37 Stories About 37 Women by Brian Whitney

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: 37 Stories About 37 Women

Author: Brian Whitney

Type of Book: Fiction, short story collection

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: It’s one of those books that is more or less genre-less, and almost completely unmarketable in the modern book world. To be unmarketable is odd.

Availability: Published by Fanny Press in 2013, you can get a copy here:

Comments: It’s been a while since I’ve read a book so poorly served by its cover design and blurbs. When I received this book from the publisher, I actually cringed when I saw the cover. It looks like the sort of cover one would expect to see on a cheesy “herotica” book aimed at middle-class, middle-aged women who dream of seducing the pool boy and looking 18 again.

The blurbs didn’t really make much of a difference before I read the book but, once I was finished, the blurbs bore no resemblance to the book I read. Almost all the blurbs seem to be from men so perhaps this is a Venus-Mars situation, but I tend to think not. I have no idea what the dudes who called this a “funny, sexy, nasty little book” and “equally erotic and literary” were reading, but it was hard to link those comments to this book.

With the cover and these descriptions, one could come to the conclusion that this collection is traditional erotica.  Or even just sort of hot vignettes. That’s not the case. Susie Bright isn’t going to anthologize any of these stories. I would be surprised (though not shocked) if these stories aroused anyone’s libido. None of the book was particularly erotic to my sensibilities, though it describes sexual relationships. It is reasonably literary, and there are some moments of humor, and some of the stories are a bit nasty, but this collection is not sexy at all, all the stranger since Fanny Press is an erotica publisher. Rather, this is a series of very short stories that describe mostly failed relationships with mostly really fucked-up women who get involved with equally fucked-up men. It’s still very interesting, and a compelling read, but all of this needs to be said in the event any of my readers buy this book. Writers seldom get to choose their cover design or art, so the cover can’t be counted against Whitney even as it completely misdescribes his book.

And it’s a shame that the cover is so awful because this is a book worth reading. It’s a difficult sort of book. It’s not the sort of book wherein you will find some overwhelming truth about the human condition because these 37 stories represent extremity of human experience. If you are like me, you will have a very hard time remembering which story went with which name, a danger when one writes such short stories. Some of the stories are little more than character sketches. You’re not interacting with the stories or the characters long enough for them to really register with you deeply the first time you read it. This is a book you can tackle in less than two hours and, if you read it, I recommend reading it a second time a week or so later so that the stories can settle in a bit more.

However, that is not to say that these stories lack depth. Each one is a peephole, a narrow view into a larger story. You only see a small, distorted glimpse. It’s also strange to call this book a peephole into relationships because a peephole is what you use to make sure you have no unwelcome intrusions into your own privacy. This book’s narrow view at male-female interactions sometimes feels like an intrusion, a voyeuristic peeking through a keyhole.

The stories – the titles are all women’s names – are told in first, second and third person and from the perspective of the women, the men and some unknown outsiders.  As I said, because these stories are so short and because there are almost 40 of them in a 103 page book, I would be very surprised if anyone can remember a specific girl’s story without referring to the book.  Still, there are elements of some of these stories that will stay with you.  Caddish men, crazy women, the tolls of drug abuse, uneasy one-night-stands, strange relationships.  Even though the format doesn’t lend itself well to remembering specifics, these slices of other people’s lives are entertaining to read.

Whitney’s got a style that reminds me a bit of what would happen if you combined Raymond Carver with Charles Bukowski, with a healthy dash of Tucker Max. Creepy sexual couplings and emotional pain filtered through a distant, near-minimalism.  Though this collection did not set me on fire, Whitney has a wonderful style that is distinctive, clean and extremely readable. Given the extraordinarily liberal approach many small presses have regarding editing, this was a near-pristine read, if I overlook the strange substitution of “or” for “of” that happens periodically throughout the book.

