I haven’t really been too active here lately. This isn’t a deliberate thing. I’m toying with the idea of a new blog. I think I’m going to do it.
So here’s Terrorizer Magazine’s top 40 albums of 2010:
1. Triptykon – Eparistera Daimones
2. Enslaved – Axioma Ethica Odini
3. Watain – Lawless Darkness
4. Ghost – Opus Anonymous
5. Electric Wizard – Black Masses
6. Burzum – Belus
7. Swans – My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky
8. Kvelertak – Kvelertak
9. Darkthrone – Cirlce the Wagons
10. Killing Joke – Absolute Dissent
11. Christian Mistress – Agony and Opium
12. Black Breath – Heavy Breathing
13. Anathema – We’re Here Because We’re Here
14. Iron Maiden – The Final Frontier
15. Ihsahn – After
16. Dillinger Escape Plan – Option Paralysis
17. Negura Bunget – Virstele Pamintului
18. Alcest – Ecailles De Luna
19. Gnaw Their Tongues – L’Arrivee de la Terne Mort Triomphante
20. Winterfylleth – The Mercian Sphere
21. Twilight – Monuments to Time End
22. Cathedral – The Guessing Game
23. Nachtmystium – Addicts: Black Meddle Part II
24. Rotting Christ – Aealo
25. Kylesa – Spiral Shadow
26. Enforcer – Diamonds
27. Bastard Priest – Under the Hammer of Destruction
28. Hail of Bullets – On Divine Winds
29. High on Fire – Snakes for the Divine
30. Shining – Black Jazz
31. Ion Dissonance – Cursed
32. Vomitor – Devils Poison
33. Agalloch – Marrow of the Spirit
34. The Ocean – Heliocentric
35. Athiest – Jupitor
36. Sabbath Assembly – Restored to One
37. Abcess – Dawn on Inhumanity
38. Integrity – The Blackest Curse
39. Slough Feg – The Animal Spirits
40. Ludicra – The Tenant
Sébastien Doubinsky is one of those gloriously frustrating individuals who, in my selfish stupor, seem to exist in order to make you feel inadequate. Born in France, then spending some time in the US, moving back to France and then moving to Denmark, he has work penned in multiple languages. This is where the inadequacy sets in – he’s his own translator! Glancing at his bibliography, I’m presented with a tantilising list of titles in both French and Danish that I’ll NEVER get to read. Instead, I’m left with his only English novel to date, THE BABYLONIAN TRILOGY.
THE BABYLONIAN TRILOGY is comprised of three lengthy shorts set in the fictional city of Babylon. The chapters within each story are broken down into many individual threads that, as the story progresses, begin to bind. The structure of each story is fascinating and requires time for the reader to orient themselves. Doubinsky doesn’t allow you to linger on one moment too long before plucking you away and dropping you into another. Peppered throughout each story are aphoristic meditations about life that lend a distinct gravitas to the proceedings.
Rather than a story as such, I’d label THE BAYLONIAN TRIOLOGY a book about themes. The setting of Babylon is used to dissect issues that are so firmly embedded in our world that it’s hard to read it as fantasy. In the first story, an ever present, unending war is occurring far away from Babylon, yet, the tendrils of the war affect everything. From the soldiers themselves, we’re taken into the mind of a bloodthirsty journalist who just wants to exploit the devastation and capture the grandeur of death on camera for the distanced, pacified television audience to consume. We are introduced to a struggling author, with ALL the typical pretences, who exploits the war in order to find elusive success. The second story concerns a detective on the hunt for a serial killer and smears on a thick topping of noir to invigorate it. The third story concerns the nature of Babylon itself and reinforces the previous two stories as three protagonists try and escape the city.
