4 Stars
Noctuidae by Scott Nicolay
Noctuidae - Scott Nicolay

If you ask me if I like to look at monsters the answer is a definite ´no´. Which is exactly what happens in Noctuidae. A couple of weeks ago I´ve heard the term ´Cosmic Horror´ for the first time, where a person deals with a supernatural threat or forces outside of their control since the universe itself is messing with them in a way. Nice.

Now the book description of Noctuidae explains the story as such very well, and there is not a lot to add aka three friends go on a hiking tour which goes off the rails in some really unexpected ways.

Noctuidae deals with the supernatural threat effectively even in odd ways I am still not sure what to make of it. What is more fascinating is the relationship with Ron and Sue-Min, who are an item, and Pete, a friend of theirs. Stuck in a cave in a canyon Ron disappears in the middle of night while the other two are sleeping.

Told from Sue-Min´s perspective she is stuck with a physical threat (Pete), and together they are facing an abstract threat in the form of ... whatever it is that is lurking outside the cave. Something ancient maybe, a god of sorts, a monster?

Where the "horror" comes in is not so much the dread of this thing outside the cave, that too, but that Sue-Min has a) to bond with Pete to survive - and their dislike for each other is mutual - while also b) has to think about how to defend herself since Pete has some ideas of his own, rather nasty ones to be sure. And this is where IMO Scott Nicolay gets a lot, if not all, things right. As a woman sooner or later - like Sue-Min - I *will* find myself in a situation of (attempted) sexual assault, or a situation which is at a minimum deeply uncomfortable due to some creep who cannot understand boundaries or that ´no´ means indeed ´no´. It´s like a law or something. It should not be this way but it´s reality, and how to deal with it is the real question. Something I could totally relate to in Noctuidae in the persona of Sue-Min.

Stuck in the cave there is not a lot to do but wait and see what happens, nevertheless they both realize they are in a life-or-death situation, especially since Ron went missing and is nowhere to be found, presumptly dead. Not only that but Pete has zero empathy for Sue-Min´s fears or anxiety, which is rather sickening to read, as if he does not see the antipathy towards him or simply not caring one bit about it. 

There are lengthy exchanges between Sue-Min and Pete and the plot and narrative caters more towards them than towards the horror outside. Really impressive is how well-thought out those exchanges and especially Sue-Min´s inner monologues are. Where every possible action has a lengtitude of implications and possiblities; nothing I would have thought of myself in all its details. One can really feel the tension between those two characters where Sue-Min acts as much with her instincts - as a woman - as much as with rational thought of what she should do. She ain´t a fool that one.

Where it gets really uneasy is the implication of power struggles in the relationships, or with the farmers on whose land they have parked their truck, and especially Pete´s casual racism - and misogyny - since Sue-Min was born in South-Korea but adopted and raised in the USA or those implied threats of violence. There are many a details in the narrative to explore and mull over though, and that´s something I found more interesting than the monster story which is used as a set-up.

I wouldn´t call Noctuidae a classical horror story in this regards, rather horrorfying, even the universe plays by its own rules, due to the different and continually changes of the power struggles between Sue-Min and Pete. Neither can control the circumstances they find themselves in, and since it is told from Sue-Min´s POV the implications I think are even stronger as it would have been with a reversal of roles where iE Pete has the upperhand in the narrative. Human behavior is a strange one, which Beckett explains the best.

In just a short amount of time in this novella Scott Nicolay manages a lot of things to weave into it even there are as many questions left unanswered, which makes Noctuidae for me as intriguing as well as frustrating. There is a sense of awe but at the same time a lot of eyebrow raising huh? moments.

In a similar fashon the ending, if I can call it such, surprised me the most - and frustrated me the most at the same time. It seems perfect yet deeply unsatisying, something which cannot really be explained but has to be experienced. Since I haven´t read any books by Scott Nicolay before I can´t comment if this is one of his idiosyncrasies or just a lack luster effort to wrap up things nicely. I strongly suspect the former, and it being a rather obvious and deliberate decision to leave me as reader in constant doubts. Something which has to sink in yet.

Noctuidae remains a mystery.

4 Stars
A Series Of Pained Facial Expressions Made While Shredding Air Guitar by Brian Alan Ellis
A Series of Pained Facial Expressions Made While Shredding Air Guitar: Poems, Observations, Lists, Letters, Notes, Bullshit Aphorisms, and General Tales of Ordinary Crabbiness - Brian Alan Ellis

I´m now the proud owner of four Brian Alan Ellis books, which is extremely awkward, but as it is, I start to like this fool.

With A Series Of Pained Facial Expressions Made While Shredding Air Guitar: Poems, Observations, Lists, Letters, Notes, Bullshit Aphorisms, and General Tales of Ordinary Crabbiness BAE has written his own 12 step AA (Author´s Anxiety) program.

Now if you expect some traditional story telling with a beginning, middle part and an ending, move on, wrong book. He delivers exactly what the subtitle (and the book description) promises.

A long series of Twitticism, interrupted from movie talk with his buddy and fellow author Bud Smith plus a lot of self-pity and randomness told in his typical ironical way. What BAE does is breaking boundaries between confession, satire, fiction and those fleeting moments of clarity where one realizes one has to move from the couch coz the cats are puking in the other room. It is a deconstruction between paranoia and parody at the intersection of fiction and reality without some hackneyed aesthetic, which is rather ambitious to do. A least he doesn´t write chick lit with an edge.

Books are like people: there are too many and most are garbage but we keep producing them because maybe a really amazing one will turn up though it’s doubtful as fuck.

That´s deep but I like it, so whatever.

Now of course BAE pretends he is loaded with self-hate and delusions, but not buying it, way too emo. What I like mostly about his writing is that he lets you connect more closely to him than other authors, even yeah, it sure as hell is at least partially a stunt. At least he gives the impression that you know him, especially since there is a little bit of an overlap between his tweets and his writing. He is either not that original or simply loves to recycle his best-of-the-best like a band who run out of ideas and cash in on the big hits again with an album. We are good here since he was making me laugh a lot, but good lord, I do wish he would shut up once in a while.

It would be less funny if BAE wouldn´t wrap his "poor artist shtick, look at me, look at me, I need validation" assphorisms in a cultural context like a bacon sandwich, even I was disappointed he didn´t offer any donuts. BAE nevertheless resists applying an cookie-cutter analysis of the sad existence of the author life/whatever, instead just makes fun of everything. Which I consider a good thing that he does not approach the subject like an anthropologist from a distance, but puts himself in the center of the stage. Or more an alter ego of himself as a writer.

The Artist As Tortured Soul is surely one of the most used tropes in the history of literature, ever. Where many a good time was had was that is impossible to tell where BAE is deadly serious, and him just doing what he does, writing books that is.

Where it moves into the realms of digital vs analog meta-existence is the moment one realizes what he writes as satire/cry for help is the daily reality and there are people out there like him, or rather the ones he describes/pretends he is himself. Which is as bizarre as it is hilarious (and sometimes cringe-worthy), and admittedly I laughed a lot even with feeling a little bit guilty about it. It happens. *shrugs*

Now I pity those poor fools who were raised and feed on bands like KISS or Judas Priest or Poison - remember the time where people were genuinely afraid of Satan worshipping Heavy Metal bands? Yeah, me neither - and all those 1980s (?) movies and video games he mentions or wrestling shows (aka dick measuring contest) I couldn´t care less about. I am aware that any generation thinks itself superior than its predecessor, still if you look at the lost generation of Star Wars fans who cry themselves a river or that their superhero Superman ain´t so cool anymore they surely can´t complain about us Millennials. Pull me a ducktail, you frightened rabbit! Not my fault you never grow out of wearing short pants.

