Archive for June, 2011
(Review for Bizarro Brigade.)
Is there such a thing as “girly” bizarro? Probably not. But in her debut novel STARFISH GIRL, author Athena Villaverde presents a strong case for it in this tale of unlikely feminine friendship. (I think it’s safe to say this is the first bizarro novel heavily influenced by Francesca Lia Block.) Villaverde creates a unique visual backdrop–a domed sub-aquatic world infected by a strange yellow algae, a substance that mutates its inhabitants into human/sea creature hybrids–and populates it with a cast of memorable characters. Readers disappointed with the lack of strong female protagonists in the horror/bizarro genres will be happy to see that trend bucked with its leads–the strong-yet-vulnerable Timbre and Ohime, the charming, good-natured title character.
Villaverde keeps the action moving at a fast pace, moving her characters from one dangerous encounter to another with little time to rest. Her prose is lean and straightforward without sacrificing her keen descriptive sense. And she fills the story’s periphery with a bevy of colorful, original “people,” any of one of whom could probably carry a book of their own.
Offbeat and ultimately touching, STARFISH GIRL should please fans of the unusual and unconventional.
I must admit, when bizarro fiction began gathering steam in the middle of the decade I wasn’t much impressed. So much of it seemed like sloppy, self-indulgent tripe by writers who weren’t as clever, edgy, or depraved as they hoped. At best, it was weird-for-weird’s sake with slight literary value.
Turns out I wasn’t reading the right bizarro.
Having encountered such works as D. Harlan Wilson’s BLANKETY BLANK: A MEMOIR OF VULGARIA, Anderson Prunty’s THE OVERWHELMING URGE, and especially Carlton Mellick III’s APESHIT (a supremely demented, over-the-top take on the slasher genre that left me breathless) I’ve since learned the error of my ways. I’ve discovered a new breed of daring, experimental work that’s unafraid to push boundaries–be it the boundaries of what fiction can do, style, or just plain good taste. And I want to try each variety this genre has to offer.
That’s why I joined the Bizarro Brigade. (Oh, and the free books aren’t bad, either.) Reviews can be followed right here.
For more info visit: http://bizarrocentral.com/bizarro-brigade/.
I should probably clarify here that these are my top 5 horror novels, but considering that horror is my favorite genre, any Top 5 listing will consist of the grim and gruesome anyway. I compiled a list of my ten favorite reads back in 2007, when I was dipping my toes into the blogosphere’s waters, and I found little need to update or revise the list. I did, however, trim it to a top five; I’ve had the urge to do some Top 5’s lately, and my anal-retentiveness demands consistency.
As I mentioned way back when in composing the original list, I won’t go so far as to say any of these “changed my life,” though each one has influenced my writing in some way or another. I’d add that all of these are highly recommended, but I’m sure anyone interested in this blog will have already read most of them.
Titles are listed alphabetically by author.
1. DRAWING BLOOD by Poppy Z. Brite. What Brite did for bloodsuckers in LOST SOULS she does for haunted houses in her sophomore outing, though she has the added benefit of stronger prose to help her along. (In fact, LOST SOULS made the original list, but I’m leaning toward DRAWING BLOOD–or BIRDLAND, to use Brite’s origianl, preferred title–because I felt it was the better of the two.) Like her first book, BLOOD’s storyline could be called threadbare–not exactly a roller-coaster plot, if you follow me–but Brite’s voice and so-real-they’re practically-breathing characters make it well worth the trip.
2. THE RISING by Brian Keene. This book raised the bar for post-apocalyptic zombie fiction. A father crosses a wasteland populated by the living dead (although, in a novel twist, they’re really corpses possessed by a race of demons) to rescue his son. More emotionally-wrenching than any gut-munching zombie flick, Keene also throws in some innovative setpieces on the way to possibly the most controversial ending in recent years. Followed by a fast-paced but hollow sequel, CITY OF THE DEAD.
3. OFF SEASON by Jack Ketchum. The original cover of Ketchum’s debut says “The ultimate horror novel,” and for once it’s not hyperbole. The story of a group of New Yorkers beseiged by cannibals on the coast of Maine reads like a travelogue of Hell. Ketchum’s meticulous research pays off in bloody spades as he details the decapitations, disembowlments, and consumption of his leads. I love hardcore horror, but I could only take this sucker five pages at a time. Definitely a must-read, but be forewarned, it makes THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (its primary influences) look like a grade school Christmas pageant. Its raw, uncompromising tone is what edged the book over the other Ketchum novel in my original Top 10, the intimately disturbing THE GIRL NEXT DOOR.)
4. PET SEMATARY by Stephen King. If you need me to explain this book’s inclusion on this list, or a summary of the plot, you really need to read someone else’s blog. If I had to pick one favorite novel, this would be it. It’s the master at his grimmest. (I’ve probably read this novel more than any other, and for that reason alone I’m placing it ahead of my second-favorite King, BAG OF BONES.)
5. KOKO by Peter Straub. Any number of Straub titles could be here, particularly his masterpiece GHOST STORY, but I chose this one not only for its labryinthine plot, but also because it marks the first appearance of Timothy Underhill, Straub’s best-realized character (the rest of the cast is well-rendered, too). What begins as a simple thriller (a group of Vietnam veterans suspect a former member of their unit is a serial killer) becomes much more in Straub’s hands. Followed by the loosely-related novels MYSTERY, THE THROAT (another classic), LOST BOY LOST GIRL, and IN THE NIGHT ROOM.