Whitney’s stories offer little in the way of hope or redemption, focusing on the behaviors one expects from the worst of assholes.  Here’s a snippet from “Caitlin:”

…Bill always tries to get me to fuck the women he hangs out with.  Except for Joanne, of course.  But he’s always trying to get me to come to his rat trap apartment and screw whatever fairly disgusting chick is around.  Caitlin is doable, but there is this one heinous chick named Robin who Bill is constantly trying to get me to have sex with.

Like my ultimate fantasy is beating off in the face of a middle-aged chick with a bad haircut while my pillhead buddy beats off watching me.

He also tries to get me to do this around five p.m.  The classic “blowing your load too early” kind of dudeal.

This story begins frat-boyishly enough.  Bill is a scumbag sociopath and wants the narrator to screw Caitlin while he and another man named Seth watch.  Caitlin is far more attractive than Robin, but the narrator deals with the moral dimension of this offer thusly:

…I was supposed to be going to meet my girlfriend right at that very moment and even though Caitlin is attractive, my girlfriend is actually much more so and it didn’t really seem worth it to risk losing everything just to bang Caitlin.  In Biddeford.  With Seth.  At six p.m.  When I would be stuck there all night.  In a fucking ranch house.  With Bill watching me.

He bows out and Caitlin seems relieved.  But Bill is a sociopath and this story ends with a punch in the gut.

This went on for fifteen minutes.

“Fucking say it!  ‘I want to fuck Brian and his Jew friend Seth.'”

For fifteen minutes.  I was in the front of the car with Caitlin, touching her leg.  Seth was in the back laughing his ass off. After fifteen minutes Bill grabbed the back of her neck.

“Say it.  ‘I want to fuck Brian and his Jew friend Seth.'”

She said it.  She said it over and over and over.

Necro Files, edited by Cheryl Mullenax

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: Necro Files: Two Decades of Extreme Horror

Editor: Cheryl Mullenax

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

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: This anthology contains some really rough content, content so extreme that one of the stories bypassed Ed Lee’s “The Dritiphilist” as the most disgusting piece of fiction I have ever read.

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

Comments: Woo, boy, this is going to be a bumpy review. As I mention above, this extreme horror collection has a story that tops Ed Lee’s “The Dritiphilist” as the most disgusting, horrible, nasty, upsetting piece of fiction I have ever read. But unlike Lee’s story, this story is well-written, which, oddly enough, very nearly rendered it unreadable. When the worst is presented using the drek writing Lee employed, you can get through it because bad writing can render the nastiest subject cartoonish. Bad writing is a buffer, because bad writing makes you focus on the terrible style or inept usage. You don’t get a buffer in this repellent little story. You get the whole of the horror and disgust right in your face.

I’m going to discuss these stories in the order in which they appear in the collection. Given the number of big names attached to this book, I was expecting quite a bit more in terms of stellar content. There were a few stories I thought worth reading but, for the most part, the writing in the collection was mediocre. It happens. These are older stories that have appeared elsewhere and perhaps they just haven’t held up well. But whatever the reason, it’s never a good thing when someone who reads as closely as I do doesn’t remember so many stories in an anthology a month after reading it.

But that amorphous “I find the stories mediocre” aside, there were two concrete problems in this collection. First, there is no overarching theme in this collection other than extreme horror. Not a problem in and of itself, but in a book that has only extreme horror uniting the stories, when several of the stories take place in fringe sex clubs, there has been a breakdown in the editorial selection process because several stories that take place in a fringe sex club makes it seem as if the central theme in this book is bad or grotesque sex in thoroughly unlikely and generally unsexy settings (to paraphrase the awesome Dave Attell, air fresheners are the unsung heroes of the sex club). So that was a bit much, all the strange sex in sex clubs in one collection that supposedly had no unifying element other than extremity of content.

