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A Sick Gray Laugh

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Award-winning author Noelle Cashman is no stranger to depression and anxiety. In fact, her entire authorial brand, showcased in such titles as The Girl with the Gun in Her Mouth, Leather Noose, and The Breath Curse, has been built on the hopeless phantasmagoric visions she experiences when in the grip of paranoid psychosis. But Noelle has had enough, and, author brand be damned, has found help for her illness in the form of an oblong yellow pill, taken twice daily.

Since starting on this medication, Noelle’s symptoms have gone into remission. She’s taken up jogging. She’s joined a softball team. For the first time in Noelle’s life, she feels hope. She’s even started work on a nonfiction book, a history of her small southern Indiana town.

But then Noelle starts to notice the overwhelming Grayness that dominates her neighborhood, slathered over everything like a thick coat of snot, threatening to assimilate all.

From Bram Stoker Award-winning author Nicole Cushing comes A Sick Gray Laugh, a novel about madness, depression, history, Utopian cults, literature, sports, and all the ways we struggle to stay sane in an insane world.

290 pages, Paperback

First published August 27, 2019

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About the author

Nicole Cushing

45 books294 followers
Nicole Cushing is the Bram Stoker Award® winning author of Mr. Suicide and a two-time nominee for the Shirley Jackson Award.

Various reviewers have described her work as “brutal”, “cerebral”, “transgressive”, "wickedly funny", “taboo”, “groundbreaking” and “mind-bending”.

Rue Morgue magazine included Nicole in its list of 13 Wicked Women to Watch, praising her as an “an intense and uncompromising literary voice”. She has also garnered praise from Jack Ketchum, Thomas Ligotti, and Poppy Z. Brite (aka, Billy Martin).

Her second novel, A Sick Gray Laugh (2019) was named to LitReactor’s Best Horror Novels of the Last Decade list and the Locus Recommended Reading List. She has recently completed and polished her third novel.

She lives in Indiana.

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5 stars
39 (25%)
4 stars
64 (41%)
3 stars
31 (19%)
2 stars
18 (11%)
1 star
4 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 35 reviews
Profile Image for Char.
1,635 reviews1,487 followers
December 1, 2019
WTH did I just read? I don't even know!

I can say that I liked it, that it was literary, and that it was beautifully written.

There were deep, dark, and gray ideas explored. If I had to put labels on it, (which is difficult to do), I'd use these:

dark humor
weird tales
somewhat nihilistic

After reading a few other reviews once I was finished, it seems that my favorite part was the least favorite part of others, and that was the middle. The first and third portions were more involved with Noelle's, (Nicole's?), life, discoveries, and aspirations whereas the second portion focused on a cult-like veil-wearing group traveling to the U.S. by ship and then onward towards the midwest. The New Moses and his group made for fascinating reading and I was sorry when the author moved on.

Overall, I did enjoy this compelling piece of fiction, but I will admit to the fact that my mind did wander a bit, especially during the first and third parts. Did I like it? YES! Do I recommend it? YES!
Was it my favorite work of fiction from Nicole Cushing, no-but that's ok.

I never know what to expect when I read her work, but I ALWAYS know that it's going to be original, well written, and that it will make me think.

As I said above: Recommended!

Get your copy here: https://amzn.to/2R88Y0n

*Thank you to Nicole Cushing for the e-ARC of this book in exchange for my honest feedback. This is it.*
Profile Image for Danger.
Author 33 books629 followers
November 11, 2020
An unreliable narrator/wannabe cult leader delivers a story that is half "historical" fiction and half manic screed, creating a text that is all the things I like in a book: dark, funny, weird, and unpredictable. There are moments where things feel slightly OVER explained or TOO tangential though (not in the this-is-what's-happening kind of way, but more in the this-is-the-narrator's-thought-process kind of way) which is the only thing keeping me going full five stars here. But it's a small and personal peccadillo, as I prefer my narratives move a little quicker. But that said - the ending really ties up all the threads the book had laid throughout in a really interesting and satisfying way. I love the cover image for this book too. Really great shit. Cushing has a delightfully twisted mind.
Profile Image for Lucas Chance.
222 reviews7 followers
October 7, 2019
A tour through the Midwest and the Mind

This is such an excellent, excellent book. It’s thorny, provocative, darkly hilarious, sweepingly historical, and it’s conclusion is so unexpected and visceral.