As mentioned earlier, I believe this book to be about themes more than narrative. Of course, the narrative is there – it’s just that the themes of the book are so strong and all-encompassing. It’s difficult to respect many of the characters within, even if you do find yourself identifying with them more than you’d probably like. Consider the plight of the struggling author. He is obsessed with the stereotypical conceits that go along with being an author. He spends time staring at a wall of rejection slips while embracing ennui. He cheats on his girlfriend; more to experience the fleeting sexual encounters that he believes inspire authors than anything else. You get the sense it’s merely in order to pine for her when the relationship inevitably breaks. For me, the key to unlocking this book can be found within the story about the reporter. Those around her can see ‘death in her eyes’ and it’s clear she’s mining misery for her own gain. It’s hard to know whether she follows death or if death follows her. The reader will be inclined to turn her into a monster while ignoring their own morbid fascination with death as entertainment. And this is what I like so much about THE BAYLONIAN TRIOLOGY – it is a story about us. I love the discomfort that results when forced to contemplate my weaknesses. We’re all so flawed.
THE BAYLONIAN TRIOLOGY is a very idiosyncratic book, told in a way that will lead some to frustration. I wasn’t frustrated in the slightest and enjoyed the slight Altman-esque vibe that infused the many different strands of narrative. I recommend this book very highly. I can’t wait for Doubinsky to write his next English book.
THE BABYLONIAN TRILOGY is available from PS Publishing.
There’s a new genre rising from the underground. Its name: BIZARRO. For years, readers have been asking for a category of fiction dedicated to the weird, crazy, cult side of storytelling that has become a staple in the film industry (with directors such as David Lynch, Takashi Miike, Tim Burton, and even Lloyd Kaufman) but has been largely ignored in the literary world, until now.
Periodically, the leading press in the Bizarro movement, Eraserhead Press, release what they call a Bizarro Starter Kit. These starter kits highlight novellas and short stories by authors within the movement and give a very cost effective way of tasting what Bizarro is all about. Yesterday, the third Starter Kit (Purple) was released and, I’m very honoured to report, I am one of the authors featured.
I couldn’t be more chuffed about this if I tried. Even in the world of underground writing I’m an unknown. I have one book to my name and a handful of published shorts. That I was asked to participate was genuinely unexpected and means a lot to me. The first starter kit was my introduction to Bizarro, and to think that I’m now in one of them does strange things to my brain jelly. To think I’m being featured alongside authors whom I personally respect greatly is just a big ol’ WOW.
2 of my stories from A Million Versions of Right have been included (the title story and The Great Headphone Wank) along with a brand new story I’m very proud of called ‘Concentration Tongue’. Here’s the full lineup:
Russell Edson – prose poems
Athena Villaverde – Clockwork Girl
David Agranoff – Punkupines of the Apocalypse
Matthew Revert – (the three above-mentioned stories)
Andrew Goldfarb – comics
Jeff Burk – Cripple Wolf
Garrett Cook – Re-Mancipator
Kris Saknussemm – Sparklewheel
Cody Goodfellow – Homewreckers
Cameron Pierce – The Destroyed Room
So please, consider supporting the underground and lay down $10 on a wealth of really fantastic writing. You can purchase this book from Amazon right here. A big thank you to those who have already let me know they’ve purchased it. You people are swell.
I’ve timed this review to coincide with October 14th’s ‘The Day Your Heart Stood Still…Day’, in which people are urged to purchase this book on Amazon as a show of underground unity. A link to the Amazon page can be found below the review.
Bradley Sands is unlike most authors you’ve probably read. It’s not really suitable to label his work “Bizarro” or “Absurd”, even though it certainly is Bizarre and absurd. His work is more like a very carefully crafted patchwork quilt of sheer oddity and confusion. His stories are a leaning tower of mind-melting scenarios that bleed into each other, forming a thread by virtue of their placement. Saying this may give you the impression that Sands is a chaotic randomist, however, this isn’t true either. Reading the stories in ‘My Heart Said No, But the Camera Crew Said YES!” reveals the care and craftsmanship involved.
Consider the following passage from the story, ‘Terror in the Haunted House’:
“An Eiffel Tower struts down the hallway in a sexy maid’s uniform, blitzkrieging the high ceiling with its feather boa duster. The canvas of Lord Remarkably Stiff For His Age bubbles over its frame like a pan of stovetop popcorn. Then the painting extracts itself from the wall, uncovering a crevice and the backside of the painting’s true ally against gravity. Super Noxious Air Man and his sidekick, Kid Centrifugal Force, fight to make the world safe for Dermatology – one incurable skin condition at a time – and the face of the brittle portrait putrefies.”
