(Because I make my way through so many books and movies for CCLaP, I regularly come across projects that are interesting enough unto themselves but that I simply don't have much to say about, or at least not enough to warrant an entire entry. I thought, then, that on occasional weekends I would gather up such "micro-reviews" and post them all in one large entry; they can also be found on CCLaP's main book and main movie archive pages.)
The Wrong Bus: An Urban Christmas Tale
By John Noel Hampton
(I'm severely behind right now on the alarmingly high stack of basement-press books that have been sent to me this fall, so I'm going to be tearing through a bunch of them at a fairly fast rate from now until the end of the year. Here below are the latest three.)
Although he certainly gets a lot of credit for having his heart in the right place, John Noel Hampton's "urban Christmas tale" The Wrong Bus is unfortunately a bit of a mess, starting with the fact that it is such an overwhelming collection of cliches as to be almost a self-parody, one that you suspect would be rejected by even the Hallmark Channel as being too sappy. It's essentially the tale of two "ghetto" (i.e. black) families in inner-city Los Angeles, cartoonishly despondent in cartoonishly stereotypical ways from the cartoonishly obvious threats in their cartoonishly dangerous neighborhoods -- there's the sassy retiree just scraping by on the edges of the projects, for example, her adult crackhead daughter for another, the ridiculously earnest grandson who is slaving at a fast-food place in the hopes of one day entering medical school, just on and on like this in a veritable orgy of lazy, overused, borderline-offensive urban tropes, not helped in the least by the author in real life actually being a lily-white retired banker from Palm Springs. I could keep going on in this vein for quite awhile, but I don't mean to be deliberately cruel, so let's just say that I do not recommend this book to CCLaP's usual audience, although (and I mean this sincerely) it may make a good Christmas present for your suburban aunt with the quilt collection and who never misses an episode of Touched By an Angel.
Out of 10: 6.1
Permanent Obscurity: Or a Cautionary Tale of Two Girls and Their Misadventures with Drugs, Pornography and Death
By Richard Perez
You hear it all the time from people who have actually worked in the film industry, that given all the complicated steps and perpetual nightmares that come with making a movie, it's a wonder that any get produced at all; or at least that's what I kept thinking about when reading Richard Perez's delightfully wicked new novel Permanent Obscurity, a gonzo fairytale of sorts about two girls in New York's Lower East Side during the Rent years (part-time artists, occasional dominatrixes, sometimes lovers, full-time trainwrecks) who decide one day that their ticket out of their mounting drug bills is to produce and star in their own S&M fetish porn film, then spend the rest of the novel proving just what a challenging concept this is for two Eminem-listening "gangstas" with no formal training, little innate intelligence, and using stolen half-broken equipment, the plot deepening even more when they accidentally kill their hired submissive in the middle of shooting, accidentally creating the world's first face-sitting snuff film and suddenly having to deal with all the ridiculous consequences that such a development suggests. In fact, about my only complaint with Perez's piece of bizarro erotica is that it's not over-the-top enough; he has a tendency to waffle between an out-and-out gonzo tale and a semi-realistic look at the hardships of being a struggling big-city artist, creating a sometimes inelegant hybrid that ultimately fails to please either type of fan. Still, though, there's a lot to like about this book, if like me you enjoy transgressive sexual tales full of deliberate self-deprecating humor, and peppered with scenes of such graphic disgust that you can't help but start laughing over their sheer explicitness; you people know who you are, and to you I recommend checking out this "Thelma and Louise On Meth" story whenever you have a chance, although to the rest of you I caution to stay as far away from this book as possible.
Out of 10: 8.0, or 9.0 for fans of gonzo erotica
Fungus of the Heart
By Jeremy Shipp
Raw Dog Screaming Press
It's no secret that I'm a big fan of alt-horror author Jeremy Shipp (see my past reviews, for example, of his Vacation, Sheep & Wolves and Cursed), who seems every holiday season to deliver yet another new volume of his deeply unsettling tales; and this Christmas brings us a new story collection, Fungus of the Heart, which longtime fans can think of basically as "Yet More Sheep and Wolves," a collection of short yet complexly connected pieces in which Shipp envisions an alternative universe acting as a dark mirror to our own, a world where supernatural creatures actually exist, where a form of hunter/prey relationship now defines how society works, and where a type of profoundly strange mythology of Shipp's invention seems to influence events in a deliberately confusing way that audience members can only guess at. In fact, if anything, this new batch of stories takes on more of a "New Weird" flavor than what's come from Shipp before, with many of these pieces feeling more like convoluted urban fantasy tales than anything approximating traditional horror, a sort of dreamlike alt-reality that at its best resembles the work of Neil Gaiman and the like. I'm constantly impressed with the various turns Shipp is always taking with both his writing and his career, even while tying his entire oeuvre together via common themes and motifs, and this latest slim collection is sure to be a big winner among both his old fans and his new ones.
Out of 10: 8.9