I always want to condemn him for the writing. After the first few pages, I want to pull out a red Sharpie and scrawl "PULP CRAP" across the cover andI always want to condemn him for the writing. After the first few pages, I want to pull out a red Sharpie and scrawl "PULP CRAP" across the cover and ship it off to the kind folks at Viking. Because accessibility is bad, right? A book you can easily understand cannot possible be capital-G-Good, can it?
It's nice when a book strolls along and focuses its burning spotlight on my literary snobbishness, exposing me for the pretentious asshole I tend to be. Because for all the clunky composition, the omniscience-related confusion, It stuck with me. I've felt anxious and down for a solid week. Only with the conclusion of the book did the cloud lift and finally reveal itself.
Stephen King may not be the most gifted wordsmith in the history of the novel, but he has a firm handle on themes that make me physically ill. And they're not gore and spiders and wolfmen. They're parental neglect and guilt and people being people. It manages to merge all of these into a shit cocktail I could barely stomach.
I had the most trouble with Henry Bowers. I hated him because I've met him so many times in my life. Here, sure, he's hyperbolically psychotic, but he doesn't start that way. And that's terrifying. I can remember the first time I met Henry. It was in the boys' restroom in fourth grade. Henry's name was Ryan back then. Ryan and me had never quarreled before, never really said anything to one another. But on that day, Ryan cornered me in the restroom and lifted me up by my shirt. He showed me that there were places that grown-ups were not, where their influence means precisely nothing.
And sometimes they come back. Henry went on to follow me throughout my childhood. In my adolescence, he changed his name back to Henry, then to David, then to Chris, then to the unfortunately named, Tater Tot. After that first time, there was a parade of Henry's waiting to fuck with me in the back of the bus or on the street or in the calculator section of Office Max. He always seemed to be there (or, if not, his memory certainly was), waiting to call me a fag or spit on me or kick my ass.
As if that wasn't bad enough, King reminded me that shit always runs downhill. Henry Bowers has a motherfucker of a father. I had one of those. And sometimes that meant that Henry changed his name to Caris. There was a neighbor kid we'd play with sometimes, but we'd always end up ganging up on. And there was that oddball kid in junior high who a friend and I had pushed into the mud. That part hurts worse.
People are people. Sometimes that means they're assholes. Here, in this book, they had a good reason for their evil deeds. In real life, that core supernatural reason isn't necessarily there, but the actions are largely the same. It's survival of the thickest.
Anyway. This sense of anxiety pervades the novel. There are evils to be avoided at every turn, and, yet, lives to be lived. That's where it really starts to feel bad. The seven kids have lives and personalities- they're good people who you don't want to see get hurt. But they're going to get hurt. Because this is art. And art imitates life (or so I've heard).
So while I have problems with (view spoiler)[preadolescent gangbangs (hide spoiler)] and (view spoiler)[giant killer spiders (hide spoiler)] in a novel I'm supposed to take seriously, I can't help but admit that the emotional roller coaster this book put me through made it something special. I don't like it for that, but I can grudgingly admit when I've been bested.
The act of reading Mossflower is perhaps the closest one can come consciously entering a state of deja vu. It’s like watching The Texas Chainsaw MassaThe act of reading Mossflower is perhaps the closest one can come consciously entering a state of deja vu. It’s like watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3 or D2: The Mighty Ducks- you know you’ve experienced this all before, but, for some reason, you find yourself unable to avert your eyes.
I toyed with the idea of just reposting my recent Redwall review in an overly-subtle attempt at saying as much, but ultimately decided against it. You’re welcome.
Because it’s kind of a shitty thing to do. People pay for this stuff. Does a creator of consumable content not have the obligation to provide their fans with something new? Or is it perfectly acceptable to take that safest of roads carved out by the likes of stupid television shows and mainstream musicians? Because I take the time and effort to read books, I expect more of them. Perhaps this is my fault.
It can be argued, I suppose, that Mossflower is the second installment of a children’s series. Children do enjoy repetition, as evidenced by the months I spent involuntarily watching Curious George cartoons. But can they not just read the same book over? Does that childhood desire to re-experience that which has previously brought joy really necessitate a separate book? I don’t think so. I think it’s a lazy attempt by publishers to sell the same shit over again to a consumer base that doesn’t know any better.
As far as the Redwall mythology goes, Mossflower does contribute some valuable details, namely the origins of Martin the Warrior. Unfortunately, it seems that there’s another whole book dedicated to Martin, appropriately titled Martin the Warrior. This does not bode well for my enjoyment of the series.