In isolation, it’s almost like an ultra dense piece of nano fiction. Now, pile these pieces of nano fiction together, following something akin to narrative in the process, and you have a Bradley Sands story. Depending on the sort of person you are, this either a great thing or a terrible thing. I fall firmly in the ‘great’ camp. I love how well-crafted this insanity is, and the imagery these stories provoke is quite unique.
In my mind, there are two ways to enjoy this book: you can let it all wash over you, or you can dive into each sentence and drink every word. I’m a drinker and found a lot of enjoyment slowly working through each sentence and tying them all together. This also leads to exhaustion (at least it did for me). I couldn’t read this book in large chunks. After each story, I felt like taking a little nap. During my down time, this book kept calling to me, asking me with subversive politeness to pick it up again. As I started each new story, I had a sense that this one wouldn’t hurt as bad – of course, I was always left trying to absorb the same chaos.
You’ll notice that I’m not really telling you what this book is about. This is very deliberate, because I feel it would belittle the content. It would be pointless for me to go into more detail than the blurb provides. It’s enough to say that it’s a chronicle of oddity – a cluster of confusion.
Bradley Sands is a fascinating author. His work is both uncompromising and delightfully playful. It can also be very funny and crass in the most unexpected ways. If you really take the time to imagine what he is describing, you brain will turn itself inside out in divine delirium. There were several points throughout that I was in complete hysterics. There are even moments where he touches upon what I’d classify ‘perfect nonsense’. This is nonsense so unapologetically nonsensical that all it can really do is make sense. I’m led to believe that Sands’ style has changed somewhat since this book, so it will be very interesting to read his upcoming books.
There’s nothing left to do but wholeheartedly recommend this book. Even by Bizarro standards you have to be an adventurous reader, but if you give yourself in to Sands’ world, there is ample reward in store. If you wind up throwing this book against a wall, well, it certainly says something about the power of the writing within. I love that writing like this exists and finds publication. The world needs it.
Travis was a gravy fiend. He didn’t want to be a gravy fiend, but we can’t really help who we are. He spent every day sucking up gravy from his gravy carpet. He preferred to consume gravy this way. It felt nice and the slurping sound it made aroused him.
Travis was a lonely man. The only person he knew was the lady who delivered his gravy every other day. She was a nice woman. Sometimes she bathed Travis and scoured the gravy chalk from his body hair. They didn’t really talk much. Travis was too afraid to talk at length. The only word he knew was ‘bashful’, which made conversation difficult. He intoned that word in many different ways to at least try to convey the way he felt. It rarely worked. The gravy woman would just politely smile and continue pouring gravy on his carpet.
Travis felt the most alone immediately after the woman left. Her movements through his home were like a spoon stirring a bowl of stagnation. It never took long for the stagnation to settle again. Rather than dwell, Travis would just resume sucking carpet gravy until he fell asleep. Some nights sleep refused to arrive, so Travis had to keep sucking and fighting the mounting exhaustion.
Travis gradually grew more and more attached to the gravy lady until one day, he decided he wanted to make her his wife. He didn’t know how to approach this. It was unlikely that she’d want to marry a man who spent every waking hour sucking carpet gravy but, at the same time, he knew he couldn’t stop. The only solution in his mind was to kidnap her.
The next time the gravy lady arrived, Travis acted calm. He watched as she emptied her large gravy vat onto the carpet. When the vat was empty, he stabbed the lady and shoved her limp body inside. With his mission complete, he started sucking the gravy again.
A few days later, Travis heard knocking sounds coming from within the vat. He was relieved, because this meant the gravy lady was still alive. He stabbed her harder than anticipated and she lost a lot of blood. Travis didn’t want to be a murderer – he just wanted a wife.