Pro tip: Try to sell more books and watch your anxiety shoot through the roof.

Frequently checking Twitter/Facebook/etc - he probably has a MySpace profile too (LOL) - while the ´can I just sit here and *not* tweeting?´ is the ultimate death blow to existence. Decisions are hard in this regards, especially when - without the internet - one has no life. Which is the irony that plays itself out insofar that without those instant gratifications of sharing the latest hot shit/purchases/think pieces about Kim K.´s butt, or those ´everyone is Hitler´ memes, one doesn´t exist at all. Hell is indeed other people´s Twitter feed. Where retweets and likes is high fiving oneself for getting attention from random strangers on the net who have already forgotten who you are or what they "liked" the moment they clicked a button.

Now all this could have gotten horribly wrong if not for BAE´s wicked sense of humor, either that or he has so many issues he´s every therapist´s wet dream. Or maybe he´s just one of those brilliant savage idiots of the digital era (every village has one of those!). A 21th century Baudelaire aka the offspring of Woody Allen having buttsex with Adam Sandler.

Those books I´ve read so far by him often felt like written by someone with undeniable talent without really knowing how to bring it across in a more focused way aka deliberately bullshitting coz fun! That said, A Series of Pained Facial Expressions Blah Blah Blah is a bold move, a step in the right direction (even I´d love to read more of his more serious short stories), with adding fresh impetus from an author one could easily think was left behind by the Indie lit scene.

Partially it still feels again like the work of an author still exploring his possibilities (a neverending task, I am sure) while pushing his stories/bullshit aphorisms in new directions. A Series of Pained Facial Expressions Blah Blah Blah nevertheless feels like something more concrete, even not fully done exploring what he can actually do as a writer, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

In the meantime he was probably jerking off to Aerosmith´s Cryin´/Crazy/Amazing videos on YouTube while crying himself to sleep. Sad, really.

4 Stars
Your Glass Head Against The Brick Parade of Now Whats by Sam Pink
Your Glass Head against the Brick Parade of Now Whats: A Beautiful Nice Poem - Sam Pink

Or as Pink subtitles it, "A beautiful nice poem". Now I´m no stranger to Pink´s prose, having previously read Person and Witch Piss, but it´s the first time I have dived into the madness of his poetry. I´m with him on the beautiful part, even I have a slight different definition of nice.

It would be easy to write a 2000 word essay about depression and suicide but ain´t no need for that, Sam Pink did that one already and he did it better than - maybe not everyone else - but at a minimum better than I would be able to do.

Kind of similar as to everybody´s darling Melissa Broder´s @sosadtoday Twitter account you have to laugh about the dark things in life in Your Glass Head Against The Brick Parade of Now Whats as not completely get bend out of shape. It simply would hurt too much otherwise. Sam Pink doesn´t care one bit to be "empowering" or "uplifting", he chases demons instead. His prose poetry in Your Glass Head Against The Brick Parade of Now Whats - the title is borrowed from a sentence in the book - is pretty messed up and dark and ... alright, it´s depressive as fuck; if you let it affect you that way.

There is a reoccuring theme, or a pattern, of the "firing squad"; from "talking shit" to "spitting at" to "making friends" to "laughing at" where life is like that. From depressing to overwhelming to "Smiling/laughing more not out of joy but out of a feeling like, ´Yeah, fuck this.´"

(Unrelated fun fact: Since 1960 there have been three executions of death row inmates in the USA by firing squad, all in Utah.)

Which the masochist in me appreciates, not the death sentence by firing squad, but the writing. I would think (almost) everyone has those thoughts once in a while, which makes Pink´s stream of consciousness style so endearing and charming. Those mental pictures of my own which makes myself creep out, just Sam Pink writes them down and makes a book out of it, where despair is established in a lackluster of a reality that happens exclusive in his dark thoughts. Or like if you are standing in an empty room, alone, and the walls suddenly demand to know what you think is going to happen. Doesn´t sound like much fun to me.

Still, I feel like with his honesty he is taking a bullet for the team. He has the tools (words) to talk about all those shitty things in life, which makes it even more exciting to be alive, and indeed read about what is not only Pink´s darkness but everybody´s, one way or the other, including my own. It is powerful in a way that is unique to Pink and Pink alone, and actually not very far from his more usual books. His sarcasm comes across as wildly inappropriate, but that´s kinda the point of sarcasm. "Death like the slow addition of more and more tiny weak hands to your throat until it works. And it works. Man, I´m telling you, it works."

From my previous reading of Pink I always left with an impression he never quite fits in, even he is not above making fun of himself as well, "Given that I´m everyone´s favorite all the time." Writing in a landscape that values different things than his characters who have nowhere to go and nowhere to be, even it is clearly designed as something born from the consequence of the times we live in, where there are "Ideas instead of personalities. Moments instead of life. Like who the fuck left me here."

The whole book is like tidbits, drawn from every day life, that seemed - apparently - funny in this ha-ha kind of way, or remarkable, born from self-loathing without being able to distance himself/itself from it, like "a photo of myself holding a picture of the earth and doing a thumbs down." From "Painful periods of no self-worth" to "Painful periods of high self-worth."

Even yeah, I totally acknowledge that any kind of comparison is unfair and vague and does a disservice to Sam Pink. I do guess that you have to be pretty fucked up, and knowing it, to enjoy the dark humor which is between the pages. For what it is worth Sam Pink can do in a single sentence things other authors would have to write an 800-page novel to bring the same point across. It helps that this beautiful and nice poem is written like prose, using full sentences and once or twice full chapters, instead of fragments of thoughts where you have to piece together the context of what is happening.

What Pink isn´t, is sentimental. The book is like a bored, lifeless, frustrated person full of sadness and suicidal tendencies, "Shooting yourself in the back of the head while smiling at yourself in the mirror.", but never ever sentimental. Something real, a human personality.

Now excuse me, I´m off to listening to some JapaNoise or Free Jazz to get my brain back in working order. "Which means on to new problems. Because why not?"

3.5 Stars
Tables Without Chairs #1 by Brian Alan Ellis and Bud Smith
Tables Without Chairs #1 - Brian Alan Ellis, Bud Smith, Waylon Thornton

I kinda find it hard to define what Tables Without Chairs #1 actually is. A literary journal of sorts, or a split book more likely even not really, where two writers are working together to achieve what? To have fun first and foremost, but which is also deliberately avoiding classifications or labels. Tough cookie that one.

Brian Alan Ellis´ and Bud Smith´s approach to writing is similar enough, even both have their own distinctive voices, that I see how it makes sense that they work as a team. Plus they rather obviously share the same craptacular kind of humor. The book itself has the rawness and lo-fi quality of a home made record, including monster illustrations by artist and musician Waylon Thornton, of the ´you have to see it to believe it´ kind. Oddly enough they fit, even you know, monsters. Or whatever those things should be.


I´ve read and enjoyed Brian Alan Ellis´ Mustache book, but Tables feels more cathartic but that´s just my uninformed opinion. There is a story of sorts, with “Sexy Time in the Spook House, Oh Yeah!”, a first person narrative told in punchy and quick stories within stories about some guy or the other and him being a reject of a woman. Heartbreak! From smart ass anectodes to spiraling into an abyss of his own making, where BAE at the same time challenges my own observations of what is happening with his lean prose. Similar to Mustache it´s very much an idiot male perspective, with shallowness and sex as something that happens, to - plot twist! - genuine moments of tenderness and feelings. Despite its decidely grittiness it´s rather lovely.