The second problem is difficult for me because I am not a woman who interrogates texts from a feminist perspective unless the book demands such treatment. For example, feminism came up hard in the discussion of the Norway shooter’s manifesto because the document was riddled with anti-feminist, anti-woman (and anti-human, really) assertions. When I read horror or raunch, I read it with a completely different eye than when I read political texts. But in this collection, there were so many times when the writing annoyed me deeply as a reader with two X chromosomes. Were I someone like, say, Requires Hate, this would, in fact, be another 8,000 word diatribe on why some of these stories are an affront to God and woman (actually, this clocked in at almost 5,000 words, so be warned that I will mock mercilessly anyone foolish enough to invoke tl;dr on this, of all sites). So while I will keep myself in check (to an extent), please know that as a woman who pretty much can handle a lot, there had to be lot of really shitty, woman-hating, misogynist, nice-guy stories for me to comment upon it. I can’t even imagine how the average man with any self-respect could read some of this and not want to burp with embarrassment.

I sometimes wonder if I am too light on egregious misogyny when it comes up. Maybe I’ve gotten used to it? If that is the case then what I encountered in this collection had to have been all the more egregious if I found myself disgusted.

The collection begins with “Meathouse Man” by George R.R. Martin. This is a “nice-guy” story. It is an excruciating “nice-guy” story. I don’t even begin to understand the mechanics involved but this story revolves around men who can control the minds of what sounds like non-rotting puppet zombies – humans who have some sort of chip in them that allows them to be controlled and a really good handler could control many of them at once, using them to do various jobs. Trager, the hero of this pathetic story, falls in love with Josie, but alas when he declares himself she is not interested. He then falls in love with Laurel. His love for Laurel is IMPORTANT because he no longer needs to have sad sex with skull-chipped zombies whose bodies he could control the way he controls the other dead meat puppets. Yay for Trager, he can have sex without resorting to a form of passive prostitution with human husks who cannot consent and have no will yet can clean his pipes six ways to Sunday because he controls them with his brain. But sad Trager, Laurel leaves him for his best friend in a particularly bitchy manner that makes absolutely no sense but is totally a good look at the fickle, wily, yet victim-like mentality of women. So Laurel splits and after loving and losing out a whole two stinking times, Trager retreats back to brain controlled zombie puppet sex toys and these musings happen:

Her name does not matter. Her looks are not important. All that matters is that she was. That Trager tried again, that he forced himself in and made himself believe and didn’t give up. He tried.

Yep, nothing matters about women except that they are there, y’all. Poor sad, Trager. It gets worse.

The words were the same.

How many times can you speak them, Trager wondered, speak them and believe them, like you believe them the first time you said them? Once? Twice? Three times, maybe? Or a hundred? And the people who say it is a hundred times, are they really so much better at loving? Or only at fooling themselves? Aren’t they really people who long ago abandoned the dream, who use its name for something else?

TWICE! THIS MAN LOVED AND LOST TWICE! And actually since Josie could not have cared less (though she was kind to him), he really only loved and lost once. This sort of entitled attitude of “WAH, the womens don’t love me the two times I actually tried. I don’t even care about them, I just need a hole that isn’t a puppet sex zombie and also I am so deep because I believe in the dream of love, love, lurve!”
This ridiculous story ends with this line:

Of all the bright cruel lies they tell you, the cruelest is the one called love.

It may seem like I am being hard on poor Trager, who fucks sex puppet zombies whom he can control and had one girlfriend leave him, but I pray that Martin wrote this when he was 19 and had no idea that one dates, one finds a potential mate, one dates some more and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but that when it doesn’t, one does not have to descend into back-patting, self-congratualtory deepness as one contemplates how it is women are just mean and destroy noble images of love with their utter perfidy. This also goes for women who pull this stuff on men, lest I get the usual cries of misandry. And far be it from me to say that creating a gross story around such teenaged-nice-guy-bullshit was an unwelcome degradation to a genre of horror that many find it hard to take seriously in the first place. (check out the comments for this entry – there is a pretty good discussion about this story that offer different and valid counterpoints contrary to mine and are worth considering)

Moving on.

