Book: Trashland a Go-Go
Author: Constance Ann Fitzgerald
Type of Book: Fiction, bizarro, novella
Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: It is the tale of an undead stripper, or maybe a formerly dead stripper, in an endless waste dump.
Availability: Published by Eraserhead Press in 2011 as a part of the New Bizarro Author Series, you can get a copy here:
Comments: Discussing this book is troublesome to me because as a first effort, I can see just how it is Constance Fitzgerald is going to be an excellent writer once she has more experience under her belt. I really like her writing style and see a lot of talent, but ultimately this story did not appeal to me.
A short synopsis: A stripper named Coco takes the pole on stage only to find a jealous rival has greased it down. She goes flying off the pole into the sound equipment and dies. Her craven boss and his rapey/necrophilic assistant cram her into a dumpster so they won’t have any trouble with the law and she wakes/comes back to life in an endless dump. Many disgusting things happen. Many. She is befriended by a fly, she meets the queen of the trash world and has to engage in a battle of wits and will to survive.
The hell of this discussion is this: what I don’t like about this book may really appeal to some of my readers. Seriously, I know there are several of you who are all, “Dead stripper in an endless wasteland of trash – where do I sign up?” So I’ll include some quotes so you guys can get a really good taste and smell of what this book is about.
So here’s what I don’t like about this book. First, Coco, the main character and heroine, is largely irritating, and while annoying women can be fun, I need to care whether or not Coco lives or dies. I need to care that she is miserable and I need to like her enough for the humorous parts to be worth reading. I don’t. Coco is tiresome, bitchy, and so unpleasant that I am totally on the side of the stripper who greased down the pole. Who could blame her? Coco isn’t all bad, though. She’s insufferable while still being sort of considerate. Her first impulses are often horrible, but she’s also polite enough that she worries about puking in a house made of rotting meat because she doesn’t want to seem rude. I am unsure if Coco’s personality is a failure of characterization on Fitzgerald’s part or if she wanted Coco to be this confusing to show that Coco’s real nature is to be a decent human being but that she has a front she puts out that makes her unpleasant at first. Perhaps the extremity of her situation causes her personality to falter. I guess one could say that waking in an eternal and never-ending dump after being tossed dead into a dumpster after a terrible stripping accident might render a gal cranky. But even if it makes sense, it ruined the tension because I just did not give a crap about Coco. She was just too annoying.
The fly, whose house in an Australian beer can she destroys in a fit of pique, pegs her early on (though she and the fly later become pals):
“Gross!” She squealed and swatted at the insect.
“Gross?!” the fly shouted, buzzing around her head. “I’ll tell you what’s gross! An inconsiderate bitch running around tormenting folks and squashing their homes with her giant barbarian feet!”
Coco was stunned. “My feet are not that … This fly isn’t really talking to me.”
Yeah, when meeting a talking, self-aware fly in an infinite dump, her first instinct is to disagree with the fly about the size of her feet. Oh, Coco… But perhaps I am being too hard on Coco because she later is genuinely sorry for destroying the fly’s house and lets Rudy the Fly live in her hair. She’s just so unpleasant initially and that is what stayed with me. In almost every situation she faces, she shows her ass before she shows anything else.
Coco didn’t seem to be very clever, either. Later one of the men who tossed her into the dumpster shows up at the dump (I guess the dumpster is a portal into the Trashland but it’s never really explained and it’s really not that important). He had crawled into the dumpster to violate her corpse, and clearly this information unnerves Coco, which is to be expected. But damn, when one’s sole ally is a fly and one is in a lot of trouble, perhaps one should utilize the necrophile before dispatching him. You know?
Second, the relentlessly disgusting descriptions were beyond foul and quite entertaining there for a bit but after a while they lost their punch. Here are some examples.
A fortune teller Coco wants to speak with lives in a house made of rotting meat.
The hut was a small aluminum structure bent into a roundish shape and bound with baling wire. The roof of the hut was shingled with thick slabs of decaying meat, writhing and squirming with maggots. There were black patches vibrating with the buzz of flies.
It gets worse once you walk closer.
Coco reached the front step and gagged. In place of a door was a curtain made from the intestines of some small animal. They were nailed to the wooden door frame, and hung like a beaded curtain – only instead of beads, ropes of thick, vein-riddled, rotting guts swayed in the putrid wind. Coco’s stomach lurched.
Almost needless to say, the fortune teller in the meat house doesn’t read tea leaves. She reads bags of rotten flesh and entrails. It’s a pretty disgusting scene. Fans of the extremely gross will love it. I think I liked it the first time I read it but after a while it was so overwhelming, all the foulness, that at the end even the best of the nastiness was just drowned out by the rest.
And there was soooo much nastiness. Maggots everywhere. Palpable stench. Rot. Decay everywhere. And dear god, the diaper scene. Oh man, I do not want to reproduce quotes from that scene but how can I not? The diaper scene is sort of the crown jewel of this book.
Okay, Coco has been imprisoned in a padded room. It’s padded because it’s made of diapers. Dirty diapers. What is easily the most horrible scene in the book begins thusly:
Coco stood and pulled her dress down. The floor was soft and uneven. The heels of her shoes dug into the plastic quilted floor and tore holes in it. The more she walked, the more it tore, until the quilted cushions fell apart and brown paste oozed from the floor like old pus from a wound. The smell of shit was instantly stronger. Coco fell to her knees and retched violently into the corner.