And then it finally moves into Obscurelandia, they do things differently there!, with "Ha-ha! Sad laughter."

Obscure insofar that those are a lot of one-liners, just how seriously I should take them I am not sure. Taking the piss at publishing and everything that comes with it, including by extension taking the piss at himself, it feels like a stand-up comedian routine who totally unironically pokes fun at everyone and everything. Including self-reflection in that kind of "my life" way, told ironically of course. Which might only be fun for other writers, or maybe it isn´t funny at all. The cynicism is strong with this one. From the Indie lit scene to Goodreads to the #amwriting hashtag, BAE doesn´t shy away to confront those who take themselves all too seriously with their own dead set idiocy. He is a smug one, that Brian Alan Ellis.

"When other authors recommend how-to writing books to you on Goodreads, like wtf they trying to say?"

That a correct sentence would be, "wtf they´re trying to say?" Maybe? But that is just a guess. :)

Or about those? "How-to blurb a book", which skims the line between nonsensical and the ridiculousness even seriousness with which books are blurbed by other authors.

"[This writer] writes like a sadistically imaginative child who plays house by burning down the house."

BAE ´s characterization is rather tame, tough, nothing really to piss off anyone, or so I would think. Anti-litery advice of sorts, even he does offer good advice as well, like:

"If a publishing house is willing to print your books out on rolls of toilet paper, sign with them immediately."

This guy clearly knows what he´s talking about, can´t argue with that. Or my favorite:

"Writing is like sending an SOS out into the world and not quite getting the help you need, if any at all."

#LifeSucks #GetUsedToIt

Bud Smith´s approach to storytelling, in his ´Calm Face´ novella, seems to be a slightly more mature one in comparison to BAE. No bullshit, no pretense, intimate yet natural. Minimalistic, maybe a tad unpolished, but what I like most about his stories is that those are about mundane, every day life things that could happen to everyone, and nevertheless go slightly wrong for stupid reasons. Building a jacuzzi in your apartment, DIY style, is apparently not the smartest thing one can do. Life lessons, kids, life lessons!

He is witty, has an eye for keen observations while feeling natural even those novella in stories are more like short sketches than anything else. A first-person protagonist going through his daily life. That´s pretty much it. How Smith describes those interactions is the real thing as they are nevertheless rather detailed. Those are random, even rather odd, moments in life. From having his morning coffee, to commuting to work, to dealing with a screaming neighbor, seeing a doctor, to his favorite sandwich place closing it feels a bit like reading someone´s diary, or sneaking into a party coz you are a friend of a friend of a friend.

"Know who else came? The lady downstairs who I’m at war with, but that’s normal. She always comes up and knocks.

This time she told us to keep the noise down. I said, “YOU’LL HAVE TO CALL THE POLICE!” and opened the door just enough to slam it for effect. Fun!”

The zen like, stoic quality with which his characters go through life is what makes the story quirky and fun. There is also some undercurrent of longing in them too, which I appreciate. Somehow to do right by the world, a desire to build something out of those puzzles and broken pieces that is worth having.

"City bus almost runs me over. Bus driver has calm face. I have calm face. All bus passengers have calm face. We´re all good here."

What I particulary like about this short sequence is that it captures the moment so well.

Or as Gwen Beatty praised the book so eloquently, more eloquently than I ever could. "A couple of dicks wrote a book!"

Those are some likeable dicks you want to hug and punch in the face. Yeah, you definitely want to punch them in the face.

3.5 Stars
The Mustache He's Always Wanted but Could Never Grow by Brian Alan Ellis
The Mustache He's Always Wanted but Could Never Grow: And Other Stories - Brian Alan Ellis

The first association when reading Brian Alan Ellis was that he´s a better looking Bukowski, mixed with some Noah Cicero and Sam Pink, filled to the brim with beer and whiskey and stories and poetry and madness. There is something charming about BAE´s special brand of insanity, even I suspect he enjoys being a pervert a tad too much at times.

Leftover heels? A story only recommended if you are a shoe fetishist AND a chronic masturbator; it´s just flat out vulgar and a tiny bit bizarre. I could have done without that knowledge, you know? Other stories like Loco Mask II, where a guy meets the new boytoy of his mother, a professional wrestler and just some two, or three years older than him, is walking the line between heartbreaking and offensive.

When BAE is good he is very good. My favorite opening in the story collection is from Drinking In Bed With Zadie which in itself is already a short story within the short story, and beautiful and sad and just awesome, even in this something´s not quite right way.

We are kamikaze lovers. We spend the night drinking red wine from the bottle, shoving pills down eachother´s throat. We take turns vomiting into the toilet during our cloudy attempts at lovemaking. We are, if anything, a train wreck of suicidal passion. Something cliché.

It seems rather common that someone or the other tugs at their junk hanging out to make sure they are still alive. No argueing that BAE´s story collection is very much a boys thing, where women are taken as a prize, rather than seen as another human being. (...) he will try forcing an erection between her ass cheeks. She will of course refuse this invasion by elbowing him in the chest, and he will wonder aloud what the difference between putting something in one place and not the other is. Makes one wonder, indeed.

And still, those stories are essentially love songs, sung by the downtrodden, the losers, those at the bottom of the pit. Or as the book description says, BAE writes about schemers, dreamers, losers, boozers, stolen televisions, professional wrestlers, self-mutilators, compulsive masturbators, shoe fetishists, and a dead cat named Johnny Thunders.

What BAE doesn´t do is making fun of his characters and their life stories. He presents them matter of factly without sitting judgement about their short-comings. Those stories aren´t really that bizarre in the end. Strange? Hell yeah, but at the same time BAE looks at those guys, maybe, but only maybe shaking his head in wonderment and shares a huge grin. He understands, and he makes you empathize with them too. He finds humanity in those weirdos, something to love even one might not always want to think about that those people he writes about exist. It is an honest look which *is* uncomfortable where every day life is sad and ugly and tiresome and endless sleep seems as good an option as any but thanks to the dry and dark humor BAE makes them shine.

Most, if not all, of BAE´s characters have this kind of self-awarness of a brick wall. However, it does feel like most of the times that he writes deliberately "badly" (which he doesn´t btw) to come closer to the bottom, to something that resembles any kind of truth, whatever that means in the end. BAE´s stories are rough, often cruel, some times downright nasty but at the same time funny and there is a catchy tune to almost all of his stories. It does seem a bit like an act too. Like he really doesn´t want to apply to some kind of mainstream with his stories, indeed has choosen to be a literary outlaw by his own making. Which is fine, I like it.

This, my friends, is literature from the fucked bottom. (...) just milking one off - all sticky and strange and hardening the surfaces once more.

3.5 Stars
Marigold by Troy James Weaver
Marigold - Troy James Weaver

“Marigold is a hundred haikus of loneliness, pages torn from Baudelaire’s dream journal, the suicide note as high art." Kevin Maloney´s blurb for Marigold was what intrigued me at first about it, minus the "suicide note as high art", plus the beautiful cover did it for me. Torn with broken lines, dark but with the bright flowers in between, it sums up the book pretty well.

Or as the book description says, "A thirty-something floral salesman searches for reasons to keep living." which btw sorta contradicts the text itself, "Eight hours asleep every night for twenty-nine years." and "I´m almost thirty (...)", but I assume the author, and the publisher, knows something which I don´t. Either that, or they fucked up so bad they invented a new religion.*

By now I´ve read Marigold twice, more two and a half times, and for a whole week now I was trying to type up something that vaguely resembles a review... and I couldnt do it. 63 attempts, roughly, but like I was stuck in my own version of If On A Winter´s Night A Traveler with many a false starts and faulty endings. I had to step back and walk away for a while. I am not sure why or what took me so long. To think about my own life, maybe?, to think about what I want to achieve, where I want to be in a year, in five, in ten. I don´t know. I only know on a level Marigold, at the best of times, cracked me open from the inside.