Carnal Surgery and Brain Cheese Buffet by Edward Lee

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Books: Carnal Surgery and Brain Cheese Buffet

Author: Ed Lee

Type of Books: Fiction, short story collections, extreme horror

Why Do I Consider These Books Odd: The extremity of the content.

Availability: Republished by Deadite Press in 2010 and 2011 respectively, you can get copies here:

Comments: I have not come close to reading all of Edward Lee’s books but, as I have mentioned in the past, I really enjoyed his “Infernal” books. I loathed the execrable Teratologist and I think my negative opinion of Portrait of the Psychopath as a Young Woman is quite clear. It’s not often that I have such diverse opinions about an author’s works but looking at the original publication dates of Lee’s works clears up some issues. Though Teratologist was written roughly around the same time as the “Infernal” series, the Ed Lee books I truly loathe were written in the same three-to-four year time frame.  It may seem like dirty pool to analyze so harshly books that may have been at the beginning of Lee’s career and don’t demonstrate his career arc, but these books were recently released by Deadite, and were new to me when I read them.  If a publisher is going to release old books and the author has no problem with it, then claims that these stories were early in Lee’s career and should not be read closely hold no merit.

One can see some commonalities in Lee’s works that I dislike.  He was on a pedophilia, child porn, mafia kick not unlike some of the works of Andrew Vachss, though Lee’s works are quite a bit less sophisticated. And, interestingly, I find myself disliking some of Vachss’ works for the same reasons I dislike these two collections of Lee’s, as Vachss, in seeming defiance of all of his goals in writing, sometimes presents a moral ambiguity about all the sickness in his content that left me wondering what the point was, to have endured all of that nastiness and have no conclusion, no relief from all the horror. Not every Vachss book was that nihilistic, but Vachss has a tendency to often end his novels in such an unsatisfying manner that I have thrown one or two against the wall when I finished reading it. Had these two Lee short story collections not been on my Kindle, I suspect they too would have been tossed in a similar manner.

Don’t get me wrong. Writing from the id is generally a commendable thing to do because it’s a sign of bravery. You are letting the world in on your subconscious as you ruminate on taboo subjects. It’s all the more brave when one is a horror writer because the author is showing some real darkness and asking the reader to be affected by the content yet not be repelled by the author. I respect people who show their darkness when they write. I just need the darkness to have a point so that it is worth dragging myself through the content. If one is going to write of decadence and sickness in such a way so that the decadence and sickness are the sole points, one must write in a manner that is absorbing, penetrating, or even beautiful. Lee’s writing is banal at best in both collections. So no beauty, no point, no catharsis. And that sucks. This is a problem that plagues most splatterpunk stories. If one just wants to wallow in sickness with no greater point or catharsis – something I enjoy doing from time to time – the writing must be good enough to make the wallow worth it. Otherwise we can all just go to grue sites and view crime scenes and watch suicide videos.

Additionally, as I read these stories, it became clear that Lee had no real focus in his story telling.  I have no moral issue with writing or reading gore. Splatterpunk is not always my cup of tea but, when written well, it can be a lot of fun. But it’s best to decide what the story is going to be. If one is going to incorporate fat women puking down a man’s throat, prostitutes made into living human stumps and forced into exploitative porn, an old man keeping, mutilating and raping women in his basement, and similar images into one’s stories, then perhaps the stories should have a simple plot.  The horror or camp of extreme images make most plots difficult to stomach and to follow.

I decided to discuss in depth the first stories from these two collections because both collections are more or less interchangeable in content as well as the problems that plague them. Then I’ll just pull the most egregious examples from stories from both collections to illustrate in micro the major problems I encountered.