I suppose the obvious comparison here is to The Outsiders or Grease or West Side Story or pretty much any story of a couple of social groups at odds wI suppose the obvious comparison here is to The Outsiders or Grease or West Side Story or pretty much any story of a couple of social groups at odds with one another for superficial reasons. It certainly applies here. The Crud Masters, a group of ragtag misfits, are in a constant battle for supremacy with the NOLAs, the guys who are rich and better looking. In that regard, it’s better than The Outsiders, because there’s fucking sea monsters and Transformers.So it’s like The Outsiders meets Mothra vs Godzilla... or maybe Gamera? I don’t know. The point is that it transcends the typical gang war-style story because it’s all jacked on Pop Rocks and methamphetamines.
But what I really want to compare it to is The Lost Boys. Boogers is a sad, lonely kid. He lives in a seaside town where there’s not a whole lot to do. But there’s some weird supernatural shit going on (in this case, sea monsters), in addition to the normal pressures associated with belonging to a marginalized fringe group. So Boogers has to band together with a smelly NOLA girl, a large-breasted bear, and a doughy, spineless waste of flesh in order to make it through the day. At its heart, it’s a story of teen angst. This is some straight Catcher in the Rye shit here.
Which is pretty fucking fantastic. I have often thought that, if it were not for sodomizing the baby Jesus or stabbing assholes in their assholes, bizarro fiction would be perfect for teens. Successful young adult fiction has to keep its audience in mind while not showing its cards. The Crud Masters comes as close to pure YA as I’ve seen. It’s definitely got the appeal. It’s the sort of YA book that could be assigned in remedial school English classes for kids who set fire to their pets. It’s weird and accessible, with just the right amount of robots, sex, and profanity to keep the interest of a fifteen-year-old boy who might not otherwise come near a novel that addresses these themes.
It’s a classic in a brand new trench coat, standing at the bus stop and flashing you its cock....more
It’s suddenly occurring to me that the majority of the film-adaptations I’ve seen in the theater have been in that borderline grindhouse at the mall wIt’s suddenly occurring to me that the majority of the film-adaptations I’ve seen in the theater have been in that borderline grindhouse at the mall where the floors are sticky with spilled Diet Coke and semen and the tickets cost just a buck.
As per usual, I saw Coraline by myself when it was raining. I went to the mall for some reason and decided to stay for the movie. Ah, those were the days.
I went in hoping that it would be something along the lines of The Nightmare Before Christmas, only creepier. From the poster I only glanced at, I thought it was a Tim Burton movie. When I realized it wasn’t, I grumbled. But I was grumbling to myself in an empty theater and it was annoying, so I stopped. I remember the movie being pretty much what I’d hoped. There were certainly some fairly scary parts and the whole thing about the otherworldly characters having buttons for eyes came across as very dark, indeed. There was a Wonderland kind of feel to the film, a degree of whimsy that rounded off the rough edges of borderline horror. It was a good experience. I’ve spent a dollar on worse things.
After seeing the movie, I wanted to read the book, but the library only carried the graphic novel version. At that time, I didn’t read graphic novels, so I just forgot about it.
Fast-forward some years and all of a sudden I have a three-year-old daughter and a miraculous device that allows me to, with just a few button presses, call entire books from the ether that is the Internet. We read Coraline as a bedtime story.
The kid liked it more than I did, so much that she wanted to read The Graveyard Book soon after. But for me, the experience was less rewarding.
This is one of those few cases where the movie was just better than the book. What Gaiman tried to do with Coraline is ambitious. The scenes in the book are competently written, but just better suited to a visual medium. It’s one thing to say that the Other Mother has buttons for eyes, but it’s entirely another to see those eyes in action. After the really polished and rich animation of the movie, the text felt sadly flat. It was like a doodle of a flower on the back of a telephone bill, where the movie was like the flower itself. ...more
Back in November of 2011, I got a toothache. I’d had toothaches before, but this was something else entirely. It hurt so badly I couldn’t think. To coBack in November of 2011, I got a toothache. I’d had toothaches before, but this was something else entirely. It hurt so badly I couldn’t think. To cope, I ate all of my wife’s post-childbirth pain pills. They didn’t last nearly long enough. When I caught myself frantically trying to come up with ways to get more high quality pain medication, I realized it was probably time to visit the dentist.