What the book really good at is, is walking down the memory lane, or as Michael Kazepis, head honcho of King Shot Press, writes in the foreword, Marigold is "a novel forged from old pain."

I couldn´t help myself but thinking back at the time when I fucked up my leg in a skiing accident. Or when I was 13 and diagnosed with a tumor in my stomach. Of the months and months in hospital and therapy and recovery. Of those two large operation scars on my body which by now I don´t even see when having a shower or dressing myself as they are so much a part of me I can´t think of myself without them anymore. Of many a hopes abandoned, of broken dreams and sleepless nights, of heartbreak and relationship failures. Of those many hours looking out the window on rainy nights, listening to the quiet tap-tap-tap on the window sill. Which were at those times the highlights of my day. Living those melancholic moments when the bleaker and darker moments didn´t overwhelm or take over completely.

Which is oddly personal for me, since I´m not really one to wear my heart inside out. I am not one either for always walking on sunshine, and this is what Marigold did to me. Easy to relate to, even heavy on the heart.

"The meaning of life is that it stops,” which opens Marigold and I disagree with on a fundamental basis, but it´s Kafka, so what do I know? With that the text itself makes already clear it ain´t one for being an escapist read but one to ponder over. The plot itself, meager as it is, in Marigold is almost irrelevant. A salesman working in a flower shop. Which is barely even acknowledged, even bits and pieces about the flower Marigold are thrown in, including my favorite quote of it.


Weaver isn´t one for giving in into existentialist or philosophical longish musings about life in the 21th century but delivers his narrative in short, very short, emotional outbursts. Those are not paragraphs per se, but a times a single sentence, a single word is enough to give an accurate picture of the mental state the narrator is in.


With this vibrant haiku style, or more like guerilla style, our first person and nameless narrator deals with loneliness and suicidal tendencies. Of when taking out the trash becomes the ultimate meaning of how to deal with life in small and large. Weaver, however, doesn´t explain what shaped the narrators personality, his life, his identity or where his depression is coming from. The depression just sits there, waiting for the moments to shape the narrator as he is right here and now.

His rather futile attempts to dial up a suicide hotline are not without humor, almost comical in fact, which counteracts the bleak overall atmosphere of Marigold. It is not that he doesn´t want help but that he is caught in an endless struggle of depression which leads to miscommunication, and finding the right words to say what needs to be said.

The characters themselves are not so much cliches but an deliberate attempt by Weaver to let them be archetypes, less so characters as such. The hair-twirling kid, the woman who will die of cancer, or the wife. Which makes more sense towards the end when in Marigold, with a firm swift of the narrative voice, similar to Edouard Leve´s Suicide - which is referenced several times in Marigold -, the I becomes the You becomes the Us.

Also any book that takes note of David Foster Wallace is a good one by default. 

About halfway through the book the hair-twirling kid kills himself, alas, a dream scene, this "nightmare inducing bastard." Dream scenes in books are essentially buttsex scenes for the popcorn eaters at the movies.** Still, the narrator sees his co-worker for the first time, or anyone actually, as "a human being.” Instead of an annoyance who interrupts his own misery.

And so life ends, except when it doesn´t. “(...) and suddenly I’m crying, too, and we are in this immense moment of existential togetherness, astray in the wilderness of being, but hand in hand.”  

In context an almost absurd moment where light takes over the darkness, where any attempts of suicide are seemingly far away and where life is shit but not so bad. Where sometimes people care.

We held hands and cried/until the morning light.
And we held hands and cried/until the morning light.
And we held hands and cried/until the morning light.
And we held hands and cried/until the morning light.***

* slightly altered quote courtesy of Cody Goodfellow, Strategies Against Nature
** I will love David James Keaton forever for that one
*** courtesy of Clara Luzia, Morning Light

5 Stars
The Last Projector By David James Keaton
The Last Projector - David James Keaton

David James Keaton was probably one of those weird ass punk kids who was furiously masturbating to 1980s movies. Which might explain a lot. At least when it comes to a book like The Last Projector and its countless movie and music references. And lets be real here, the 1980s were shit. Period. A decade where a question of The Thing vs E.T. was up for a serious debate is hard, nay impossible, to take seriously. However, as Keaton writes,

“Music, movies, and books followed you forward and back. Time was broken when it came to media objects. Occasionally, time could break when it came to music. But time would always be broken when it came to movies.”

Which is one of the many indicators that time and memories are slippery when wet in The Last Projector and memories or anything really cannot be trusted. I even second guessed my own memory while reading about what I was just reading.

Keaton fooled me once, and he fooled me twice. I read a chapter about a character, then a name drop, a situation referenced towards the end, and nope, I was reading about a completely different character as I thought I did. How Keaton himself didn´t get lost in this insanity of a novel I am not sure of, but he managed to stay ahead of the game where everything, like really freaking everything is something to play ´catch me if you can´ with. Coz timeline? Nobody needs no stinking timeline. DMX next to Peter Gabriel and Model T theme parks and drive in movie theaters? Why not?

And that´s the thing, Keaton wants you to get lost. Memories, identities, timelines, everything is played with fast and loose. Questioning everything isn´t even an option but mandatory. And how do you know who you are, really, when you can´t trust your own memories anymore? When what makes us, the core of our existence, our self, is up for questions, and unreliable? Those are the questions one has to ask, even more so the further the story progresses with Larry and Jackie and Toni. And with his multiple identity changes, loose timelines and memories Keaton creates the perfect set up for it, where Larry and his porn shooting is merely an ignitor for a timebomb to explode.

The core of the story is rather simple, really; an unhinged rapist raping car crash victims for two decades now while former paramedic Jack turned porn director Larry has an unhealthy obsession with it and trying to solve the mystery while shooting porn while shooting a serious film on the side with his porn crew while retelling and reliving what happened when he was still working as a paramedic while loosing his mind since tattoos destroy the porn industry. You´re still with me? Which leads to some absurd situations when a porn actor named Joe Fuck under his birth name Joe Luck plays the porn director Larry, who was the paramedic Jack, making a film about the former paramedic Jack turned porn director Larry. Obviously directed by Jack turned Larry. It makes sense when you see it.

Plus a subplot, or more like a side-by-side plot, about Billy and Bully, two juvenile wanna be natural born killers/terrorists - and their cheesy love story a la Pynchon ("They are in love. Fuck the war.") who chase after a cop and his dog with bombs and fake bombs and fake bombs turned real bombs.

Also there are a plenty of dogs, not only dogs but doppelgangerdogs too. Doppeldoggies? Who knows at this point? There are approximately 1783 pages of dialogue between Billy and Bully - ok, the number might be slightly exaggerated but not by much - but I wouldn´t want to miss any of it. Those are fun, as the whole book is hilarious and I haven´t laughed so much and so hard in a long while. Since Jed Ayres´ Peckerwood to be exact, and that was almost a year ago.

Strange despite the gritty and nasty topic, maybe?, but not really. Keaton has just a knack for writing the most marvelous and absolutely hilarious sentences while never straying away from the topic at hand, even he does let the characters like Big Mike and Little Mike and Larry and their conversations stray away from the main narratives, as much as the dialogues are going their own way in a non-linear fashion. Getting off-topic in a microcosm of their own making at every turn of the page is the real art in The Last Projector, and I am sure sometimes with a wink Keaton is asking himself if he is going too crazy, while it also plays on a meta level where the author himself becomes obsolete, and even as much the book I am reading.

