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Book Reviews

Heart of the Original: Originality, Creativity, Individuality by Steve Aylett

heart of the original cover

review by G. Arthur Brown

In order to understand The Heart of the Original we must first attempt to understand its author, Steve Aylett, but we find this is impossible for several reasons. Aylett is almost as mysterious as he is brilliant. Great portions of his history have been erased from the universe. One thing seems clear: Aylett was created in the core of a pulsar by an alien god who hates pasta. Was he reared for the special purpose of creating amazing works of non-fiction such as The Heart of the Original? There is certainly no way to be sure. This realization sends readers into various stages of grief, mania, dejection, exhilaration, apoplexy—in that order. I am currently stricken with a sort of aphasia that causes my fingers to produce book reviews without my frontal lobe being aware that I am typing on my laptop. I will even edit this without realizing what I am doing. My conscious mind is picturing kittens and butterflies, all naked. Left with no way to understand the creator, we must turn to examining his creation.

The Heart of the Original explores where we are at as a culture—The Entire West and points elsewhere. It is not really a love letter to creativity, but a disappointment letter to humanity. Lamentations, one of the funniest books of the Bible, is to The Heart of the Original what Revelation is to, I don’t know, House of Leaves.  People will forever be calling Aylett the “Nicolae Ceaușescu of how to write things” because there is nothing in this book that is not written above and beyond the call of duty. Anything included was polished by the wings of tiny, naked boy angles and anything left unwritten was clearly unwritable. The last time I read something of this caliber was when I read this very book—make no mistake, this is something that has no peer in modern literature. I literarily have no idea where it should even be classified. Satiric non-fiction? Absurdist text book for the mentally aberrant artist? Whatever the libraries decide will be fine by me, but on my home shelf, I’m putting it right between my brain and my heart where really good books go.

5 stars.



A Collapse of Horses by Brian Evenson

a collapse of horses evenson

 

review by G. Arthur Brown

I’ve been a Brian Evenson fan for almost eight years now and I’m happy to say this fact has improved my life. It can improve your life as well with the small investment that is A Collapse of Horses, Evenson’s latest story collection. On the surface it’s much the same as his other short story collections. People variously label this work as horror, or literary fiction, or literary horror (and the publishers include a quirky page after the final story that says “LITERATURE is not the same thing as PUBLISHING”, which comes off as odd in a collection such as this). To be sure, there is horror here—the literary effect. But there is also something else going on that perhaps people are mistaking for horror, and that’s cognitive dissonance. That’s one of Evenson’s true strengths and it shines in stories like “Click,” my personal favorite in the collection, a tale of a recovering (or dying) man who cannot keep his environment straight. He has either been accused of a horrible crime or he has not. He’s either being visited by police and his lawyer or he’s not. What makes Evenson among the greats of this technique is that the success of the story does not rely on the resolution of the “is he or isn’t he” question, but in the ability to make the story work without conscious resolution. And this, my friends, is why I’ve been consistently recommending Evenson’s works to fans of Bizarro fiction. His writing is weird. Not capital W weird, at least not always. He’s doing weird things above and beyond literary horror. He’s doing things that are sometimes weirder than self-described Bizarros.

As a whole, A Collapse of Horses is definitely a good introduction to Evenson’s short fiction. It contains a number of very accessible stories. “BearHeart™” begins as a cute, quirky relationship story and gradually devolves into psychosis. “Torpor,” another relationship story, revolves around the physical pains of a woman whose significant other loses an arm. “Cult” examines the mind of man who is contemplating joining a cult to escape an unhealthy relationship. In fact, there really are more relationship stories in this collection than horror stories. Sure, some of them involve horrific elements, but they really focus on loss, sadness, and alienation. There’s no real name for this genre, so let’s call it Sadcore and black our eyes.

If I’m not mistaken, this collection includes the first Evenson short that is stated to be set on an alien world—“The Dust,” a story of a failed mining expedition awaiting rescue when the crew begins to be murdered brutally, one by one. This one is a horror story, though the space setting probably has people calling it science-fiction because people always love to recategorize things into whatever niche they enjoy. I just call it awesome because I speak plainly.