I made the call and less than 24 hours later, I was sitting in the chair. The dentist introduced himself and asked me what problems I was experiencing. I told him about the pain as best as I could and quickly mentioned that I was a bit nervous because I’d never been to see a dentist before.
“You’re kidding,” he said.
I wasn’t. See, my family grew up poor. You didn’t go to the dentist unless you needed a tooth pulled, and that was only if you couldn’t manage it yourself. Throughout my childhood, my parents didn’t think it mattered. All of my baby teeth were going to fall out anyway, they never received dental care when they were kids, why fix what ain’t broken, etc. My parents had been to the dentist as adults and the horror stories they brought home were enough to keep me away for a lifetime if I could manage it.
The fear was only magnified in school when the health department came around in the fourth grade and checked every kid’s teeth. On the bus that morning, talk was of drills and root canals, things I had no frame of reference for. I was scared shitless when I opened my mouth for the nice dental volunteer. Luckily for me, she said that I didn’t have any cavities. My relief was incredible. And I rode that favorable inspection for twenty years.
After he got finished informing everyone in the office of the freak in room 2, the good doctor got to work. He quickly diagnosed my problem: a decomposing wisdom tooth. The offending tooth, he explained, was in a very difficult spot to reach and he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to get it out. If he couldn’t, it would require surgery. My gulp was cartoonish and audible.
A kind dental assistant led be back to a glorified coat closet where she took some x-rays of my teeth. I choked and gagged on the various foul tasting instruments that were forced into my mouth (reminiscent of my first week at ASU) and did my best not to panic. The resulting images confirmed that the tooth was in a terrible, terrible position, but my dentist was willing to give it the old college try.
I was brought back to the chair and instructed to relax.
“I’m going to jab your mouth with several medieval torture devices, now,” the dentist said, grinning maniacally. “I hope you like needles.”
And then he proceeded to pull out a metal syringe with fucking brass knuckle-style finger grips. He took my cheek firmly between his fingers and, to add insult to injury, started to violently shake it.
“I’m doing this,” he calmly explained. “To distract you from the needle.”
Mission accomplished. The shot, albeit terrifying to look at, was nothing. I hardly felt it. He gave me two more to make sure I was good and numb. This isn’t nearly as bad as I thought, I thought.
“Okay, now comes the fucking shitty part,” he said. “I’m going to have to use a good deal of leverage and force to get that tooth out. You’re going to hear some cracking, perhaps a bit of crunching, but that’s all normal. The plus side is that after this, every other dental visit will be a piece of cake.”
So he brought out some more terrifying implements and fastened one of them (the crowbar, I imagine) to my tooth. Then he climbed onto my lap, placed one foot on my forehead and the other on my sternum, and pulled like a motherfucker. As I sat there, praying his foot wouldn’t slip and crush my testicles, I could do nothing but listen as the bones in my head were rent to bits. The cracking was something straight from a nightmare.
After thirty seconds or so of pulling, there was a clang as my tooth fell into the pan. It was over. The dentist showed me the tooth. It was fucking nasty. I was glad as shit to have that thing out of my body. He shook my hand and asked me to come back in less than a quarter century so that problems like this might be avoided without resorting to such dental barbarism. I heeded his advice, rendered confident by that sensation of having survived the worst. And he was right, none of my subsequent visits (including seven fillings, a crown, and a root canal) have been shit compared to that first one.
There are lots of bizarro books that are referred to as the literary equivalent to a B-Movie. Until I finished Gigantic Death Worm, I hadn't realizedThere are lots of bizarro books that are referred to as the literary equivalent to a B-Movie. Until I finished Gigantic Death Worm, I hadn't realized how wrong that idea is. The stories might be outlandish and filled to the brim with sex and violence, but they typically miss some integral pieces.
That’s not meant as a criticism. Bizarro novels are intended to be bizarro novels, not movies. The books work like books. There is a certain degree of literariness to them. Vince Kramer’s novella, though, is probably the closest thing to a midnight movie that literature has ever produced- more so than even the odd horror screenplay that finds publication.
There is a certain sense of freedom when a novice filmmaker heads out into the woods with a group of friends, a video camera, and no money. The individual elements that make up the movie are, more often than not, less successful than they would be with adequate funding. But. The resulting creation is often free from the binds of marketability. If a character dies in the opening scenes, but is needed to cameo in the film’s finale, so be it. Did an arm get cut off of a character who needs to operate a stick shift? Bam- maiming never happened. Does a guy need to protect himself from wolf-spitting bears? Cue samurai sword.