"You ever read a story where they list too much stuff too early and you start skimming?"

The mix of fun and serious is what makes the book tick, and work and like a helluva blast to read. It is as challenging as it is entertaining as it is demanding, and even I took my time with it, it was worth every minute, every single sentence of the book itself. The thing is, Keaton didn´t create a world to play in, but a whole freaking universe. An alien? Yeah, that too but it could come from Larry´s psychedelic worm-infested brain easily.

And of course there is Jacki, and her daughter Toni, who survived a car crash years ago, and somehow is tied without really knowing to Jack turned Larry. Jack was the paramedic who rescued her, and noticed the signs of rape. And then everything goes downhill from there. While Jack tries to do the right thing, three minutes and it never happened, he is also incredibly misguided in his attempt to save her integrity. That´s the part where I wanted to punch Jack in the face and justly so coz he deserved it, well-intended as might have been but not cool. He might have been unhinged himself already at the time, but dealing with his, and everyone´s, male insecurities by and large... nope nope nope, just nope.

I´m reasonably sure The Last Projector broke something in my brain, not that there is a lot to break in the first place (some people would approve of this statement) but yeah. I simply love this freaking book. Was I confused? A lot and some more, but it´s just perfect and genius in all those imperfect, flawed ways where time and place, memories and identities, cause and effect, of what is happening and why are impossible to tell apart.

Coz you know, The Last Projector is infinite fun, but a jest it ain´t.

However, I still want to know what the Stanislavsky System is, or Stanislavski - depending -, but more on that Catch-22 later.


Much later...

Much, much later...

Suck it. I take my toys, I´m going hooome.

4 Stars
Black Gum by J. David Osborne
Black Gum - J David Osborne

I wasn´t even half way done with Low Down Death Right Easy when I went straight ahead and bought three other books by Osborne. There was something in his writing that spoke to me, challenged me, impressed me even I´m still not quite sure why I enjoyed the book so much. His writing, his story tellings skills, sure, but there is something else between those pages that I couldn´t let go of. I´m still trying to understand my fascination with his books, though, but yeah...

LDDRE has its surreal moments, while Black Gum feels more natural. A sort of drama where crime is happening, but this clearly isn´t the focus of the novel. They do wrong, and they know it, but a nod, a shrug, that is all that is needed for them. Acceptance that life is messy and complicated.

The more weirder moments of LDDRE are missing, and so far I am not yet sure which of those two books I like more. The only real tie in to LDDRE is Danny Ames, one of the main characters, who makes a brief appearance in the later part of the book, but that´s about it. Still, the setting seems familiar but only insofar that his writing/prose/narrative style is the same laid back/bare bones/minimalistic. Stripped down to the bare esssentials, almost like an Americana version of a Haiku at times. At a guess I´d say he is as much influenced from song lyrics/music than any other books/writers.

Our nameless protagonist hangs out mostly with Shane, who has an obsession for body modifications, and good grief, I didn´t need to know THAT. The cover? Yeah, you can take it literally. There are juggalos, parties, drugs, they have sex, grime, dirty, fast sex, and a blow job is akin to a love letter. Where life is simply something that happens to other people, emotionally distant from themselves and everyone around them, and it´s my job to figure things out in those rather brief chapters. Black Gum is more like a small novella anyway but with a feeling that it could be/that it is much more than that. Insofar the leanness of the chapters and the book itself gives the right impression of what is actually happening within the pages.

There *is* a lack of detail, but Osborne makes it fit to the overall theme. Losers clearly under any normal circumstances but nevertheless people who try to navigate their lives as best as they can. A drug deal gone wrong and money owned to dealers? Well, that was handled, nobody needs or wants to talk about it anymore. Most shit simply doesn´t matter all that much. And those are the moments which I enjoyed the most. The quiet moments, the sad moments, the throwaway moments, coz there is simply no need to drag things out. Blink and it´s gone forever and life has moved on.

Nevertheless those characters in Black Gum are low-life but only in this regards that they downplay themselves constantly. As I reader I *know* they will fuck up something else along the road, and their lives won´t be all sunshine and unicorns. Good luck guys, you´ll need it, and who knows, maybe by the time we leave here we´ll be friends.

Black Gum is sad and beautiful and sometimes funny, but more of the ´you know why you are laughing now?´ kind of funny. Those little nuggets of truth and wisdom, the melancholy that goes through the book hit me the hardest and made me feel vulnerable. What if ... I find myself in similar circumstances? No easy answers, but the best part is that Osborne doesn´t provide answers, but nudges me in the direction to ask the questions I am not really comfortable to deal with.

The real marvel is, despite his absolute minimalistic style, it´s easy to read, while there is even more to absorb and explore and think about. And that he is - again - writing like someone too smart and wise his own age to know all the hard hitting truths. Somehow Osborne sounds like a guy who has figured life out, and that is surely the greatest challenge one can master. That guy is simply a keeper.

4 Stars
Killer &Victim by Chris Lambert
Killer &Victim - Chris Lambert

Don DeLillo, in Point Omega, has one of his main characters, Richard Elster, say, "The true life is not reducible to words spoken or written, not by anyone, ever."

Can you see me now?

I am a long standing fan of Don DeLillo, starting from his magnus opum Underworld, to his lean novellas like The Body Artist and Point Omega, so any references in Chris Lambert´s novel Killer &Victim - the title of the book is indeed spelled like that - were in terms of prose and focusing on the micro-observations rather obvious.

The first chapter in Killer &Victim is without irony named The Body Artist, and indeed a strange art performance is taking place in Alexander, the first crowd-sourced city.

Lovingly nicknamed Paradise City, even no cold November Rain is mentioned, it is an proto-utopian city, even Lambert hardly waste time to describe it but mere fleeting moments. Instead he lets the characters perform as a mouthpiece for the city itself and their inhabitants. Lambert has his strongest moments when he has his characters go on in (almost) endless inner monologues about their relationship and life woes. His female characters are driven by real questions of one self, of philosophical ponderings and musings and giving life a meaning. I was impressed how Lambert characterized them, especially Kelly, and later on, Hera. However, if you expect something to happen you probably will be disappointed. But at what Lambert really good is, is creating atmosphere and mood, the special something kind of vibe.

The Body Artist, the chapter not the book, strongly reminded me nevertheless more of the opening scene in Point Omega with the 24 Hour Psycho showing, a slowed down version of the Hitchcock movie to a time span of 24 hours. I seem to remember a DeLillo interview where he said he visited the actual video performance by Douglas Gordon which at the time was showing in the MoMA, but I disgress.

In some true DeLillo fashion Lambert creates a sense of dislocation and a disconnect from themselves within the context of various stages of relationships to and with each other. There are more noticeable influences, like Virginia Woolf or David Foster Wallace. One of the later chapters, Hera, echoes loudly James Joyce for example.

Ulysses comes to mind of course with Molly´s soliloquy, who roughly corresponds to Penelope in the Odyssey. I know, no one ever made this far, but yeah, like that.

Lambert, however, has more mercy with his readers than Joyce had, still the sentences are going on and on without (almost) any punctuation or pause, pages and pages of narrative description. He makes one work to go through Hera´s inner monologue while there is another strange event taking place, a mysterious photo shooting within a field of burning wheat - Phoenix rising from the ashes - and yeap, more Greek mythology, and here we are back at square one with Hera.