Carnal Surgery and Brain Cheese Buffet were repellent collections so gorehounds will like some elements of these books.  Additionally, at times both had some clever or funny content. But the pluses were outweighed by the following minuses:
–Terrible, pompous, or unlikely dialogue
–No characters, just caricatures or characters who are extremely unrealistic
–Unlikely or fuzzy plots
–Inappropriate word usage and writing that verges on gibberish
–Grotesque imagery that in no way fuels the stories but isn’t well-written enough to enjoy on its own merit
–Puerile humor
It should be mentioned that one of these stories, possibly the worst of the bunch, was nominated for a Stoker Award. So, like, you know, this is just my opinion, man…

By the way, this is a very long discussion. Very long, and hopefully entertaining, but mostly very long. I’m telling you this so you don’t have to click the “more” link and be surprised by the length. And if you click that link and then get all “tl;dr, you verbose bitch,” I will mock your hair and slut shame your dog. Cool?

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

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: A Hollow Cube Is a Lonely Space

Author: S.D. Foster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Such a sad, bleak story.

Necrophilia Variations as read by Stoya

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

I am way late to the party on this one but being out of commission is no excuse to let it go without comment.

I noticed that out of nowhere my most popular search string was “necrophilia variations,” which is awesome, though unexpected. Supervert is one of my favorite writers. In a just world, he should always lead my search strings, but alas, we do not live in a just world. But this piqued my curiosity and I checked my referrer links and found a couple of places wherein people were posting links to my discussion of Necrophilia Variations. With the assistance of Google Translate (for both sites were in Russian – dirty.ru, indeed) I was able to piece together why Russians were talking about this short story collection.

This is why. Porn actress Stoya reads from the story, “Confessions of a Skull Mask.” It is a titillating read, for reasons you will discover if you watch the video. I must warn you, however, that this video has such low volume you will need headphones and that it is not safe for work.

But warnings aside, it is wonderful and you should watch it and listen to it. And when you are finished, go buy a copy of Necrophilia Variations, if you don’t have one already. It is a wonderful book.

Join hands and sing out loud, “We all die.”

D.D Murphry, Secret Policeman by Alan M. Clark and Elizabeth Massie

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: D.D. Murphry, Secret Policeman

Authors: Alan M. Clark and Elizabeth Massie

Type of Book: Fiction, themed short story collection

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Because the whole book is based on the delusions of a seriously mentally ill man.

Availability: Published in 2009 by Raw Dog Screaming Press, you can get a copy here:

Comments: I’ve been thinking about the mentally ill a lot lately. I technically have mental illness, but given my recent methods of fighting back as well as the relative mildness of my condition, I am getting very close to being The Sanest Person You Know. Earlier this year I read Pete Earley’s book, Crazy: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness, a sickening and sobering look at the mental healthcare system nationwide, but especially in Florida. When the face-eating cannibal case hit the headlines, my first thought was, “I bet he was a schizophrenic.” News said it was bath salts but the autopsy said all the face-eater had in his system was marijuana. I looked it up and sure enough – Rudy Eugene had a rich history of untreated schizophrenia, resulting in many assaults and several arrests.

It is with Earley’s book and the recent graphic example of the mental health care system failure in Florida in mind that I am writing this discussion. There is a lot that is funny in this book. Clark and Massie wove a mentally-ill conspiracy so well that it is pure genius – at times I wondered, briefly, if the conspiracy was real, that perhaps Murphry was ill but was also being used as a pawn by a malevolent force. So strongly does Murphry believe the truth of the misfires in his brain that the reader, even with strong clues that this is indeed a mentally disturbed man acting out what is happening in his mind, cannot help but think there is some truth to such energetic and labyrinthine delusions.

