Dodgeball High tells the story of Justin Lucas, a vainglorious teenager who transfers to a new school during the middle of his senior year, where he dDodgeball High tells the story of Justin Lucas, a vainglorious teenager who transfers to a new school during the middle of his senior year, where he discovers classes and social life are all centered around the sport of dodgeball—or, to be more specific, an extreme form of dodgeball where opponents often fight to the death using barbed wire-wrapped dodgeballs, explosives, chainsaws, fire, etc.
Right from the get go, Justin informs us that he is “very handsome, nice, smart, athletic, and funny,” that he’s basically “the coolest kid on the planet,” and that he has every intention of ruling his new school by the end of his first day. The absurdity of Justin’s inflated, deluded ego is symbolized perfectly in the “marvelous” and “formidable” Tom Selleck mustache he sports and grooms with great pride. But though Justin is not nearly as handsome, nice, smart, or athletic as he thinks he is, he is funny, just not always for the reasons he thinks he is funny. Rather, his ego and cluelessness make him funny. Hilarious, in fact. Since Justin is the first-person narrator, all of the events of the story are relayed through the distorted lens of that massively inflated, self-deluded ego, which makes for some really great humor, humor that often comes in the form of Justin denying his mistakes, oversights, and shortcomings.
By the time I was about twenty pages into Dodgeball High, I'd already lost count of the how many times I’d audibly chuckled. Just open the book to a random page and you’ll find gems like this:
I’m so deep in thought about my superiority as I walk to homeroom that I get hard. So I hide it with a textbook to avoid a girl riot that will cause the end of the world (because I am also very courteous).
Like two hundred years go by and I try to kill myself by pulling off my head. And of course the moment I start tugging, the [waiter] says, "Here we are, sir and madam. Enjoy your meal."
Normally when reading an author for the first time I try to start with his or her first book. But I’m sick of being 17 years behind everything most ofNormally when reading an author for the first time I try to start with his or her first book. But I’m sick of being 17 years behind everything most of the time. So in reading David Barbee for the first time, I decided to start with his latest, The Night's Neon Fangs.
Pulpy, action-packed weirdness abounds in this entertaining collection of four novellas. Barbee does a fine job at creating sympathetic protagonists who find themselves in difficult fixes if not full-on damnation. In many ways, these characters and their dilemmas are conventional fare. But the devil is in the details (or the Batdevil, I should say, though I’m getting a little ahead of myself.) For example, the novella “BATCOP OUTTA HELL” tells the story of a cop who must avenge his murdered family. In its distilled essence, such a story sounds familiar and archetypal enough, clichéd even. But this avenging cop is not your garden variety avenging cop. Nay, he’s a batcop hailing from a batcity in a batuniverse, and he gets murdered and brought back to life as a batdemon after making a deal with the Batdevil in Hell. Similarly, the titular novella “THE NIGHT'S NEON FANGS” features an unwilling werewolf who seeks to free himself of his curse. But this unwilling werewolf is no ordinary werewolf: He’s an electric werewolf. And not only is he an electric werewolf, but he lives in a world where mummies rain down from the skies, consequently a world where big money is made in the “mummysweeping” business.
Barbee’s well-wrought prose is lean but descriptive where it needs to be. He grabs the right words without ever being wordy. The dialogue in his stories is crisp and natural. He utilizes backstory effectively, giving the reader just the right amount without venturing into the dreaded land of info dumping. Taken together, these four novellas sit comfortably next to one another, collectively offering readers an experience that includes elements of horror, crime fiction, sci-fi, humor, and the western genres, all bathed in the bizarre.
Great stuff. I look forward to reading more from Barbee....more
I Like Turtles has a box-of-chocolates sort of feel to it in that you know each piece is going to be a flash fiction story and that each story will, tI Like Turtles has a box-of-chocolates sort of feel to it in that you know each piece is going to be a flash fiction story and that each story will, to some extent or other, be bizarre, but you have no way to anticipate the form, content, style, or unique flavor of each successive piece. Subversions of logic and causality, playful non sequiturs, amusing ambiguities, odd punchlines and twists, clever turns of phrase, and loony wordplay abound in this assemblage of vignettes, narrative fragments, conversations, mini-plays, and prose poems. From the complexly layered weirdness of “Holy Olivia Orphanage,” to the comic absurdity of "Where Babies Come From,” to the zany pop culture satire of “James Franco v. Shia LaBeouf,” to the pathos of “Grape Will Be Fine,” there’s something in this collection for every lover of the bizarre short story to enjoy. Other standouts in the collection for me include “When Television Ends,” “Blood Poison,” “Make a Better Brody,” “Window in the Wife,” “Hell Block,” "A Phone Call from Ionesco, Act III," and “The Advantages of Smelling Bacon at the Moment of Death.”