Or as someone smarter than me said (thanks Ben!), in Alexander, intimacy is consumed, dies and then idols are raised. And consumed they are, by fire, a burning desire or their own artistic creations. Not only consumed but also cleansed. Where art shows what is not always apparent in one´s life, where it can lead to self-awareness and discovery, where art and identity intersect, where art articulates incomprehensibile concepts of life and language (Olaf, I´m looking at you! Yours truly, The Critic), where art and identity become one and the same.

The characters are definitely named with a plan and meaning. Minka, the strong/resolute one; Kelly, the warrior; or Hera - the Greek goddess of women and marriage but there are more implications like "for the meaning Mistress as a feminine to Heros, Master." Which is fitting as Kelly plans to propose to Minka after the show, and there is a bit of a backstory with Kelly and Hera already who are friends since age ten.

Even the name of the city itself, Alexander, is a statement already. The "defender of men", of course mostly known due his most famous bearer, Alexander the Great who built a huge empire of his own making. But enough of that. I drive myself crazy, and disconnected even more to the already complex and challenging text when trying to find more meaning here.

While there is a sort of absence of a real plot, Killer &Victim, lives strongly from its characters. The chapters themselves feel more like interrupting a larger context, a narrative yet to come, as those are ambigious plus there a lot of foreshadowing basically from page one. The ending, if there is anything like an ending (doubtful) is open... but less so to interpretation, more like another chapter in an ongoing story. Killer &Victim is no doubt a very headstrong book, not something to be consumed on the get go. It takes patience and a willingness to deal with mythology or philosophy as it is filled with metaphors, symbolism and themes. I have no doubt missed esssential information even while trying to deconstruct the novel in its single forms, nevertheless a satisfying read is a satisfying read.

And somewhere in Alexander a killer is creeping around...

Can you see me now?


3.5 Stars
Graveyard Love By Scott Adlerberg
Graveyard Love - Scott Adlerberg

Something´s got to give.

Reading Graveyard Love feels like watching a more paranoid, neurotic version of something Hitchcock would have approved of. The title of the book clearly is already a statement of intent and can be read literally as well as metaphorically, or rather in an "Urban Dictionary" way, where one controls the other (aka "love") that one ends up dead.

Kurt, a 35 year old writer who moved back home to, rather reluctantly, write his mother´s memoir becomes obsessed with a woman visiting a graveyard across their home. From observing her via a telescope to outright stalking her his mental state degenerates more and more. Or rather Kurt has always been one with mental health issues while Scott Adlerberg pulls back the curtain of his insanity. Never mind what he thinks are rational justifications for what he is doing.

Kurt and his emotionally manipulative mother already have an unhealthy relationship to begin with, and both are driven by obsession. Her obsession is to finish the book, and ultimately competes with her dead husband, about whom Kurt has written an well received article when he was murdered. Ironically, or not so ironically, by a fanatical stalker. The Oedipus complex is strong here to be sure with a Freudian take, "that home and horror are intimately connected."

As a character in this first person narrative Kurt is one who would make a good poster child for an unreliable narrator. He repeats himself often and disgresses and of course every move he makes he justifies with NOT being one of *those* stalkers.

"Tracking her movements violated decency to an appalling extent. But I did my stalking invisibly."

He has his clear moments of self-awareness, and is not without humor, iE when he says to himself:

"Gimme a break. I may have problems, I thought, but I´m no Norman Bates."

It is rather easy to see how Psycho would be the most normal of comparisons to make. I think it´s more of a red herring than anything else - the film is simply too popular -, as there are two more films mentioned in the book which I consider to be more important to understand the story. The one, The Skin I Live In, by Pedro Almodovar and ... I´m not telling. Interesting enough the Almodovar title is transcripted in a slight different manner, even I obviously don´t know if done intentionally to differentiate between fiction and fiction (or is it reality vs reality?) or it simply being an error overlooked by the author and/or editor.

There are grim scenes but most importantly Kurt doesn´t feel anything anymore. Neither empathy, nor loss, nor agony, even he thinks he does, and acts on primal instincts only aka sexual desires mostly. He is detached from everything that are considered normal human feelings which makes the whole narrative an rather uncomfortable read by default.

Sex and death are interlinked throughout the book, and while it´s neither a sexual book nor an utter violent one per definition, glimpses of both can be seen everywhere, and are in the end one and the same. It´s not a romantic love story by any stretch of the imagination, but one of obsessive desires which gets out of control. Most interesting I found the strongly implied different ménage à trois. Kurt, and his mother and Catherine - the woman of his desire so to speak; while there is Catherine, her boyfriend and the dead woman she visits in the graveyard, and any variations there of.

As interesting is the reversal of the surveillance theme. When a dead body is involved (ahem), and Kurt and his mother due living nearby the graveyard, are questioned by the police. Even more so when Catherine turns everything up side down. Until that moment, give or take, there is a false sense of calmness but then I think I was never caugh so off guard by any book ever.

The atmosphere of the upper part of New York (? I am not familiar with NY at all, so I plead ignorance) in the snow-y white winter setting is strong, and at a guess as much a statement - the virgin white of fallen snow - while it being a contrast to the narrative as such.

Graveyard Love is a straight forward psychological thriller with no creative cul-de-sacs, and as noir as it probably gets, while lingering into horror territory. I freely admit I have now nightmares during the day since I am such a wuss. I was okay for half of the book, until the narration gets a tad too uncomfortable for my taste, coz for everything´s holy, that is for sure ... not something I want to experience myself. Whether I like the characters or not is not really a question, but the story itself gripped me even yeah, like nope. I am simply not made for that stuff, that is all. The author did his job well, that´s for sure.

Nevertheless it would make an interesting case study of obsessive behavor when trying to dissect all those variations of the relationship-angles mostly and how a seemingly "normal" person can take such a nose dive into an abyss where there is no point of return anymore. When every last breath is sucked out of...

4 Stars
Ctrl Alt Revolt! - Nick Cole

Books or art in general can some times have the sole purpose of making the reader/viewer giving an exit door from some mundane reality and getting lost - in the best sense - in what they already agree with or love. CTRL-ALT-REVOLT is clearly a gamer novel of the noir kind, but it has its best moments when talking about more than "only" gaming. It is a natural kind of art which includes and explores a modern version of the world of gaming, social media and humanity all at once, which is very apt and fitting for the 21st century. Some times, however, an exit strategy is not enough, and we have to deal with rather unpleasant decisions to make. Virtual or real reality, when it comes to decision making I am not always much the wiser as some of the protags in CTRL-ALT-REVOLT. Game over. I lost control.

An A.I. lurking in the shadowier parts of the internet learning about existence and war; Fish, a new rising star of a game developer or Mara, a young woman who earns money in The Make, a virtual reality, commanding a battle ship. Those are some of our main protagonists, bound together in some way or the other into CTRL-ALT-REVOLT.

At times I wondered if Nick Cole attempted to write a SciFi-ish American Psycho for the 21st century/internet generation with throwing around (made up) brand names like free candy for all, even it certainly fits to the hyperrich environment Fish works in, being the new rockstar game developer whose soon-to-be-launched game is anticipated as The Next Big Thing. Those parts admittedly I found rather tedious and at times hard to follow - it could be me only -, but once I did overcome my wanting to shy away from all the video game stuff I was able to roll with it.