It is impossible to discuss the structure and plot of this book in much depth because to do so would utterly spoil the book. So I plan to give a bare-bones plot synopsis and then discuss the parts of chapter one that resonate with me. D.D. Murphry is a mentally ill, mostly homeless man. When a social worker helped him get on disability or some sort of Social Security, he interpreted that as having been hired by the “True Government” to spy on and take action against the “False Government.” His interpretations of various situations, as filtered through his damaged mind, range from the hilarious to the deeply disturbing, often depending on how it is he decides to react. He believes a librarian named Kate, who fears and loathes him, is his secret bride, given to him by the “True Government.” He believes her nasty reaction to him is a facade assumed to throw off others and he longs for the day he can finally consummate their marriage. Kate inadvertently provided a large source of fuel for Murphry’s delusions, as she taught him to use a computer and access e-mail. Murphry sees spam as secret communications from the True Government and Clark and Massie really shine when they show how he manages to find real life corollaries in the simplest things that match the messages he thinks he received in the e-mails. Murphry careens from humorous misinterpretation to grave acts of utter mayhem as he tries to make the world a better place for the True Government and foil the actions of the False Government.

Gardens of Earthly Delight by George Williams

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book:  Gardens of Earthly Delight

Author:  George Williams

Type of Book:  Fiction, bizarro (sort of), short story collection

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd:  It’s hard to put into words…

Availability:  Published by Raw Dog Screaming Press in 2011, you can get a copy here:

Comments:  The title of this book references the Hieronymus Bosch painting, The Garden of Earthly Delight and it is in reference to Bosch that I can best explain how it is that Williams is odd.  Williams clearly structured his stories in various manners so as to hark back to that famous triptych – man in paradise, man in sin, man in Hell. In fact, the cover of this book is a fragment of the center panel of The Garden of Earthly Delight – my favorite part of the painting – and is why I decided I would read this book when RDSP contacted me regarding some of their newer titles last year. The cover features, in the midst of extraordinary and intense revelry, a naked couple, reminiscent of Adam and Eve before the Fall. They are sitting in a glass bubble, separated from the chaotic carnival around them, but the bubble is cracking. Before long they will be in the world, no longer in a safe place of innocence.

With a cover like this, I had certain expectations of the stories within the book and Williams delivers. He writes stories that indeed mimic the progression from paradise into hell.  But there was an element to his writing that recreated the cracked glass bubble in a manner I could not have expected. Williams is a minimalist writer, his words echoing the simple, uncomplicated affection the two naked souls in the glass bubble expressed in the midst of sexual revelry.

Additionally, Williams has a muffled quality to his writing that ordinarily would have irritated the hell out of me, but somehow worked well with his subject matter and overall style. There is a remove in his writing, a distance between not only the reader and the story, but the writer and the story as well. Williams writes without using any sort of conversational punctuation, a style I loathe, and Williams is a writer whose minimalist approach definitely keeps the reader focused on the surface of the story.  I never once felt a deep kinship with any of the people in this book because I was observing, not absorbing.  Minimalism as a rule does not interest me much, but Williams’ style is so in keeping with Bosch’s theme conveyed via the couple in the cracked bubble that I want to read more of his work and see if this was a happy accident or quite deliberate.  I hate to invoke his name because he comes up too often as a reference every time anyone reads minimalism, but there is a definite Raymond Carver feel to these stories

Actually, if I think about it, this collection is a Raymond Carver/Flannery O’Connor hybrid.   You can best see that confluence in the story I liked best in the collection, “Dickson.”  In “Dickson,” an unnamed couple have an undetonated nuclear missile that had washed ashore for them to find, despite the Air Force’s frenzied attempts to locate it.  They show it in small towns in Tennessee, charging a fee to look at it. They meet up with a Pentecostal preacher who persuades them to let him use the bomb to show in his sermons in exchange for 20% of the tithes the preacher takes in.  Whether or not the bomb is real will spoil the story but even avoiding spoilers still leaves plenty to discuss.

Fractal Paisleys by Paul Di Filippo

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: Fractal Paisleys

Author: Paul Di Filippo

Type of Book: Fiction, short story collection, science fiction, proto-bizarro

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Pia Zadora as a magical Queen of the Pixies. I shit you not. Di Filippo’s id is a magnificent place.