4.89274 glittering stars. But I’ll round that up to 5 stars cuz I’m a standup guy. A regular mensch. ...more
Transgressive, gritty, bleak, and often surreal, the stories in this collection assault the reader with a barrage of sex, violence, vivid imagery, andTransgressive, gritty, bleak, and often surreal, the stories in this collection assault the reader with a barrage of sex, violence, vivid imagery, and unsettling situations. The overarching dark tone of the book is made more palatable by the presence of humor (yeah, you guessed it; the dark sort) and the jazzy, visceral-lyrical prose style in which most of these stories are told. LeVoit can turn a phrase. Highlights of the collection for me were “air, trees, water, animals,” “Warm, in Your Coat,” “Nightbomb,” and “Live Nude Girl.”...more
The setup of The Garden of Good and Evil Pancakes reminded me of Sarte’s existentialist play No Exit, wherein three dead characters are locked in a roThe setup of The Garden of Good and Evil Pancakes reminded me of Sarte’s existentialist play No Exit, wherein three dead characters are locked in a room together for eternity, a situation that eventually leads one of them to famously assert, “Hell is other people.” In Pancakes, three people find themselves inexplicably trapped in a Village Inn. And while it’s business as usual for this bustling franchised dining establishment, and other people can come and go as they please, the doors of the restaurant remain closed to the three main characters as if by a curse.
Cassandra, our first-person narrator, finds herself trapped in the restaurant with her ex-boyfriend and her ex-best friend, who are now dating one another. While this situation could have lent itself to much more tension than is actually present in Atkinson’s narrative, we discover soon enough that these three people get along fairly well, all things considered. They all sit at the same table, eat together, play games, converse, reminisce, sleep, and amuse themselves by judging the other patrons in the restaurant. But beneath the conversations, games, and seemingly endless cups of coffee lies the specter of their disconnect with one another. The absurd quandary they find themselves in could afford Cassandra a unique opportunity to perhaps reconnect with her ex-boyfriend and ex-best friend in some meaningful way. But does she even want to do that? Is this Hell they are in? Purgatory maybe? Or could it be something else altogether?
One of the aspects of the book I enjoyed the most was Cassandra’s habit of relieving her boredom by making up stories about people she knows nothing about—e.g., the dishwasher, the waitress, the manager, etc. And these “histories” of hers, as she refers to them, are not restricted to people; she also tells the tale of the perfect batch of pancakes (Leonard by name) and a creation myth story that unfolds in a magical garden of pancakes and other breakfast goodies. Such stories within the larger narrative served to keep things interesting and perhaps prevent the reader from feeling the same sort of claustrophobia the principal characters endure as a result of their predicament. ...more
In this parody of the high fantasy genre, an audacious drag queen by the name of Sleazellla LaRuse gets whisked away against her will to the realm ofIn this parody of the high fantasy genre, an audacious drag queen by the name of Sleazellla LaRuse gets whisked away against her will to the realm of Houmak—a land of swords and sorcery. Sleazellla must attempt to get back to her homeland of Green Bay, Wisconsin—where she enjoyed status as the reigning mc of the Bar Belle nightclub—or else figure out how to enjoy a new sort of queendom in this D&D-inspired place of magic and monsters. If you’re looking for a fun, funny, fast, fanciful, and fabulous read packed with action, gore, drag queen humor, gross-out humor, strange beasts, stranger sex, and bizarro hijinks galore, then look no further than Dungeons & Drag Queens. Shit's totes bonkers....more
As you read this book, its suggestive title is always at the back of your mind, like a metafictional finger constantly pointed at the story as it unfoAs you read this book, its suggestive title is always at the back of your mind, like a metafictional finger constantly pointed at the story as it unfolds, a story that distills, deconstructs, and satirizes the small-town-besieged-by-ancient-evil archetype that has dominated mainstream horror fiction forever. More of a long short story than an actual novel, The Last Horror Novel is at turns dark, melancholy, unsettling, and humorous. Awesome stuff. I’m drunk, so this review might be a bunch of bullshit. Whatever. In any event, I high-fived the hand on the cover when I finished reading it....more
Like much of Bradley Sands' work, TV Snorted My Brain is itself a sort an exercise in controlled anarchy: anarchy of plot, character, theme, and moralLike much of Bradley Sands' work, TV Snorted My Brain is itself a sort an exercise in controlled anarchy: anarchy of plot, character, theme, and morality. So it’s appropriate that this insane parodic retelling of the Arthurian legend begins with the line, “Anarchy fucking rules.” This book is a must-read for fans of bizarro and absurdist humor and a great starting point for readers new to Sands' work, as it is more accessible than some of his earlier stuff. ...more