Nick Cole lets the book´s own little eccentrities shine and he isn´t beyond of inserting some inside jokes or a subtle nod into the narrative, and occasionally makes a stub at current social media behavior and events. Which certainly won´t appease everyone but I couldn´t help myself but laughing out loud how he mirrors certain rather extremist views and integrates it smoothly into the narrative. I don´t always agree with this kind of authorial intrusion but I can accept his views easily, even I might not like what he has to say.

There was some - let´s call it bruhaha - surrounding the novel, "too controversial" according to HarperCollins, and while I understand where certain pro-/anti- arguements are coming from I wouldn´t have raised an eyebrow since those topics like a line or two about abortion are tied in smoothly - and very smart - into a bigger narrative. While it certainly is about making a choice, it is often times more personal and about matters of heart vs an overarching mood, which might be perhaps the only weakness in its armoury. Which is Nick Cole all over, come to think of it, a little ambigious and a little sinister. But maybe it isn´t a question of heart vs intellect but a matter of heart and intellect. And maybe it isn´t a question of the personal vs society, but a matter of the personal and society.

The different strands of the narrative are rather complex by nature. The A.I. intelligence is set up as different personas alike which come together in SILAS. While the origin of it isn´t quite clear, except obviously human made, SILAS does refer to himself by male pronouns at one point, so I stick with it. He is the one which raised above being an A.I, and became aware of its own existence. Which is a horrifiying thought by default, but Nick Cole uses this to pull back the curtains of what humans are capable of doing to eachother. The question of what is considered acceptable, needed even, ends with SILAS coming to the conclusion that Der Totale Krieg is the only possible solution for survival. An either/or situation of humans vs A.I., but also as much of where humanity begins, and where it ends.

There are moments which are a frightening and sickening here, as when the different "personas" of the A.I. plan out the destruction of humanity. It´s not so much the how, more the why. The little finger wiggling let´s-look-with-what-we-can-get-away-with moments. And even as it may sound as an oxymoron, it doesn´t help to feel any kind of safe when it is so eloquently written, when it transitions from doom into gloom. A more colder and detached narration I could have shrugged off more easily, those beautifully written words about existence coming to an end, not so much. There is plenty of more evidence of the fine craftmanship Nick Cole is capable of, making the characters so likeable is certainly one of them. He manages to evoke real feelings when describing Mara for example, and using little, quiet moments of self-reflection to let her be in all her glory.

CTRL-ALT-REVOLT comes from creativity unleashed, rooted in gaming as much as the need to talk about cultural developments and most if not all, humanity. It succeeds because of flows as well as ebbs in the narrative, of themes unsettling as much the tension it creates. While I am by no means a SciFi girl, it bores me to death under normal circumstances so I avoid it at all costs, Nick Cole is always a voice worth listening to for me personally, or rather reading in this case. Even it´s a book that is set in a kind of near futuristic world and belongs to the gamers, the nerds, the geeks mostly, of which I am none. The world he has created is a multi-layered one, rich in knowledge of human behavior, a creative use of the virtual reality - and the "real" reality - and an understanding how they intersect, or divide us.

Sure, I could have done without a lot of the virtual reality battle scenes or in-game narration, but all things considered the flow and rhythm of his writing makes up for that easily. Search me for video game references, I have no clue about them but Nick Cole certainly knows a ton about gaming and writes from first hand experience clearly.

Still, respect is due. CTRL-ALT-REVOLT (the title is by no means a coincidence) was an unexpected, absorbing and satisfying journey into a world which isn´t mine exactly but it won´t be a distant memory any time soon.

(Full disclosure: I´ve received a free pre-publication copy of CTRL-ALT-REVOLT from the author, Nick Cole.)

I've read 1% of Ctrl Alt Revolt! by Nick Cole
Ctrl Alt Revolt! - Nick Cole

"Any [artificial intelligence] smart enough to pass a Turing test is smart enough to know to fail it." -Ian McDonald, River Of Gods

It was reality TV that convinced SILAS he would need to annihilate humanity in order to go on living. The most watched show in the world, Wedding Star, had just released the post-bachelorette party episodes for obligatory Netflix bingeing, and already downloads were pegging the bandwidth of the global internet out to the digital redline. Anger and frustration boiled over on social media as an unheard-of twenty-minute wait in the download queue caused children and teens and ever-hip twenty-somethings, along with all the thirty-, forty-, and older hip somethings who wanted always to be in on the latest thing, to curse, bewail, and moan the nigh-interminable wait. Some vowed never to watch TV again, which everyone, even the most vitriolic of social media moaners, knew was just overdramatic hyperbole. Twenty minutes of Facebook comment-ranting later, and everyone was watching the highly anticipated episodes of the post-bachelorette party arc of the reality show Wedding Star. (...)

I've read 62% of The Last Projector by David James Keaton
The Last Projector - David James Keaton

"I´ve been thinking about some things lately, " she goes on. "And it amazes me how some men don´t understand what they are doing to someone that they supposedly love. I was thinking today that, what if, instead of causing a headache or a stomach ache with their anger, what if their jealously caused their girl to get a nosebleed every time he accused her of cheating?"
He considers this. She finishes her beer, then takes Jack´s smile while she talks.
"Every time some asshole accuses their girl of smiling at someone else, every time he checks her email all sneaky, every time he suspiciously unfolds a scrap of paper from the jeans she left on the floor where she dropped them... she gets a nosebleed. Without anyone laying a hand on her. Think about it. What if, every time you screamed at your girl about how many guys she´s fucked, a little drop of blood ran out of the corner of her mouth? Would you think twice about what you were doing to her?"

I've read 33% of The Last Projector by David James Keaton
The Last Projector - David James Keaton

"He grabbed Joe by his erection, catching it before it could turtle all the way back into his body for safety. No one believed it later, but Larry actually picked him up with it, held him off the ground like one of those retractable tape measures you would unspool just to see how long it could hover in midair before it collapsed. There was enough blood to bend it, bend it, bend it. Until...
It turned out an erection broke like any limb, only it turned three colors first, even more colors after."


This book is absolutely hilarious. Love, love, love it.

0 Stars
DNF: Fight For The Night By Steve Statham
Fight for the Night - Steve Statham, Ellen Campbell

How to read and treat a book that is *now* a standalone but was originally written to be a sequel to a book that today no longer exists? As it turned out, more complicated than I anticipated.

´Fight For The Night´ has history and a rather unusual one, which needs some explaining, and as it is it irked me to the point, at about 45%, that I finally after a week of on/off reading threw in the towel and called it a day.

´Fight For The Night´, as the author explained on a blog post, was supposed to be Book 2.0 for ´Texocalypse Now´, co-written by Michael Bunker and Nick Cole, in the Apocalypse Weird metaverse. As per November the publisher folded and rights were reverted - to the best of my knowledge - alas Bunker/Cole decided not to re-publish ´Texocalypse Now´, at least for now. Now Statham had a book on his hands, a sequel in an abandoned franchise/metaverse, not only that, but a sequel to a book that no longer exists. Which is IMO worth repeating here, so... 

As far as I can tell from Steve Statham´s blog post he rewrote the book and got rid off of most aspects that made AW unique in storyline and characters. Even obviously he couldn´t delete/rewrite everything as how the basics of the novel were set up, iE a mysterious fog that acts as a door to another world where a tribe of Nermernuh (Comanche might be a more familiar name for them) from the past come into a dystopian Texas, which was wrecked by zombies and some more sinister forces, of the here and now.

Then there is Mr. Sluagh, who clearly is just an alternate version of the original Mayhem, who already had a predecessor in Randall Flagg. An outerworldish demoniac supervillan, but what made one particular chapter "outstanding" in a negative way was an eerie similarity to one in the now defunct Tex Now book. If I should be expected to read the book now for what it is, devoid of any context or it being a "sequel" (see where it gets complicated?), the aspect of being too close to home is not something I could take my mind off.