He was afraid to open the vat. There was a possibility the gravy lady would be angry and Travis didn’t deal with confrontation well. If he opened the lid and she started yelling, he’d be terribly ashamed. So he waited. Days turned into weeks, which became months. The knocking never stopped. The gravy carpet was now running out of gravy and he was getting worried. He had never run out of gravy before. He didn’t know what to do. If he let the lady out, she might yell at him. If he kept her in the vat, he would have no more gravy.
Deciding that it would be easier to deal with confrontation than run out of gravy, Travis opened the gravy vat. He was very nervous as he did this. He braced himself for a verbal tirade and peered inside. The gravy lady was nowhere to be seen. At the bottom of the empty vat was a phone number. Hoping this was the number for more gravy, he called it. After three rings, an automated message began.
If you would like more gravy, say YES now.
“Ever wondered what would fall into the category of being a true bloke’s novel ? Look no further as I have found the perfect fiction book for all those teen guys and adult men”
Other than being unusually worded, it did plant a little brainworm. I never specifically set out to write a ‘male’ book, although with the constant references to male genitalia and sexuality, it’s an understandable conclusion. I remember during the formative stages of writing the book, one of my male friends believed there was some misogyny on display. My female editor also expressed trepidation at some of the content. From my perspective, the writing was about as far from misogyny as you could get. It was more about dismantling masculinity than anything else. Still, my intention ultimately means nothing, and I was a little concerned.
Following the above mentioned review, I received some more in depth feedback from a female perspective. I’d like to share some of that with you. This is very important for me to read and share. At least half of those who read my book appear to be women and the thought of offending them upset me.
“The scene I walk away from resembles a cardboard cut-out of reality; faces frozen in rehearsed emotion. Everywhere around me there is overwhelming heat and suffocation. I make my way to the bathroom. The mirror reveals several coagulated wounds mapped across my face. Beyond those, I search for that spark which makes me who I am. There is no spark to be found. I am officially empty.”
Who are you today?
Who are you tomorrow?
How do you interact with your day?
Does it exist beyond the mind numbing to do list?
What if your world were different, would it change you?
In A Million Versions of Right, first time author Matthew Revert challenges the reader to a series of worlds completely different and exactly the same as our own.
A young man with small construction workers in his ejaculate is nervous about his blossoming sexuality and approaches his father for advice in a Freudian tale of youthful apprehension. A scientist wants to cure women of menstruating and accidentally passes the ‘disease’ on to men, who accept their fate along with the side-effect of loss of personal power. A man laments the dull pointless hours spent at his job (screaming at walls to see how much of the scream they absorb) and finds to his horror he is very good at it. Some school children experiment with ideas a teacher has passed on to them, proving that too much knowledge is danger, while the other students simply think the lesson on the ugliness of the scrotum is another dull day at school.
Absurdist humour involves placing ‘ordinary’ human beings into extraordinary situations to see how they ‘react’. This form of literature, steeped in nihilistic and existential philosophy and Dada and surrealism in art, has found a place in our modern bookshelves next to post modernism, and post post modernism. Great absurdist writers include Samuel Beckett, Franz Kafka, Harold Pinter and more recently Paul Auster and Patrick Susskind. In Reverts’ book there is an introductory quote to Joyce, and you feel his influence as you travel through the work.
The first thing to say about Absurdist fiction is it is not an easy read, and this book by Matthew Revert is no exception. It’s intentionally confronting and the nature of Reverts’ prose acts as a giggly assault – particularly in the order chosen to give us the stories. The first two stories are our training ground and the reader has to show some trust in the author, that they know where they are going and that we are on a journey that is worth taking.
However, the author captured me entirely at story number three and I felt deeply rewarded from then on. All absurdist fiction is difficult, and like some of it, this series is well worth the trust. The author knows what he is doing, and has an excellent grasp of an extremely difficult genre to write in.
It is worth mentioning that these are stories that take a male-centric view of the ridiculous. Be prepared for scatological humour, a great deal of swearing and certain social niceties to be obliterated. The second stories obsession with testicles is weighty and can get tedious, in the way De Sade can seem repetitive. But then, isn’t a man’s obsession with his ‘junk’ precisely that? What saves this narrative from falling into ‘blokiness’ is the way Revert pokes fun at obsession. Testicles, penises, ejaculate, shit and other masculine obsession simply exist while the stories interaction with these ‘themes’ pokes delightful fun at any fixation over the subject matter. Repetition is a tool often used in this form of literature and The Bricolage Scrotum uses this device to such great effect we are forced into a moment, internally screaming “ENOUGH! Why are we so obsessed with male genitalia?”