This is definitely a novel that defies characterization and comparison, but it stands alongside Michael Cisco’s _The Great Lover_ and Thomas Ligotti’s “The Last Feast of Harlequin” as one of the absolute best pieces of Weird Fiction I have ever read.
Profile Image for Lewis Housley.
103 reviews6 followers
March 19, 2022
Truthful and terrifying. When I read Nicole, I feel a bit less lonely in the world.
Profile Image for Matt.
192 reviews3 followers
May 21, 2020
I don't even know what to say about this book except it's a ride you need to take. The places we go were totally unexpected and exactly what I wanted in a "non-fiction" book about a Midwest town and its infection of grayness. We go from strange cults to questions on how best to inject color into a boring world to how to start your own cult. There's a lot happening in between those things, explorations on who you are in relation to where you were raised, thoughts on going outside what is expected of you, and the importance of face.

It's hard to explain what this book is about without completely spoiling it. I will say that Nicole Cushing does everything for a reason and no matter how random something feels like at the moment it will come back later. I loved that about this book because there were a couple of times where I was wondering what this tangent was doing and then later on seeing it play out and smacking myself for doubting it. There are parts where it seems like it's rambling and makes you question how this could be considered a "non-fiction" book but trust me, it's on purpose.

I think this is just a book that needs to be experienced. It's wild and weird and perfect for these current times.
Profile Image for Roberto Andonie.
31 reviews10 followers
September 17, 2020
This book is creepy. Also funny. I guess its full of nightmare and cartoon energy (jeje). I love the form and premise of this story. Some parts where a bit boring, but the author absolutely succeeded in making me doubt how much was part of her intended horror story and how much was me trying to solve a "meta-narrative" that didn't quite made sense (or even existed). That freaked me out to the point of dropping the book for one or two weeks before trying again, and for that this will have a spot in my heart as a great horror book.

I would recommend this to anyone who has some sort of fascination with, (or fear of) cults and psychiatric disorders.
Profile Image for matthew.
320 reviews46 followers
February 2, 2020
Unlike much I’ve read in the best way: unpredictable, unique, weird, funny, horrifying, difficult, but always accessible. Kind of European in form but definitely horror in content. I will definitely read more of Cushing’s work
Profile Image for Paul.
156 reviews
December 10, 2019
Sick, disturbing, engrossing, entertaining, twisted, fun. Nicole Cushing hits it out of the park with this tale of/by Noelle Cashman. At turns, N.C. relays a fictional history, epidemiological study, memoir, and manifesto. At the same time, the reader can see a steady change in the narrator's demeanor/well-being. It all flows together well and pulls the reader along in unexpected directions. Nicole Cushing manages to inject humor (granted dark humor - or should I say "sick gray humor") into her tale of depression, nihilism, and madness. Pick this up.
Profile Image for Jo Quenell.
Author 10 books49 followers
October 6, 2019
This one is nuts. Just like her previous novel, Mr.Suicide, Cushing took this book to places I couldn’t come close to expecting. It dragged a bit there in the middle, but the third act more than made up for it.
Profile Image for Jon.
216 reviews5 followers
November 24, 2021
What a bizarre book! Good thing, that. I've never read any of the author's other work, but here, she managed to mix two parts metafiction, one part madness, and a healthy pinch of gloriously dark humor into something pretty different and enjoyable.

The book leads readers along in one direction until it's suddenly in a different part of town waving at you like a wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube man with an unusual amount of sentience.

Also MST3K and Rifftrax get mentioned! Manos too!
Profile Image for Christopher.
Author 2 books91 followers
July 8, 2020
A highly experimental novel that will not be for everyone, but certainly is for a certain type of person. While I did not find every experimental aspect to have worked as well as intended, the overall narrative was really engaging and I especially liked the discussion on 'grayness', 'coagula', and 'cartoon nightmare energy.'
Profile Image for Audra (ouija.reads).
739 reviews253 followers
December 30, 2019
I adored Cushing’s Mr. Suicide—a strange, polarizing, gross-on-every-level story. So I went into this book with somewhat high expectations.

While definitely has that weird uniqueness that doesn’t give a single f***, I found it a slog to read.

This is one of those books that has a stylistic agenda, and once I get what it’s doing, I find it hard to keep reading on style alone. An extreme example of this “stylistic agenda” is A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, and if you’ve had to carve your way through that book, you know what I mean. Just because a book is difficult or has a certain repetitive style or voice doesn’t mean that it’s bad. Burgess’s book is certainly a classic for a reason. But for me, this book was almost unreadably boring.

It is separated into three sections, the first being a short 20-page introduction to the writer (a meta re-imagining of the author herself) and the style (self-referential, tangent-ridden). Then, part two is “A Case Study,” or 120 pages of historical background that sets the scene for the third part, which, if you make it that far, is much more of what I was initially expecting from this book. I’m not sure that the second part is really all that necessary—it feels at least three times longer than it is—though it does set up the third section.