Vince Kramer wrote the book he wanted to write. This is the sort of work that is born from boredom. Why do so many books have to be mediocre? Why let the novel suffer just so that it can remain within established conventions? Kramer could have made all sorts of boring choices, but he didn’t make one of them. Every time he was posed with a plot development dilemma, you can tell that he just ate some crack rocks, snorted a few lines of pure caffeine, and soldiered the fuck on. That is why the Mayans just blew each other all day. That is why Wormhead Girl has a worm head. That is why the ninjas are Mexican. That is why Phoenix gets completely fucking destroyed. Because fuck Phoenix.
This book was fucking amazing. I laughed myself stupid while compulsively turning its pages. It truly is a labor of love. It lacks anything resembling pretentiousness. If you’re sick of books, as I tend to get from time to time, this one will be a game changer. If you’re not to that point yet, buy it and keep it for an emergency, packed lovingly away with your fire extinguisher, bottled water, and cyanide pills....more
I love bizarro fiction, but, let’s face it, it’s a huge sausage fest. I can count the number of female authors in the genre on one hand and still haveI love bizarro fiction, but, let’s face it, it’s a huge sausage fest. I can count the number of female authors in the genre on one hand and still have room for a couple of finger puppets and a Chinese finger trap. Trashland A Go-Go was the first bizarro I’ve read by a woman- and it delivered.
At its core, the story seems to be a retelling of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Coco is a stripper who dies in a tragic pole accident and is unceremoniously thrown in the trash by her employer. Against all odds, she wakes up and finds herself in a magical world that she first mistakes for the dump. It quickly becomes apparent that is is no ordinary landfill, however. She befriends a fly (a Cheshire Cat of sorts), who is simultaneously annoying and helpful. He guides her through her journey, sees her through her interactions with the denizens of Trashland (oddball characters that make Alice’s Mock Turtle and March Hare seem almost normal), and delivers her unto the Queen.
There is one truly notable difference between Trashland and Alice, though. The most fearsome aspects of Wonderland are never of much concern because Alice knows they are not real. She finds herself torn from her life of logic and reason and thrust into this world where nothing is as it should be. Coco, on the other hand, is no child chasing rabbits in a field. She’s lives in a world that’s kind of unreal, a Liberty City sort of place where she takes her clothes off for a living and is horrifically killed by something as simple as petroleum jelly on a pole. Waking up in an alternate reality on the other side of a dumpster is not that great of a stretch. From the beginning, Coco wastes little time trying to verify the reality of the situation and much more doing what she can to survive.
What we have here is a bizarro story that brilliantly interweaves feminist insights into the natural tropes of the genre. Coco is a strong female lead who is forced to battle other strong females in order to hold on to her place in the social hierarchy. In her real life, it’s an angry coworker; in Trashland, it’s the evil Queen. All of these female characters hold power and it is only through elimination of one another that any of the others can advance. Sit back and think about the implications there for a moment.
As a stripper, Coco (and her homicidal rival) exhibits her power over men with her sexuality. The Queen she eventually meets bends men to her will with the aid of a spore that binds itself to their necks and keeps them loyal. In both worlds, a single woman must hold the power over the group of men in order to stay dominant. This is why both the evil stripper and the Queen want Coco dead. There is not enough room in either world for shared female power. The women want other women out of the way so that they can have the men all to themselves. Not out of some need based in sexuality, but, rather, in a need for power that just isn’t available in any other way.
Coco, however, is the antithesis of this idea. She is catty toward her coworker, but doesn’t do anything bad to her. She’s content to dislike the woman and get on with her life. Likewise, she has no beef with the Queen until the bitch starts some shit. Coco doesn’t want the power the others strive for. For the most part, she simply wants to be. Enticing men, be it for prestige or to fill a gaping void in her self-worth, is of no interest. She’s strong all on her own. She needs no one’s affirmations of this. She’s kind of a bad ass.
As far as feminist images go, there was one I enjoyed above all others. Coco is arrested by the Queen and locked inside of a cell made of dirty diapers. In a show of anti-domesticity, the dead stripper forcibly claws her way out, refusing to be held back by the festering vessels of shit. Martha Stewart, eat your heart out.
When all is said and done, Fitzgerald holds her own against the heavy-hitters in the bizarro scene. Her gross outs rival the later challenges in Steve Lowe’s King of the Perverts, and her fantastical world is as lovingly crafted as Cameron Pierce’s Ass Goblins of Auschwitz....more