, pizzas, cheeses, sweets – the reader is tempted to join Alice in her consumption, as dark as we know the end will be if we do. But it is impossible not to be affected by the litany of foods recited in the book, making Alice’s end, though utterly insane, seem just a little bit attractive.

There is no hope in Alice’s transformation into something not quite human. She does transform, but in a horrible way, one without any hope in the future. Alice forces the reader to look hard at what it means to be a human being and how being human can go so terribly, terribly wrong. I am skirting the feminist issues raised in the book because they simply don’t interest me as much as the idea that Alice can only escape negative forces by becoming a monster and eradicating herself. It is hard to say if she has free will to become what she does and to do what she does, but the reader at times understands that Alice is in fact in control of her destiny, that she chooses the horrific life she assumes. In complete contradiction to the idea that humanity instinctively chooses life affirming activities and strives for happiness, Alice embraces disgusting, destructive forces she cannot control and that no one seems willing to save her from. At the end, it is difficult to see that Alice is still a human being, and indeed, she is so inanimate and passive that she does not seem human to the reader at times, her motivations and self-destruction foreign to all except the most mentally ill or nihilistic among us. Alice doesn’t even redefine what it means to be a human female in a difficult world. She simply gives in to a basic, gnawing, insecure atavism that renders her humanity worthless.

Posthumanist hellhole. I love this book. It makes up for every fey, twee, charming little bit of girlie-fic I have ever read. For once, beauty, the right clothes, a clever but plain girlfriend, and the love of a good man cannot save the heroine. For once, disaster is not averted. For once, there is no heart warming end to the book that begins with a gorgeous blonde with an excellent career picking out the right clothes to wear while waiting for Mr. Right. It feels good.

The Menstruating Mall by Carlton Mellick III

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book:  The Menstruating Mall

Author: Carlton Mellick III

Why I Consider This Book Odd:
  Carlton Mellick III wrote it.  That’s your gold standard to predict oddness.

Type of Work:  Fiction

Availability:  Published by Afterbirth Books in 2005, this book is still in print.  You can find it here:

Comments:  First thing I have to say is that I like Carlton Mellick III (CM3).  I like him a lot.  I would say bizarro fiction is in my top two fiction genres – the other being traditional mystery, oddly enough – and as the genre’s most prolific writer, there is no real way to love bizarro and not love CM3.

This having been said, I had issues with The Menstruating Mall.  These problems annoyed me to the point of anger in another venue, which was weird because generally I don’t take fiction quite so personally.  I considered whether or not reviewing it here after foaming at the mouth so ill-advisedly, but after considering why I disliked this book, I decided to go ahead and review it here because ultimately, only one of the issues I had with the book really had anything to do with the actual writing of the book, the only thing one should ever mentally associate with the author.

The Menstruating Mall is about a cast of stereotypes – the white kid who thinks he is black, the goth chick, the hot chick, the self-righteous Christer, the redneck, the closeted homosexual etc. – who find themselves unable to leave the shopping mall.  Because the mall is discovered to be menstruating, people stop coming in, and those who cannot find it in themselves to leave hope that once the fertility cycle is over, they can leave.  But before that can happen, murders begin and the stereotypes find themselves picked off one by one by a murderer who challenges the stereotypes that define them.

This book is both an homage to Luis Bunuel’s “The Exterminating Angel” and Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None.”  It is not just a book about liberation from consumerism – it is about liberation from all the mindless forces that compel our behaviors.  The deliberately stereotypical characters are humorously and deftly handled, and when some deviate from what is expected of them, it is refreshingly unpredictable.  Most of the book is an entertaining read.  The only quarrel I have with the book that I can lay at CM3’s feet is that I wanted more.  In a way, this is a backhanded compliment, because when I have written fiction and people have commented they wanted more, it was flattering (yet my attitude is generally that what I write is what you get – go figure).  In The Menstruating Mall, I had this intangible feeling that CM3 got tired of writing this book.  The last three pages easily could have been 30.  Mellick made his readers care about the cast of characters enough that what happens at the end is as interesting as what happens in the beginning and middle, and it could have been fleshed out more.

The rest of the issues I had with this book had to do with its appearance and editing.  The font size annoyed me to no end.  I didn’t actually measure it, but it appears as if the book is in 18 point font.   In some of CM3’s earlier works, such large font gave an appearance of a sort of fairy-tale, children’s book vibe.  Even if used ironically, it was a bad choice for this book, which is decidedly inspired by mature tales and contains decidedly mature material.

An end result of what I call YELLINGLY LARGE FONT is that the reader, when ordering the book, thinks they are getting a novel, or at least they are if they go by Amazon’s page count (the book itself, extra annoyingly, has no page numbers).  This was a novella at best.  It is hard not to be annoyed when you realize that a 200+ page book would have been a 50 pager had conventional publishing standards been followed.

Another end result of YELLING LARGE FONT is that any and all editorial errors are all too evident.  All books have editorial errors.  I recall recently reading a supernatural mystery published by a major publishing house wherein “of” was used for “have.”  This was not done in conversation to show a character whose command of grammar was poor.  It was done throughout the entire book.  After what seemed like the millionth “he realized he should of gone to the hospital/toilet/remedial English class,” I had to put the book down.  It was just too painful. Most of the time, editorial errors are not too egregious but even in casual reading, I sometimes find spacing and punctuation issues in even the most immaculately edited books.  It happens.

But when confronted with 18 point font, a book better be edited pretty closely.   I realize most readers are not as overwhelmingly anal as I am, but The Menstruating Mall’s editing set my teeth on edge.  Word substitution (here for hear, phase for faze), misspellings/mistakes (exists for exits) and spacing problems distracted me heartily. Some may place editing in the purview of the author, and to a certain extent it is, but publishers have copy editors. Authors should catch errors in their works but take my word for it – when you’ve worked on even a short story for more than a week, your brain will matrix in what you meant to write, blipping over what is on the printed page.

But most annoying to me were the illustrations.  This is utterly subjective, but I did not like them.  Most reviews of the illustrations are positive, that needs to be said.  The illustrations are parodies of ads of mall stores, and despite the crude drawing style, they were clever enough at first.  But the joke wore thin for me as the ads lost their cleverness and became cruder and cruder, more and more pointless.  On some level, this may have been intentional to show the mind-numbing horror of mall shopping and advertising in general, but the drawings were not good enough or the jokes clever enough to justify the sort of pointless crudeness.  At some point, inversions of advertising became ill-conceived cartoons that just crapped everywhere, which again may have been the point.  If it was the point, it seemed too heavy-handed. When someone who finds poo as funny as me gets bored, it may be the art and not the reaction.

Ultimately, this book will stay in my collection because I like CM3.  I love Fay Weldon and I have absolutely no idea why she thought it a good idea to write She May Not Leave, which was one of the worst and most pointless reads of 2007.  But it’s still on my shelves because I love Fay.  I think that is the fate of The Menstruating Mall, to be kept but never read again, simply because I love the author, find his body of work admirable and want his complete bibliography some day.