There’s madness in many of these stories and Evenson has a great grasp of how to play with it. “A Collapse of Horses,” the title track, examines both dementia and obsession in a manner that is loosely reminiscent of his earlier stories “The Polygamy of Language” and “The Wavering Knife” but far more personal. After a head trauma, a man is convinced that some days he has three children, other days four, and this number can only be established by counting beds. The uncertainty, the disconnection from reality, of a man who has three children one day and four the next, is a complicated kind of terror that most writers have a hard time getting to the heart of, but this is a feeling he has been able to produce in me many, many times throughout his oeuvre. The titular story is great example of his masterful craft, but it is not even as powerful as some of his prior excursions into this territory.

I could probably obsess over the nuances of this collection for several thousand words, but I’m not sure that would be good for my soul right now. Instead I’ll just move on to the highlights: the wrap-arounders, the first and last stories, “Black Bark” and “The Blood Drip.”

“Black Bark” is a story I recognized. It took a shape very similar to that of “The Second Boy,” which appeared in Evenson’s previous collection, Windeye. This is a story of two men escaping into the wilderness, one injured, who have to make camp in a less than ideal locale. The injured man tells an esoteric story that troubles the other man. Upon awaking the next morning, the injured man is nowhere to be found. The other searches for the man and for salvation, but unable to find either, retires to the same campsite where the other man shows up unexpectedly and menacingly repeats the story he told earlier while the other man is powerless to do anything about it. This is a description that could be applied to either of the stories I just mentioned. The similarities struck me and I wondered if this could be accidental. It seemed impossible. And while the stories have many similarities, they are both excellent and worth a read, so there was no complaint that “Evenson is repeating himself” in my mind. It’s like when Chuck Berry or The Ramones re-wrote one of their own hits. Still an enjoyable treat.

But when I reached the end of the collection, I started to see yet another story that followed this very similar pattern. And in “The Blood Drip” the campfire story told is loosely “Black Bark.” That’s some pleasingly meta stuff right there. It works so well it made me smile despite the bleak nature of the story. So there’s a really sophisticated commentary going on here, and an exploration of how to achieve similar literary effects with different stories. Evenson is creating his own tropes to play with and it couldn’t be more awesome (that’s the clickbait title for this review, by the way). He’s reinvented the ghost story (that’s the tagline).

Definitely a solid four star collection with enough 5 star stories to cause me to recommend it to everyone I know. Are you someone I know? Then you should read this, pronto. Then pick up The Wavering Knife and/or Last Days. Your life will become measurably better.

 


New Bizarro Author Series Review #32: 8-Bit Apocalypse by Amanda Billings

by J.W. Wargo
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Id Says:
BWEEEEEEEEEOOOOOOOOOOOPPPPPPPPPPPPPPP!!!!!!!!!!!! Toss in another quarter, don’t let the bastard die! Who the fuck thought to bury all those Atari cartridges in New “No Lives Here So Let’s Test Another Nuke” Mexico? Don’t they know what happens when anything is introduced to radioactivity?? Haven’t they seen GODZILLA???

No and no. No they don’t and no they didn’t. Plastic shit mixes underground with isotopes, and before too long there’s a giant video game cartridge attacking Denver. It wants to play, but it plays hard and to the death. Who among the masses of Coloradans can challenge this 6507 processing monstrosity!?

As a boy, he dominated these games. But that was then and this is now. A critical loss at a big tournament has left him a shell of his former self, sweating for shit pay in a cheesy costume and fantasizing about whispering Russian women or Korean massage specialists. Today, he might be the last hope for humanity.

Ego Says:
All Jimmy Toledo really wants, I think, is to meet a nice girl he can talk with and occasionally maybe make body contact with. He never had the chance in his younger years, he was too busy winning arcade tournaments in the early 80’s under the guidance of a domineering father.

Hiding himself behind a mask at a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant, Jimmy had effectively given up on any sort (more…)


New Bizarro Author Series Review #31: The Mondo Vixen Massacre by Jamie Grefe

by J.W. Wargo

mondoartworkId Says:
SSSSSSPPPPLLLLLUUUUUUUUUURRRRRTTTTTTTT!!!!!!! Fucking stab my dick with a stiletto heel! Vixens have gone mucho loco terrorizing the world with their outrageously sadistic games. No one is spared. Middle class suburbia is turned to rubble, families torn apart both figuratively and literally.

Oh, but they fucked up royally not finishing off this dude. His kid was murdered and his wife was kidnapped, taken to be a new plaything. They thought they left him a pulpy mush, but one of their own resurrected him with the green goo of life.