Availability: Published by Four Walls Eight Windows in 1997, the book appears to be out of print. However, you can get a used copy online at various locations:

Comments: Paul Di Filippo was recommended to me by a woman I have a passing acquaintance with in LiveJournal political communities. Once upon a time an author I discussed invoked my mental health and acted really creepy.  The author is on LJ and is a peripheral part of the conservative community there, so when the unpleasantness happened of course my discussion of his book came up several times. Whenever my site is discussed in non-odd-book quarters, invariably people recommend books to me. Generally the recommendations are along the lines of, “Have you read American Psycho?” or “That Chuck Palahniuk is really weird – you should read him.” Which is cool – Bret Easton Ellis and Palahniuk are both diving boards into the pool that is weird literature so I’m glad they are on peoples’ radars, but neither are particularly helpful to me at this point.

But this time I was recommended a truly whacked-out writer and I am the richer for it. Though I suspect Di Filippo is as famous in his own right as Ellis and Palahniuk, not being a fan of science fiction means Di Filippo is completely new to me and his whacked out writing is a thing of beauty. Di Filippo is a very fluid writer and you can read his works very quickly and easily come back to them after interruptions. That came in handy when I found myself stuck at my hematologist’s office for two hours one day. I read the bulk of this book sitting in a cold office waiting to discuss my platelets. Good times! And I cop to the fact that because Di Filippo rescued me from hours of boredom I may be positively inclined toward him on that merit alone. However, I also think this collection of short stories has enough odd merit to stand tall on its own weirdness.

Di Filippo’s book forced me to create a new category – proto-bizarro. While he is not bizarro, per se, he comes the closest to being a bridge between pulp sci-fi and the current batch of hardcore, horror-infused weirdness that I have read. Basic, (mostly) Earth-bound sci-fi blended with pop culture references, fringe culture, high weirdness and elaborate plots – if Di Filippo’s book had included more gore I would consider it bizarro outright.

Most of Di Filippo’s plots can be described thusly: A person finds a thing. The thing is magical. The Magical Thing is used. There are unintended consequences when using the Magical Thing. The Lone Sane Person tries to set things straight, with varying success rates. Di Filippo definitely has a formula and while formulas can be trite, Di Filippo’s formula is sort of comforting. In the midst of high weirdness, having something familiar to fall back on isn’t a bad thing. Besides, formulaic writing is why I read writers like Stephen King. Formula is all that separates fringe from genre sometimes and while some condemn it, I don’t. If one can write well within a formula, that’s what is important, and Di Filippo can write very well within his formula.

But that brings me to an interesting situation with Di Filippo that I have not faced in a long time: There is not a single passage I want to quote here. Weird, right? I am the Queen of Long-Ass Quoted Passages. But Di Filippo is not a writer who is going to wow you with the power of his prose (or perhaps I should say his writing in this book will not wow you). These stories have consistent characters whose behaviors sort of blend into each other. The power of Di Filippo comes from the insanity of his plots. His stories are exercises in fine lunacy, so fine that his smooth, contemporary prose, his characters whose traits span the distances between urban dumbasses to southern-culture-on-the-skids clods without much delineation between the two, fade into irrelevance.

These are some seriously amazing plots. So intricate I am actually afraid to read a novel by this man for fear of what one of his book-length plots would do to my brain. The plots are worth the cost of admission. Plots so fabulous they are works of art.

But excellent plots seldom leave much to quote. So I’ll just synopsize the plots without spoiling them.

The Ends of Our Tethers by Alasdair Gray

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book:  The Ends of Our Tethers: 13 Sorry Stories

Author:  Alasdair Gray

Type of Book: Fiction, literary fiction, short story collection

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd:  Because it got under my skin.  That in and of itself may not indicate oddness as normal books get under my skin from time to time but the magnificent story in the collection about a skin disease and the emotional and aesthetic satisfaction people get from peeling off scabs and bits of skin showed me this was no normal book.