I don’t mind books that make me struggle, I’m thinking of
House of Leaves (a torturous experience every time that leaves me exhilarated about the possibilities of the novel form) and Ducks, Newburyport (which I may never finish, but enjoy immensely every time I pick it up). But reading fiction is first and foremost something that I do for fun. I often learn so much from fiction, sometimes I feel like I learn more from fiction than I do from nonfiction. And I treasure that part of my reading experience. But when reading stops being fun, I don’t see much point to it anymore.

This was a December 2019 Night Worms book.
Profile Image for bundledwithbooks.
31 reviews1 follower
December 10, 2019
3.5 stars for me. This book had me question myself and what I was reading. Did I miss something, skip a paragraph or did I lose my mind and get lost in the gray? This book delves into a lot of history of a small town in the midwest (almost half the book). It was a bit too much for me and very drab. The beginning and ending made up for the lengthy history lessons. A book that talks about depression, sanity and suicidality and living in a world of "grayness" - this is life, but most don't want to acknowledge or talk about it.
Profile Image for Elizabeth Addison.
772 reviews10 followers
Shelved as 'dnf'
November 2, 2022
Wanted to DNF on page 11, actually let myself do it on page 25. It’s rare to be so immediately repulsed by everything about a book, but it happens, I guess! This is just not for me.
Profile Image for Samantha.
230 reviews23 followers
January 18, 2020
I received this book in the November 2019 Night Worms package. At first glance, it appeared to be a bit out of place in a horror fiction package. Boy, was I wrong.

This book is terrifying, existential, hilarious, bitter, and utterly unique. I wouldn't be surprised if this later becomes a book shared by twisted professors and teachers with University and highschool students for the range of topics it discusses, or "unveils," if you will.

I admit to finding parts slow, but it always felt purposeful. The third part of the book was my absolute favourite. I flew through it. I enjoyed the beginning second best, and the middle "historical" part the least (not to say that it was bad, just harder to get through for me).

It's clear that Nicole Cushing is a bit of a genius. Her wording, imagery, and strategic writing is brilliant. Reading this book felt like a way of showing me how the narrator's life became, to quote Cushing, "dialed up to eleven."

Some quoted parts I found particularly titillating:

"Even after describing to you the beauty of meaninglessness, you insist on looking for meaning. You've been conned by pareidolia into seeing a pattern that doesn't exist." - It is at this moment that I really grasp the questioning of human reality in this book and the unreliable narrator.

"...God made the multiverse in the same way (and for the same reason) that Dagwood Bumstead made a sandwich. Divine gastric juices break reality down, so that it can be absorbed through the Divine stomach. Thus it could be said that, in this nightmare, reality is nothing more than ambrosia." - Woah. Just Woah.

Page 259: the word "crucifiction" is written here. Now, maybe it's just my pareidolia kicking in, but that spelling felt strategic and important.

"One gets the sense that he's tired of being swallowed up in a sea of whiteness, tired of being confined to an ontological ghetto, where his options for being are limited to various flavors of servility." - I can't explain my pleasure and repulsion at the words "ontological ghetto."

"They knew that all these PATTERNS would occur to me, and weave all sorts of Sick Gray Meaning into my world."- The idea of people setting out to "implant" Grayness into others' lives is terrifying and seems insane, but somehow appears like just a fact here. I felt brainwashed into losing hope.

"They indicated that a scintilla of brokenness had already managed to infiltrate the very bastion of Grayness! What better omen could I ask for?" - Now here we are, discussing omens in a world of pareidolia. Things seem like they can't go off the rails more in this book, but they just keep going!

In conclusion, due to the slowness I experienced, I felt like I had to take a star away. I think many people would have dropped the book at that time and missed out on a very satisfying "Coagula" that can be found in reading it all. A maddening and luminous (the opposite of Gray!) novel.
Profile Image for Robbie.
467 reviews4 followers
September 18, 2021
I got this a while ago in a horror bundle from StoryBundle and had no idea what it was about when I picked it up. I figured, given the bundle and that the author is a Bram Stoker Award winner, it would be a horror novel, so I was confused at first when I started reading it and it turned out to be a work of humor. It's some sort of manic scree giving the history of a fictional town in Indiana on the border with Kentucky in order to explain the origins of "The Grayness," a sickness that has overwhelmed society with ennui. It took me a bit to give up looking for anything sinister and horrific, at which point I just felt lost adrift the tide of the absurdist history of fictional Midwestern cults.