It’s vengeance time, and this beefed up husband/father is ready to take out these bitches one at a time if necessary. From the diviest bar to the swankiest mansion, he’s got one agenda: Fucking pussycats, kill kill!

Ego Says:
The Clay family has had what I estimate to be a metric ton of feces of poor luck befall them. I cannot blame them for falling victim to the heinous acts committed in the name of vixenhood. Tom and Marianna and little Peter were happy and oblivious to the evils of pure sexual violence existing outside their home.

Tom is a born again Angel of Death. He was a good man, but anything that existed of that man was ripped apart and thrown away. Now the ghost of his dead son and the memories of a beautiful lover are all he has left. I read with great anticipation as he went after the wretched tarts, dispatching them with the same total lack of mercy they had shown him.

Leading the sordid group of vixens is the nastiest thing in a nurse’s uniform to ever be giving out the shots. Linda seems hellbent on destroying the world and recreating it into one giant afterparty I wish I were invited to but I’m not. She rules the house with an iron dildo, commanding every kind of vixen from coeds to cowgirls to the bionic terror of a woman who must kill.

I was glad to find that not all the vixens are malicious, malcontenting minxes. Mindy, a barely legal vixen, seems to me to be a misguided young woman who got mixed up in with the wrong crowd. Throughout the story she is a guiding force behind Tom, helping him keep his strength and limbs as he hunts down Linda to rescue his wife.

Super-Ego Says:
The simple explanation of “mondo” is a that it is an exploitative film centered around acts of sex and violence. Translating that idea onto paper using only words is no easy feat, but Mr. Grefe has represented that template admirably and with touches of flair more impressive than the films it emulates.

The prose skirts and dances like a possessed mime choking on its very silence. It is a frenetic pace set at once on the first page and never letting up. There is barely time for brief bits of exposition, and who needs it in Mondo book? On to the next scene of blood and gore!

This the book’s strongest aspect, that it sets out to be exactly what it is. A no holds barrel off a waterfall into a lake of crocodiles with grenades for teeth. Tom is beyond death, he is the shadow of his revenge. We are an audience of popcorn and 3D glasses, ooo-ing and ah-ing are way to his climax, one littered with dead vixens and a certainly uncertain future.

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Like my review? Read the book!
The Mondo Vixen Massacre at Amazon.com

J.W. Wargo is a writer and author of his own NBAS book, Avoiding Mortimer, now a major motion picture starring Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, and a prenatal Ron Howard as “Lil’ Karmatt”. You can also read about the crazy shit he gets into while hitchhiking the world over at Imperial Youth Review.


New Bizarro Author Series Review #30: The Church of TV as God by Daniel Vlasaty

by J.W. Wargo

Id Says:
HOOOOLLLLLLYYYYYY EMERGENCY BROADCASTING SYSTEM!!!! Everyone knows TV addicts are out there, but fucking television cultists praying in a house of screens? And now their zealous boobtube leader thinks he’s found their savior. Oh, great are the cable channel deity motherfuckers!

This cathode-ray of sunshine doesn’t know why his head is turning into a TV, he just knows it runs in the family. Working the night shift as security at his local cemetery probably helps keep the looky-loos to a minimum. His graveyard is pretty progressive, even has a plot specifically for appliances. Sometimes he wonders which section he’ll be buried in.

His stray dog roommate could give a shit, so long as the bologna keeps flowing and he doesn’t hear the dreaded “O” word coming from the dude’s mouth, that racist prick!
It’s only a matter of time before this bastard primetime preacher tracks this TV messiah down and forces him to help bring about the second coming of the Great TV in the Sky. Static be praised!

Ego Says:

Jeremy is not a willing participant in this Second Coming, I would say. Though on some level he probably sees a rational side to the Church’s prophecy, I mean he is inexplicably turning into an bonafide, wood paneled, knob turning, old school styled television set, he still rejects the actions taken by the Church and their leader to make the prophecy a reality.

I will say, as well, that as far as Cult leaders go, the man in white is on the saner side of things. He claims direct contact and communication from the Great TV, and Jeremy’s existence appears to corroborate this, enough for his congregation to believe him without question.

I would think the only possible exception to being totally committed to the Great TV’s will could be Randall, though this is due to his dim-wittedness rather than any doubt, self or otherwise. He is the older brother of the man in white and someone I thought was underused in this story. I say this because there were moments when his role could have been better characterized, but he was left more or less one dimensional in his part.