Availability: Published by Cannongate Books in 2003, you can get a copy here:

Comments:  About a year ago, a reader on this site sent me an e-mail praising me, telling me I reminded him of Elizabeth Young.  I was unfamiliar with her and found an article about her on Dennis Cooper’s blog.  Though I can see some superficial similarities – we both read difficult and transgressive writers – it’s hard to say there is really much I have in common with the late Ms Young.  She seemed more learned and certainly more serious than me, and I can’t see her having the patience for the conspiracy theory that I so often find enthralling.  But even though my fan clearly sees me in a different light than I see myself, the Google search did me some good.  It reminded me I needed to read and discuss Dennis Cooper over here and am sort of surprised I have not already.  It also led me to Alasdair Gray.

You see, while our approaches to The Word are different, Young and I have very similar tastes in fiction.  Almost every woman I know wants to smack me in the face for loving A.M Homes’ The End of Alice, a book Young championed.  Reading that she loved Nelson Algren sent a strange shiver up my spine – like Burroughs, I want to read him sober but I am almost afraid to do it, and, again, I can count on one hand the number of people I know who even know of him.   The list of the writers Young championed was a list I recognized as part of my reading habits, with one sole exception: Alasdair Gray.  I once had a copy of Gray’s Poor Things but I never read it and I could not find it after reading Cooper’s article about Young. So I ordered a couple of his books.

It was book love.  In the middle of the first story in this collection, I fell into book love.  I cannot believe I went this long without reading Alasdair Gray.  I almost hate myself for it.

Some of the stories are sketches, like the first in the collection, the story of a man who encounters some tough youths and bests them as they try to manipulate him.  But some are longer-form, traditional stories.  Because I could very easily crank out 10,000 words about this 181 page collection, I will limit myself to my two favorite stories.

Eyeballs Growing All Over Me… Again by Tony Rauch

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: Eyeballs Growing All Over Me… Again

Author: Tony Rauch

Type of Book: Fiction, short story collection, bizarro, gently odd

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: It has enough qualities of bizarro and the gently odd that it is not mainstream reading fare.

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

Comments: I’ve read Rauch before and found his collection of short stories in the book Laredo to be serviceable and entertaining enough to be worthy of a good review. However, Eyeballs Growing All Over Me… Again is a better collection. Less verbose, less neurotic, more confident – this collection is all together a tighter, cleaner, more relevant book. Rauch’s confidence as a storyteller has improved since I last read him. His stories show their purpose without a lot of hemming and hawing, sometimes even eschewing what I would consider a typical ending or a normal resolution. Not every story in this collection worked for me, but those that did not strike a chord likely failed to reach me for subjective reasons. With one exception, there isn’t an objectively bad story in the bunch.

That is not to say there were not problems. Like almost every bizarro book I read, this book had editing problems that were intrusive enough for me to notice. It’s a shame when an author writes a very good book and routine editing does not catch basic mistakes. This is an issue I continue to have with bizarro books as a whole and one I suspect will not go away anytime soon, yet I also suspect I will keep mentioning it until it stops annoying me. The most egregious issue with this book is that hyphens and em-dashes are used interchangeably. The interruption when I read hyphenated words and had to go back because I realized they were hyphenated and not words connected by an emdash was intrusive to the flow of the book. Perhaps this is a problem only in the e-book. Perhaps it was caught and I was reading an old copy. Who knows, but bear in mind this book did not escape the problem I often have with bizarro editing in other areas as well. On the other hand, this book does overcome one of the biggest complaints I personally receive about bizarro – the books are too short. While I don’t mind paying even for short books, I know many look at book purchases using a cost-benefit analysis and often find bizarro books too short for the price. That won’t be a problem with this Rauch collection.

This book is divided into three sections of stories and there are too many for me to discuss all of them, so I will stick to the ones I consider to be the best, though interestingly, I think the story from which this book takes its title is the weakest in the collection.