Monday, April 25, 2016

Book Review: Mr. Suicide by Nicole Cushing

First, allow me to apologize if this review comes off even remotely bonkers. I probably won’t realize it because I’m writing this while very ill and it could turn out to be like some wicked fever dream, but in the waking hours. I guess that’s not too different from a lot of the other stuff I write, though, so maybe no one will notice.

There are times when violence becomes literature becomes art. Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange is a perfect example of this. Brutality as subversion. Torment as intelligent thought. Nicole Cushing’s Mr. Suicide might be a modern example of this, though in a very different way than the novel mentioned above. I cannot really approach the plot without first discussing the craft. Cushing has chosen to write in a way that many consider taboo: in the 2nd person. Taboo might not be a strong enough word. Some readers/writers/academics just think it’s plain wrong. I am not one of those people. In fact, I have written in the 2nd person before. When it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be and I don’t think it should be ruled out just because some people can’t handle it. Can something like this come off as pretentious? Sure, but so could any other literary device if in the wrong hands. Luckily, Cushing’s hands are the right hands in this case. In fact, I think this book could have been considerably less powerful if it wasn’t in the 2nd person. Yes…powerful. I think 2nd person in its best moments can exude power, and to be honest there’s no better genre than horror to utilize this device to its fullest.


Because Cushing makes YOU the protagonist. You are the tortured, misanthropic soul who identifies more with miscreants like Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris than you’d feel comfortable admitting. You are the one visited by the mysterious voice who makes you realize just how off the rest of the world is, how the line between flesh and plastic is so very, very thin. You are the one who wants to be unborn, to have never existed, to be one with the black. You will have trouble discerning what is even real anymore.

The book starts strong, but it gets even better around chapter VI when it takes an even more taboo turn that I won’t spoil for you. Transgression is an understatement. It’s very fitting this book was plugged by both Jack Ketchum and Poppy Z. Brite because I haven’t felt this dirty and just plain wrong while reading a book since The Girl Next Door and Exquisite Corpse, respectively. Those are two of the divine masters of the poetically disturbing, so Cushing is in some good company here. No small feat.

All that, and she manages to work in Looney Tunes characters (and those from other cartoons) in a way I’ve certainly never seen before. I wish the book was just a bit longer, but I guess that’s my only real complaint. I definitely want to read some more from this mad mind.

Mr. Suicide is nominated for a Stoker award this year. Yup, it’s a good ‘un.

Update: This book won the Stoker award!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Book Review: The Weirdness by Jeremy P. Bushnell

I really love it when an author/book comes seemingly out of nowhere and just flat out rules in a way that is difficult to describe. Sometimes I read a book and I’m like “Yeah, this is a guy/gal I want to hang out and shoot the shit with.” The last time I was this excited about discovering a new author was when I blind bought John Dies at the End by David Wong. In some ways, that comparison sort of makes sense because this book is part of the same extended literary family. Not like that first cousin who you hang out with a lot and get into trouble with and maybe want to make out with regardless of gender, but more like a third cousin, twice removed who is only part of the family via a reluctant adoption, and really—who knows what sort of trouble that cousin’s getting up to?

The Weirdness breaks one of my major rules/pet peeves about books and somehow manages to get away with it: he writes a book with a writer as the protagonist. Normally I only let Stephen King get away with that, because he doesn’t know any better. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love me some King…I just wish he would have a protagonist who’s, like, a special education teacher or a zookeeper (specifically one who works closely with Komodo Dragons) or a professional triangle player. But anyway…Bushnell gets away with his character of Billy Ridgeway because apparently Billy is a pretty suck-ass writer, not someone who is anywhere near living off his craft (in fact he has trouble getting published at all and works a day job making sandwiches). And one day, Billy gets a visit from the devil, and Mr. Lucifer himself ever-so-sweetly offers a deal to get Billy’s really bad novel published if he only performs a favor.