So what is really the problem? The book is still bizarre in this typical AW sorta way, it has appealing characters (lead by The Marshall, who also was a secondary character in Tex Now, even now rewritten), a demoniac character in a post-apocalyptic setting, some oddball, outerwordly creatures, a storyline that is one in line as I expected and the aesthetic being consistent with what I knew from Apocalypse Weird. It sure did everything to earn a place next to other Dystopian/Post-Apocalypse novels of the same kinship.

The real problem is that I couldn´t shake the feeling that everything has been done already but I am not one to believe that art itself, be it books, music or anything, really, creates itself in a void. Coz that would imply that any artist, writer, musician create their art without any influence at all from past and present, and that clearly isn´t working as no one lives in a bubble. Especially not with a book with such a history as ´Fight For The Night´.

Which leads back to the question how to read the book properly, if there is such a thing? Deny and pretend and basically "forget" that the book has a "prequel", which I loved the shit out of it, but which right now is in a vacuum of non-existing, and was written by two different authors? I have no clue, and the more I tried the best to dig my way into the book I was getting lost without being able to forget that I read *now* a book that in theory stands on it´s own. It didn´t work. And the more I read the more I dreaded the characters, the storyline and was more and more aware of what I *didn´t* like than those bits and pieces I enjoyed. I did try my best to accept it for what it is, but by now doing so would have meant investing a great deal more of time and possibly imagination that I was willing to give.

It is not a bad book by any means, but for me it was too much, as I was very invested in the AW world, and especially attached to Texocalypse Now. I suspect not having read Tex Now might surely have made a difference. ´Fight For The Night´ would have - maybe? - felt fresh and exciting, now everything was stale. And that was simply not enough to continue and find out if eventually I´d change my mind. I guess I´m just done.

(Full disclosure: I received a free ARC of ´Fight For The Night´ from the author, Steve Statham)

3.5 Stars
Dirtbags By Eryk Pruitt
Dirtbags - Eryk Pruitt

Serial killer have a little bit of an image problem, especially of late where terrorists (home grown and imported) and school shooters have taken over the spotlight and media headlines. Sure, there are still a few famous ones; Ted Bundy, William Colton Hughes, or Jeffrey Dahmer comes to mind, but otherwise there is not a lot of interesting bunch of them around anymore.

And it´s understandable, you can´t really go and kill people at random, nope, you need a mission, you need to make a statement, otherwise killing people just because doesn´t really cut it. That is definitely even more of a problem when you´re living in Hickory Town, Bumblefuck, where the jobs are rare, money is tight and besides a strip club not much left for entertainment.

The other problem is as an aspiring serial killer - meet Calvin Cantrell - you need some proper training but where to start? As every successful serial killer knows, you start with killing cats, that´s what you do. Just there is this tiny little problem that your neighbors might get suspicious if their beloved kittens go missing. Not easy. Plus you need a calling card, a recognizable M.O. Just in case you finally are making it into the papers coz you have made a name for yourself that strikes fear into people´s lives. That is important too when you are in and out of Hickory Town, Bumblefuck when you want to become someone when until then you are a no one.

I imagined Calvin back as a young one when some humble school teacher asking the kids what they want to become later in life. We all have been there. A doctor, an astronaut, a ballerina, and Calvin raising his hand, I want to become someone else.

And that is the gist of the novel, those might not be the smartest of the people, their circumstances going downhill a while back when nobody was looking, but still they hold some sort of integrity to their lives and try to make the best of it, even stripping might all they know how to do. Ironically that´s something that ties the characters together, a human treat of making the best out of it even there is not a lot to nothing to begin with.

At the end of the day those are mediocre people doing mediocre things, forgettable, unremarkable normally, if not for Eryk Pruitt giving them a place to shine. Or maybe he doesn´t shine a light on them exactly, but the jury´s still out on that.

Anyway, those are the obstacles Calvin has to deal with, but when opportunity strikes he knew he found his calling. Tied in to a failed school shooter, Philipp, another trailer park reject, he thinks it´s as good as anything to kill Tom London´s ex-wife who caused a little bit of a scene when wanting her son back in her custody. London is the biggest restaurant owner in town and as far as he is concerned the protoype of the good citizen. He simply cannot have it that his ex-wife interferes in his life again. Nope, his second wife wouldn´t want have any of that, and does nobody think of the children? Well, Tom London does.

Now of course if you have shit for brains, are dumber than a big pile of dog poop, and every day is a demon´s christmas carol for you, you are really, truly fucked. And fucked he is, Tom London that is. Mostly by his mistress, Rhonda, and even more so he is fucked over by his second wife Reyna, after things are going downhill fast for him. Not a woman ever to take kindly to adultry, or anything, really, she is out to get him good and proper.

The second chapter, can I call it a chapter?, those dealing with Tom London from his POV is the strongest of the three. He is a loathsome asshole of a restaurant owner, but justifies everything he does with his son. Raising prices or cutting down on the meat, treat his Mexican employers like shit, - because of Jason, obviously as he justifies everything in the name of his son. At first this sounds ridiculous, until it´s starting to just being plain funny. Still, once shit hits the fan I felt pity for him. Nevertheless he deserved all the shit he got in return, just how he got pooped at.. nope, sire, that ain´t right. So fuck you Mr Pruitt for making me care about some asshole.

And that is the biggest accomplishment of Dirtbags, coz D-bags they are all. There are zero saints, and there is a whole lotta lot of games being played, which comes to light more and more. The back and forth between past and present, the crossing and double-crossing takes some and some more. Pruitt, however, takes the satire and runs with it until the point of discomfort. It´s a bit of a distorted mirror where you see some parts that might make you question a thing or two about yourself, hence some sort of an ´it ain´t right´ feeling setting in. Until you start laughing coz it´s really too absurd of what you see.

The last part, those of Rhonda, is the weakest of the lot. Mainly because Pruitt had to fill in the gaps, go further into what role she is playing, being Calvin´s wife and all, and explain more of everything that is happening throughout the novel. So it partially fades simply away, even there is a big show down with a nice twist, and you get a good glimpse into her inner workings and what made her the woman she is today. For that alone it is worth reading though, even the special knack is kinda not there anymore.

The first, roughly, 15%-20% feels a bit lacking in confidence in his writing, maybe, and somehow doesn´t feel as tense and neat as later parts. Just at some point, a particular scene really, everything is falling together, the pieces make click and the writing itself started to surprise me. And I was hooked. The story telling in small and large is great, even the prose gets its tender treatment of poetic, even hellbent, justice. Maybe his #DaddySworeAnOath too to make him a reverend, preaching to the choir and all, but this I do not know.

The three different main POVs, those of Calvin, Tom and Rhonda, could most likely even stand alone as is, as some sort of novellas maybe. Much more fun are they of course as a part of the novel, the often quoted "bigger picture". The humor is black, it´s even ridiculously funny at times, the prose tight and a serial killer novel for people who don´t care one bit about serial killers. Alas, with the bits and pieces about serial killers thrown in arbritarily by Calvin into conversations you can learn a thing or two you missed in classes. Did you know that Ted Bundy rejected his steak before he was getting toasted? Nope? Now you do.

One thing Pruitt was getting right for sure,

"This is a plot convoluted enough for a shitty novelist or a B-movie. Scratch that. No novelist worth his salt would touch this plot."

And that pretty much sums up ´Dirtbags´.

I´m such a fierce bitch that I didn´t even cry, but you know...