Rudy the Fly, enchanted by the stench, tells Coco there is a way to get out of the cell – she has to dig her way out. :twitch:
Feces oozed out of each new wound she tore into the walls. It seeped into her shoes while she dug and squished between her fingers. The more the wall broke down, the more shit covered Coco’s arms. When she stopped, she was up to her elbows in human waste. She shook her arms vigorously before she heaved her entire body against the wall. It only moved a few inches.
Barefoot, with shit oozing between her toes, Coco backed up to the door and got a good running start. She threw herself against the wall full-force. A large piece of it fell over, and Coco rode it to the ground. The rest of the wall fell around her.
Lucky for me this came after my inner germophobe had mentally checked out, but it has to be said that after a while it all wore thin for me. By the time I learned they were eating cat, it was just another detail. This may be one of those objections wherein many of my readers would snert at my gross-out fatigue because the descriptions were easily the peer of many splatterpunk and extreme gross-out books. I remember that Richard Laymon and Edward Lee and other horror writers would, at a specific convention, tell stories to gross each other out. Fitzgerald would have fit in well with the diaper dungeon scene, and that’s a real compliment.
One thing about all the foulness that did work for me was when Fitzgerald wove in some humor. Those little vignettes of grossness, interrupted with just a hint of something funny to relieve the sheer bile one experiences reading this book stayed with me, and for all the complaints I may have with this freshman effort, that ability to draw amusing scenes in the middle of stench and horror points to some serious writing chops. Take this scene when Coco, who had wrapped herself in trash bags, decides to dig around and find something more substantial to wear. She finds a cheap, pink, ruffled bridesmaid dress. She squeezes into the dress:
There was a section running up from the base of the dress that had been burned out completely and left a large gap up the side. Coco’s leg was exposed almost to the hip.
Rudy landed there and paced the charred fabric with three sets of rapid feet. “This part of the dress smells like bacon…”
“Bacon? Why would this dress smell like bacon?” Coco asked.
“Because someone was probably still wearing it when it caught on fire.”
Coco is appalled but, in a place like the Trashland, what are you gonna do? Also, this is a nice little jab at the by-now tiresome hipster love of bacon.
My third objection is an odd one, given that a dead stripper ends up in a never-ending dump with a fly for a best friend, but this story was not so much bizarro as it was just sort of extended nastiness with a bit of a supernatural twist. It is bizarro in the strictest sense, sort of a bizarro world wherein people don’t live in houses, they live in trash. They don’t eat food, they eat garbage. It’s that kind of comic book opposite world bizarro with a traditional quest/revenge plot mixed with some pretty disgusting content. And for some of you, the foulness is going to be enough, probably more than enough, reason to buy this book.
But for me there is some essential something this book is lacking and I think it was that Fitzgerald’s perversity of thought was weighed down by a need to present her ideas in a manner suitable for a bizarro novel. It read like a subversion of Alice in Wonderland, a trope so overdone I wish someone would pass a law that no one can invoke Alice for a decade or so. This is a very well-written book, but it lacks a certain bizarro je ne sais quoi.
And god, I know, that is such a subjective thing to say about a bizarro book because there is no one metric to determining what is bizarro. Extreme horror, lunatic plots, borderline ergodic, stream of consciousness, splatter, subversion of other works, and on and on – defining bizarro can be like defining pornography but like porn, you know it when you see it (or read it).
When I finished this book and felt strange about how ambivalent I was, I started to reread it and after I finished Kevin Shamel’s introduction to the book, I was able to stop because I finally understood why this book left me flat yet had some spark wherein I could see something left of center and definitely worth exploring in Fitzgerald. She evidently works in an adult shop in the Bay Area and I found myself wishing that she was sharing her life as a clerk in an adult novelty shop rather than the story she wrote for the NBAS. Because that book would have rocked.
Fitzgerald’s book was the cleanest of all the NBAS books I’ve read this go around, her word choice careful, her eye to detail impeccable. I want to experience that writing style – crisp prose, attentiveness to even the smallest scene setting, an interest in depravity – and see it applied to something less fantastic but equally as thrilling. Fitzgerald really is a good writer. She is very good, actually. I just feel like her experiences with a sexually explicit workplace and her knowledge of the real dirt in the world got shoehorned into a bizarro framework – a wacky, gross, freaky narrative that ultimately did not serve her observational skills, her ear for dialogue, her appreciation for perversity and her sense of humor all that well.
It’s hard for me to know if I should recommend this book or not. I want to recommend it because I want Fitzgerald to sell enough books that she has the option to write more novels in the future, but then again, I kind of want her to write a non-fiction book about her experiences as a sales clerk.
So I’ve included a lot of quotes to help you guys decide for yourselves. This discussion is not a pan, really, but I think it reflects my ambivalence for this book while expressing my enthusiasm for Fitzgerald’s writing style. If you decide to read it, get a copy now. Fitzgerald, like all the other NBAS authors, has a specific time frame wherein she must sell a certain number of copies in order to have a chance at a book deal. She’s got a few more months to make her goal, so if the descriptions of a stripper making her way in a trashland that I produced here intrigue you, act now.