On the surface, this sounds like a pretty basic premise. However, I promise you it is quite the opposite. I don’t even want to say anything more about the plot because it might spoil how ridiculously absurd the book gets (and I mean that as the highest compliment, as anyone who knows me well can attest to). The Weirdness is very, very funny in a dark and sarcastic way. I actually laughed out loud a few times, which rarely happens. Usually, even when a book is pretty damned funny, I internalize my laughter. But Bushnell, that dirty bird, he tickled my funny bone real good. Even some of the more horrific moments are still tinged with this sick humor. And I also enjoyed going on this journey with the unlikely hero of Billy. Anyone who’s ever felt like a Grade A fuck-up in their life will be able to sympathize with this poor sap and cringe every time he makes a really horrible decision. He’s far from perfect, but still so goddamned likeable.

Bushnell uses this literary device that I think I’ve seen done before, but can’t quite put my finger on (which means it still has some level of originality to it). In the beginning of each chapter, he creates this vague list that basically breaks down what is to happen in that particular section. Every time it seems like it makes no sense, yet still elicits some laughs, and it never really gives anything away plot-wise, but once you’ve read the chapter it actually does make sense.

Also…just look at that cover. It’s a beaut. I mean, wouldn’t you at least pick that up and read the back cover to see what the hell it was about? Really, I cannot recommend this enough. If you like black humor and quasi-horror, you’d be dropping the ball big time if you don’t check out The Weirdness.

Jeremy P. Bushnell’s second novel, The Insides, is coming out in a couple of months. I will definitely be picking that up. Eventually. I promise.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Book Review: King Space Void by Anthony Trevino

A bizarre (or, more accurately, bizarro) and horrific science fiction tale of this giant planet-eating thingamajigger that uses people as sort of willing slaves to keep it cruising around the galaxy, doin’ its thang.

That’s all you’re going to get from me about plot on this one. Otherwise I’ll just do it a disservice (if I haven’t already). But you can read about the plot on Amazon or Goodreads if you want to know more. Let’s talk about other things related to this book instead. I want to talk about Trevino’s warped mind and how he applies it to his debut novella. He has a few obvious strengths and likes to play to them (as any writer should). One of those strengths is the ability to describe various grotesqueries with wicked style. And, yes, thankfully there are a lot of those moments here. If you appreciate body horror, there is much to relish in King Space Void. When Trevino goes full-blown carnal is when the book really shines and gets extra wild. Maybe I’m just a pervert, though. Stylistically, I think his prose works best when he’s doing these short, sharp, almost rhythmic sentences. It happens pretty frequently, so I have to believe it’s intentional. Overall, the prose is tight with only the rare stray bit of vocabulary going to waste.

My only real complaint about King Space Void (at least on a storytelling level) is its length. I know many would say it’s better to “leave ‘em wanting more,” but I think this book is an exception to that rule. Trevino has created a potentially rich world here, but I think a lot of it remained in his mind when it really deserved to be on the page. The vision was obviously vast. I think this could have easily been a 300 or 400-page novel instead, giving the characters and the overall strangeness of this book some more breathing room. Is it a bad book at just under 100 pages? No. However, I think it could have been even better with some extra girth, possibly fantastic.

Now I must move on to something that has nothing to do with the story itself. A rant if you will. Maybe you’ll say this is nitpicking, but I believe in my last post I already warned that could happen. Anyway…the copyediting in this book is pretty much nonexistent. As someone who edits and proofreads for a living, I can’t let this go unsaid. It irks me. Now, I’m not perfect. I make editing mistakes (knowing my luck, there’s probably an error or three in this post). It happens. Hell, I’ve caught a typo in a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel before. But King Space Void has grammatical, spelling, and punctuation errors on nearly every page. It’s a real bummer because it takes me out of a story I’m enjoying because I have to figure out what went wrong, what was trying to be conveyed, etc. I hate to call Eraserhead Press out on this, but I’ve seen this happen in other books they’ve published. Guys and gals at Eraserhead: you put out some cool, otherwise high-quality products…why is the copyediting getting left behind? If you need a freelancer or something, hit me up! Who needs sleep? Not this guy.