I liked it, though. It answers the question we all have had at some point of what Poprishchin from Gogol's "Diary of a Madman" would be like if he were a horror writer from Indiana who became obsessed with that blandest of eldritch horrors, Midwestern ennui, rather than the issue of a Spanish succession crisis. It's a fun read with some really wonderful bits of twisted logic and a number of passages that made me laugh out loud. Although it was mostly clever, I thought that some of the humor was a bit cheap, mocking easy targets, and there were some entire chapters that I found pretty dull.
2,339 reviews
January 8, 2021
An author seems to be writing a history of the 'gray' in Indiana, but may be having a psychotic break.

This is one of the most bizarre books I've ever read, and that's saying a lot. I can appreciate it, but I didn't really enjoy reading it, so I'm going with three stars.

Nicole Cushing, the author in this book, is introduced in the first third as a woman with a history of depression (now under control with medication) who writes twisted murder mysteries. The second portion is Nicole's history and epidemiology of the 'Gray', a thick substance that seems to be covering everything in her southern Indiana town. The third part is Nicole sliding down the rabbit hole. I really got into the second part which is admittedly weird - it's a slow paced supposed history of the arrival of a cult into the Indiana area and the 'Brides' who came after that. There was a point where I was reading away in this section, finding it hard to put down, and then it just...stopped. I ended up feeling like this part was a throwaway which was a bit annoying. Try this book if you want to fall into the mind of a woman who isn't sure of reality.
130 reviews1 follower
May 27, 2022
This book was a bit more challenging than Cushing's other works, but I still enjoyed it quite a bit. It's intentionally written as an argument, backed by a lengthy case study, that Nicole, sorry... excuse me, Noelle, isn't crazy. A convincing argument is certainly not made, but a good read certainly is. We're all a little crazy when we think of what society tells us is "normal" and when forced to conform to this normalcy, I think we all start to see this grayness, this sickness. Whether you conform and let it take you (while pretending you don't see it) is entirely up to you. Perhaps Noelle is just shaking things up to part the sea of gray snot and return the world to its original brilliance...
Profile Image for Richard Leis.
Author 2 books16 followers
November 24, 2019
Included in Night Worms' November 2019 "Feasting on Horror" subscription package, A Sick Gray Laugh is unlike anything I have read before. Nicole Cushing has crafted a slow burn rumination on history, literature, and (pop) culture kept from being tedious by a captivating mad persona narrator who anticipates reader questions while hatching unhinged plans. Uncomfortable and laugh-out-loud humor and madness lead to disturbed conclusions that make disturbing nihilistic sense. There is something particularly Gen-X about this novel that made a lot of sense to me, and left me a little uncertain about my own sanity.
Profile Image for E.F..
Author 38 books30 followers
August 23, 2021
Cushing's narrative prowess shines in this existential exposé of Midwestern malaise. Handled like a treatise on the the Grayness infecting the landscape and its people, Cushing builds a case with nearly medical precision, using a blend of lenses from literary criticism to case study, short digressions, and histories. Cushing's narrator (Cashman) build an analysis while breaking down. Cushing's task is an ambitious one, and she navigates the swelling, unpredictable waters of this narrative with surprising humor and grace. A literary accomplishment in existential horror with a brave, uncompromising, and confident voice. The view from this narrator's window is not to be missed.
Profile Image for Morgan.
Author 10 books3 followers
September 22, 2022
I'd never heard of Nicole Cushing before, but I'll be keeping an eye out for her other books.
Immensely inventive and satisfying, I haven't had as much fun reading a "literary" book in a long time!
Non-fiction, historical fiction, confessional, literary, and horror fiction. It's any/all/none of these, and one hell of a ride!
Read it before the gray soul-snot gets you!
Profile Image for Kevin Taitz.
9 reviews
July 7, 2020
Decent but ultimately fails

Plenty to like at first: history, existential horror and humor. Marred by too much exposition especially regarding politics. Events mentioned make this feel prematurely dated and take you out of the story.
Profile Image for AN R.
67 reviews
April 1, 2022
I’m so glad I gave this author another chance after absolutely hating the first book of hers I tried. This is perfect. It is so deeply validating to anyone who has lived in the rural Midwest, which was a long period of my own life that I deeply resent, so I took it pretty personally
Profile Image for Maritza Campos.
Author 11 books3 followers
December 7, 2019
A strange book. Good and entertaining, but disjointed in a very disconcerting way.
Profile Image for hannah.
228 reviews
August 22, 2022
I really did not vibe with like 90% of this book but the 10% that I did was amazingly weird so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Displaying 1 - 30 of 35 reviews

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