Other usually complicated subjects are treated with playful ease by Revert. In Meeting Maxhomophobia is something that humanity understands without condoning. A willing female surrogate is offered so the protagonist never has to face the physical manifestation of his deep attraction for her father. This warm and generous alternative to the stereotyped ‘male bonding sessions’ over strippers or other hapless women poses a mighty challenge to homophobia in its gentle unassuming acceptance, while honouring deep bonds that can form between men.
Do not imagine, however, that this series of short stories tripping through a stream of politesse. A Million Versions of Right is anything but politically correct.
Women are dealt with in A million versions of right in an interesting manner. This is an author comfortable with all aspects of his psyche and one can sense the presence of a female voice inside the writer. There is a brave attempt to describe the miseries associated with menstruation and a very delicious moment for female readers when men start experiencing the symptoms and (interestingly) associated social consequences of the monthly cycle.
My favourite story (The great headphone wank) involves a couple addicted to the sexual noises emanating from a set of headphones purchased by her for him to help him sleep while listing to music, providing her with her much-needed silence. This is a brilliant study in nihilism and even addiction of sorts and the lovers have to come to grips with events that have taken them over, somehow never letting go of their dominating ennui in the process. I can honestly say I loved this story. It reminded me of Martin Amis’ Let me count the Times, one of my all time favourite short stories. High praise in my world.
The devoted reader (who by this stage simply can’t put the book down) is rewarded with the story at the end. This is a whimsical study of the art of reading in itself, and without giving any of it away, I will simply state the final line packs a punch a mile wide. Read it and grin.
There is a great deal more to say about this wonderful collection of short stories, but then that is the privilege of absurdist writing – interpretations and immersion. In my opinion Matthew Revert is a fine writer, with an excellent debut here and the promise of a big future. I am fortunate enough to have my copy signed. All I can say is get a signed copy soon – while you still can.
I’m very grateful for this thoughtful review and would like to thank Lisa for taking the time to write it. It means a lot to me.
A little while before the above review was posted, another female friend, Ashley Mazur, was kind enough to send me some of her thoughts, which she has given me permission to repost below:
It felt like the first story ( A Million Versions of Right) had the very literal moral of “You just never fucking know what your sperm will turn into…” It also was interesting because it seemed to be a male childbirth of sorts.
Yes, anatomical references to the male genitalia were everywhere in the book. One might say that sexuality was the overriding theme, but I don’t think it was actually all that sexual. In reality, I think the book is more a grotesque distortion of sexuality than it is erotic. In fact, there was a lot of loneliness involved in the sexual imagery… I mean, fuck, in the headphone wank, doesn’t the character masturbate while his woman sleeps next to him after depriving him of not only her love, but his love of music as well?
And in the Max story, there is a lot of wonder and mystery regarding women. It centers around the things that men know so little about and have no firsthand experience with: menstruation. I remember I was struck by a conversation in that story in which two characters were talking about the invasion of women into the barber’s district. I can see how that would come off as a “boys club” image to some, but I feel like it was less about the invasion of women into a male society, but about the invasion of femininity into the current concept of masculinity. Let’s face it, most of the main male characters were “feminine” in some way. And by the last story in the book, the ONLY story in which the main characters are female, you have a woman so feminine she has forty breasts.
I’m not sure where I am going with this… it has been about a year since last I read it. But yeah… Grotesque sexuality, not erotic, male characters exhibiting varying degrees of femininity, literal damage to the man-bits… If it were not 3 am I could likely make a fairly legit argument that the book is actually about femininity through an absurdist lens of masculinity.
I’m also very grateful to Ashley for providing her insight. It’s something that interested me and I thought I’d pass it on. Sorry for the indulgence and length of this post.