A much more fully developed character, and my favorite one in this book, was that of Benjamin, the stray dog nearly run over by Jeremy who becomes his friend and new roommate. Benjamin is a talking dog, and his profanity spewing mouth is put to great use throughout the story, bringing humorous elements to even the most disturbing of scenes.

Super-Ego Says:
To my mind, the title of Mr. Vlasaty’s debut book is one of the more intriguing phrases I have heard in some time. A simple premise, God is Television, and this is the Church of that ideal. And you can be assured there is no lack of televisions in this story. The church itself is made of TVs, the walls made up in stacks of light boxes, the altar a giant flatscreen, and the chairs each church member sits upon glow bright with a multitude of moving images.

And while the imagery is as expected, the result of such an idea is probably the strongest point of the book. Religion can be an addiction, and faith can be placed on most anything. When you think of the masses huddled around their screens every Sunday for the big game, is it really that hard to imagine a religious faith building up around it?

In fact, no matter how bizarre the actions of the congregation become in trying to bring about the physical realization of their God, it never becomes discreditably ludicrous. One may even grow a rational fear in pondering this, and the author may start to look more like a prophet than a fiction storyteller.

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Enjoy the review? Pick up a copy of the book at Amazon!

J.W. Wargo is a writer and author of his own NBAS book, Avoiding Mortimer, which deals with the difficult subjects of suicide, the afterlife, and proper mixtape gifting etiquette. You can also read about the crazy shit he gets into while hitchhiking the world over at Imperial Youth Review.


New Bizarro Author Series Review #29: There’s No Happy Ending by Tiffany Scandal

by J.W. Wargo

Id Says:
…And they lived happily ever afterrrrrrrr!!! Or not. Let’s just say that these two lovebirds have a lot of shit to put of with to get to any ending at all. It’s not exactly the kind of world you think about a future with husbands, wives, kids, white picket fences…etc. in it.

There’s his megabitch mother for starters. A certified Rich Old Fuck and totally against her son getting jiggy with some low-classer he met god knows where. She’ll not see her rearing efforts sullied by a whore-slut the boy’s just met, heaven’s no! She’ll have to take more precautions is all, just like she’s always done for her family.

But perhaps the cranky ROF won’t have much longer to worry about her son’s raging commoner boner. You see it appears the world is sick. It was an old fuck long before we got here, and now our diseases are its diseases. Nothing but rot and ash, rust and bone, tremors and slow, slow death.

If it’s all fucked, done, and over, and you’re truly going out for good, forever, what would you do to die with the one you love?

Ego Says:
I admired Isobel’s seeking to balance her life amid a chaotically crumbling world. She wants Dresden’s love above all else, but is willing to work for total equilibrium in regards to Dresden’s mother, Elise. Though he believes their efforts are futile, she still hopes for some conciliation.

In the inverse, I see Dresden wanting more disorder in his rebellion against his familial norm. Mirroring the outside world, the one he’s been carefully sequestered from all his life, he wants his old life to fall apart. From the moment he chose to move against the grain, he worked to destroy the path behind him.

Both characters are sure of one thing, and one thing only: each other. Their strength lie in the desire to be together. To overcome even the end of the world for those few precious moments when they feel complete and totally satisfied.

Elise only wants what she believes is best for Dresden, which is to survive. Due to her high class status, she has been able to afford the best medical care this apocalyptic future can provide. It’s kept her alive and relatively healthy for over a century. But why would Elise be so opposed to her son’s happiness? There is something more than class division going on here, and methinks the answer is lurking under those bleeding gloves.

Super-Ego Says:
Bittersweet love stories always get you every time. Something about being swept up in waves of emotion ultimately dashed against the rocks and receding into sad memory resonates with the human struggle. Sometimes, the end result is so clearly visible it pains us to open our eyes. Thank the fates that love is blind.

Our protagonist’s struggle is more on the bitter side of things. It feels like a downward spiral. Yet for all her faltering, she stays singularly focused on her choice. It is the need for one last connection with love that keeps Isobel limping forward. Where other’s would have simply given up and lied down among the mountains of gangrenous corpses, she does everything in her power to stay alive, believing he is doing the same.

At first, I believed Dresden’s mother, Elise, to be the antagonist, but as I delved deeper into the text, I realized it seemed the entire world itself was trying to keep the lover’s apart. Every move against Isobel is like a reiteration of the title. It is a warning, a prophecy, and a fate all tied into one.

Ms. Scandal has woven a tightly knit book here, one devoid of extraneous background characters or background story. The sentences are clear and concise, the exposition comes in only when necessary, and the action and emotion carry the plot to a beautiful finale.

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Enjoy the review? Pick up a copy of the book at Amazon!

J.W. Wargo is a writer and author of his own NBAS book, Avoiding Mortimer, a novella that sparked an audiobook, an original soundtrack, and the image of which appears to only the most faithful readers on toasted PB&J sandwiches. You can also read about all the crazy shit he gets into while hitchhiking the world over at Imperial Youth Review.


New Bizarro Author Review #28: Grambo by Dustin Reade

by J. W. Wargo

Id Says:
EHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHhhhhhhhhhhh…! What’s that, sonny? Martha’s like most any other old fuck. She likes church, shopping malls, and drives out into the country with her grandchildren. She’s kind and generous and all that other shit that make old grannies your favorite kind of cheek-pinching person. One can always find her at her grandson’s basketball games, rooting for the home team fuzzy shapes on the court her eyes sometimes have trouble seeing.

Martha doesn’t realize her grandson’s school is run by the most nefarious bastards to ever grade a term paper. The teachers are nothing but gangbangers with diplomas, and the principle is an outright pedophile, sticking his dick into anything that cheers with pom-poms.

When the grandson fucks up during a big game and loses it for the school, the faculty take matters into their own hands. Martha gets a call from the grandson and hightails it over to the family home just in time to watch them murdered and set on fire. The dickheads beat the shit out of granny, too, and leave her for dead.

But granny didn’t die. The old crank is still as rascally as ever and she wants revenge!

Ego Says:
Populating Martha’s Pacific Northwest surroundings is a supporting cast I placed into two categories, either opposing or aiding her. There are no middle ground characters here, everyone has a stake in grandma’s quest for vengeance.

On the opposing team, I really like the all-encompassing evil that is the school principle, Mr. Mayonnaise. There is not a single thread of decency in the man. He is the uber-douche I just wanted to die a thousand deaths. His henchpeople, the teachers under him, are a motley crew to say the least. Mr. Fust is frustrated and angry, but essentially all bark and no bite. Ms. Webber has more brains about her, and seems more chilling with her ability to torture innocents indifferently.

Rooting for Martha are the mascots. Yes, those mascots. The ones dancing around in ill-fitted suits making total asses of themselves while supposedly boosting team pride, except these mascots aren’t made, rather they are born. I think they’re my favorite characters in the book, because they’re such a fun take on a common role. They aren’t people in suits, they’re actually living creatures. When Musty pulls his horse head off to reveal a balding man head underneath, the skin tears off from his bleeding neck, because the horse is the real him and the human head is to his body what our skulls are to ours. Don’t worry, his head will grow back.

Super-Ego Says:
If it were not for all the gratuitous violence and sex, this could almost be a children’s story. Not only is there something wholesome and childlike about our grandmother’s journey, but the way Mr. Reade approaches the story is rather innocent like.

Not to say there are not touches of the absurd that would go over a child’s head, such as a chapter calling to mind a certain greaser play or one that reads like your favorite action movie montage scene (which this part of the reviewer’s brain recommends reading to some classic power metal). The comedy bits really helps break up the action bits, and when the two combine at times throughout the book you will find yourself excited and laughing simultaneously. A most enjoyable experience.

By keeping the middle section clear and steadfast, the author is able to really flesh out the meatiest parts of the book, that of the first act’s truly horrific scenes of Martha’s world brought to the edge of oblivion and the third act’s extremely satisfying battle finale. All of this is pulled off in a read that is less time than watching the original Rambo trilogy. Good show.

The delicate handling of the carnage, the absurdness, and the sweetness is no easy task. This book maintains all three without ever going overboard in any one direction. A difficult feat, and one so well pulled off that I am eager to see what comes next from this author’s pen.

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Enjoy the review? Pick up a copy of the book at Amazon!

J.W. Wargo is a writer and author of his own NBAS book, Avoiding Mortimer, which sparked some controversy when the Make-A-Wish foundation allowed a dying boy to watch Marilyn Manson shove it up his own ass. You can also read about all the crazy shit he gets into while hitchhiking the world over at Imperial Youth Review.