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
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?