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.