Leave it to me to cry for almost half the review about errors. That’s how I roll. Trevino and his book don’t deserve that, though (but that’s kind of the point I’m trying to make, you dig?). Don’t sweat the small stuff…this book is worth picking up even if you don’t normally read bizarro fiction. In many ways it’s more grounded than some of the other titles in the genre (not TOO grounded, mind you). But it still has that sick, humorous edge you might expect. It’s a satirically surreal trip down the mind of someone who certainly has some more sickening tricks up his sleeve, and I’m looking forward to seeing those.

Anthony Trevino also recently released the first issue of his comic book, Fruition, which was illustrated by Kai Martin (who also did the cover to King Space Void). Seek that sucker out. It’s an odd one and it’s really, really cool.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Book Review: A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

So I decided I’m going to do something a little different with this blog.

Of course, this will still be a place to spread the word about my own upcoming publications, etc., but I wanted to go beyond that. I’ve been reading so many cool books lately that I thought I should start reviewing them here. Well, the truth of the matter is, I’ve been reading pretty cool books for most of my life. I’m just going to start writing about them now.

I probably won’t review every single book I read (probably will only stick to those that have been released in the past couple of years). The stuff I cover will always be on the dark tip (whether that ends up being horror, dark comedy, an amalgam of the two, or whatever, is up to my own discretion).

Also, my review format will be anything but traditional. Probably fairly brief for the most part, but hopefully still engaging enough to get you interested in the book. You’ll get my thoughts, in whatever form they might take. Sure, that means most of the time you’ll get some idea of what each book is “about,” but I also want to talk about craft and the vibes I get when I read each book, and sometimes I might go off on a tangent that only makes sense to me, but still relates to the book in some way. You might even hear me occasionally talk crap about a moment in a book I otherwise really enjoyed.

Allow me to give you an example: I had a hell of a good time reading The Strain by Chuck Hogan and Guillermo del Toro, but there was this one moment where the preteen kid is listening to My Bloody Valentine, and it really took me out of the story. I started thinking it was highly unlikely someone his age would be exposed to a band like that, even with the Internet at his fingertips. Not impossible, but just so out of place that it seemed more like an attempt to make a cool reference than give the kid authentic music taste. Now…had he been 16, I’d have bought it. But yeah…otherwise an awesome book, but stuff like that is just a pet peeve of mine.

So with that out of the way, allow me to begin with my first review.

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

Please forgive me because it’s actually been a few weeks since I’ve finished reading this book, but it was so good I really wanted to make it the first of my reviews. Yes, I’ve already admitted how much I like it, but you still need to read the rest of this before you go purchase it, okay?

I had heard a lot of hype about this novel, which initially made me hesitant since hype only delivers half of the time (maybe I’m being generous?).  This book, though—the first I’ve read from Tremblay—delivered and then some. It takes what all those awful exorcism movies have attempted to do in the past decade or so and does it right. Just nails it.

Maybe this is a spoiler alert, maybe not (POTENTIAL READER BEWARE), but one of my favorite aspects of the book is you’re never quite sure if this horrible situation was actually a true possession or the result of schizophrenia. I love a good open question, especially when it’s done well. And, come on, when you really think about it, which one of those situations is truly the scarier of the two? Flip a coin. I also love the creative device of turning this family’s nightmare into a reality show. In the wrong hands, this could have been a major shit show, but Tremblay does a masterful job. I’d say he’s a top shelf writer, one who I want to read more of now. I can’t think of anything about his style that would make me get nitpicky.

Perhaps most impressively, his portrayals of the sisters Marjorie and Merry are so wonderful. I mean…I’m certainly no expert on being a prepubescent girl, but their characters felt real to me, including Merry’s 1st person chapters. It’s rare, I believe, that a writer can capture the opposite gender so perfectly, especially with such a large age difference between author and character. I’d be interested to get a female perspective on this, though. Women, both young and old, who have read this book…chime in! Am I wrong on this, or what?

 Most importantly…this is a horror book, after all…you’re probably wondering if it’s scary. I have to say there were more than a few moments where I felt desperately creeped out by what was happening. So awesome that the written word can still have such power, that it can send a shock o my old and bitter bones.

A Head Full of Ghosts is nominated for a Bram Stoker Award this year. Completely deserved.

Update: This book won the Stoker Award!