January 10, 2011

Your micro-review roundup: 10 January 2011

(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.)

John Crow's Devil, by Marlon James

John Crow's Devil
By Marlon James
Akashic Books

One of the things I like the most about Akashic Books is that, unlike so many other small presses, they make a deliberate effort not to put out only an endless stream of mopey character dramas about white creative-classers living in Brooklyn; take for example one of their latest, John Crow's Devil, which is instead set in the backwoods of Jamaica in the 1950s, which like last year's Jesus Boy uses a conservative Christian church to tell a story surprisingly loaded with sex, violence and other deadly sins. And indeed, there's a reason that this literary debut from the Kingston immigrant and now Minnesota professor has been compared to both Toni Morrison and Gabriel Garcia Marquez; and that's because the text itself nearly reaches the level of magic realism from its pure poetic beauty, the story of the struggle between two local preachers of whom neither is nearly as innocent as they like portraying themselves. A dense and gripping novel that emotionally radiates like the heat of the Caribbean sun, it comes recommended to those who are fans of academic writing set in exotic locales.

Out of 10: 8.7

Shades of Green, by Ian Woodhead

Shades of Green
By Ian Woodhead
Self-published

One of the nice things about reading heavily in underground subgenres is that it gives you a chance to regularly stumble across great novels that sometimes literally not a single other person you know has heard about; take for example Ian Woodhead's recently self-published alt-horror tale Shades of Green, which intriguingly skips straight over the usual exposition found in most "Something Epic and Evil Takes Over the World" stories, to instead throw us right into the middle of the action, and like science-fiction expecting us to slowly catch up as we read more and more. And in fact, it's this element that makes the book in my eyes an "alt" horror title instead of just a regular horror novel, because its incredibly loose structure is only going to appeal to a certain type of reader; because much like H.P. Lovecraft's "Cthulhu" stories, Shades of Green is constantly hinting at a much grander mythology that we only see glimpses of, the tale itself partly about fungus-like aliens that take over rural England, partly about an age-old war between good and evil that uses this unstoppable fungus merely as a battlefield weapon, and partly I think about alternative histories as manifested through quantum string theory, and the Star-Trekian concept of "infinite outcomes in infinite variations." As you can see, the story is open to a lot of interpretation, a tale still full of the usual horror gross-outs but designed specifically for the most intelligent and inquisitive of that fan base, and it comes recommended today to that specific group of readers.

Out of 10: 8.4, or 9.4 for alt-horror fans

The Mechanics of Homosexual Intercourse, by Lonely Christopher

The Mechanics of Homosexual Intercourse
By Lonely Christopher
Little House on the Bowery / Akashic Books

Since I put such an emphasis here on cutting-edge literature, I've learned the hard way just what a minuscule line lays between a fascinating experimental project and one that just never quite works, with of course that line often changing position merely between one individual reader and the next; take for example the slim story collection The Mechanics of Homosexual Intercourse by a New York poet and playwright who goes by the nom-de-plume "Lonely Christopher," the latest in Dennis Cooper's edgy "Little House on the Bowery" series for Akashic Books. And indeed, that's the main excitement of an iconoclastic series like this in the first place, is the uneven nature of the books that are picked, with some that stick with you in a cultishly obsessive way and some that simply fall flat; and although I acknowledge that Intercourse will likely be the former with a lot of readers out there, it was unfortunately the latter with me, a book that felt just a tad too pretentious and forced for my tastes, deliberately obtuse prose-poems that make little narrative sense and that are obviously designed primarily for back-of-pub live performances in the middle of the night, exactly Christopher's background as a writer. Although it will intensely appeal to some, it just didn't do it for me, and gets only a limited recommendation today, specifically to readers who are already fans of slam poetry, "Sister Spit" style monologues, and the like.

Out of 10: 7.7

Filed by Jason Pettus at 4:59 PM, January 10, 2011. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |