March 31, 2011

Your micro-review roundup: 31 March 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.)

The Brothers' Lot, by Kevin Holohan

The Brothers' Lot
By Kevin Holohan
Akashic Books

Although when they're really on their game, I find Akashic Books to be one of the greatest small presses in the entire United States, when they're not I find myself sort of shrugging a lot at their midlist titles, novels that aren't terrible but aren't exactly great either, and that seem to just quietly come and go without making much of a lasting impression on me. Take this story about Irish Catholic schools, for example, written by an actual Irishman (and now Brooklynite) with an obvious chip on his shoulder, featuring a plot that's fairly normal (rowdy boys suffer through a year of abuse and molestation, even as the school itself is threatened by a construction project that's slated to begin next-door), but with a tone that veers between McCourtesque humorous social realism and the exaggeration of a deliberate cartoon. And that's probably my biggest criticism of it, in fact, is that in his zeal to exorcise some of his demons, he's created a cast of adult characters who all tend to blend together into one big leather-strap-holding monster with a hard-to-pronounce name, a story too realistic to reach a Kathy-Acker level of symbolism yet too stylized to be treated as reality. And that's a bit of a shame, because Holohan is a good writer, and a unified feel to this manuscript would've helped to sell it more, and not make it feel so much like just another generic tale about Irish childhood abuse with touches of magic realism. It's worth checking out if you end up running across a copy, but I'm not sure I'd go out of my way to find it.

Out of 10: 7.9

Felix and the Sacred Thor, by James Steele

Felix and the Sacred Thor
By James Steele
Eraserhead Press

This is the latest in Eraserhead Press' "New Bizarro Author Series," in which the publisher will put out an inexpensive novella by a beginning writer as a way for them to prove that they should get a full book contract; and admittedly, this one is even sillier than most of the titles from this series I receive, an out-and-out fairytale for grown-ups that completely breaks with reality quite early in the story. See, in the future, it comes to pass that 94 percent of all college students end up training to become "Equine Stress Management Specialists," in charge of sexually satisfying nervy racehorses, with the resulting national economic collapse and subsequent rebuild into a permanent welfare state making it now most people's "jobs" to stand in mile-long unemployment lines all day, every day; it's within such an environment that we watch our hero get one of the astronomically rare horse-massage jobs actually out there, at which point he realizes that the junk of the horse in question is in reality actually a giant green sex toy and sacred weapon bestowed by a long-forgotten god, which our protagonist is charged with using in order to bring about world peace. And that gets us to...oh, page ten or so, which is where things start getting really weird; so instead of further plot recapping, I'll just encourage you at this point to pick up a copy of the book if you're the type of person who likes these kinds of stories, and run like hell if you're not.

Out of 10: 8.0

The Incident Report, by Martha Baillie

The Incident Report
By Martha Baillie
Pedlar Press

This is now my second book from the exquisite small Canadian publisher Pedlar Press, after Jacob Wren's Revenge Fantasies of the Politically Dispossessed; and this is just as impressive as that one, a poetically beautiful text but with quite a dark streak as well, in this case centered around a Toronto public library that somehow almost by magic manages to attract each and every batsh-t crazy person living in that entire city. The story itself, then, is told through a series of "incident reports" that the libraries must fill out, every time a homeless man takes a whizz on a couch or a pervert gets caught looking at online porn; then as the manuscript continues, we see that it's actually starting to tell more and more of a narrative story about one of the staff members in question, the "reports" now covering not just library events but moments from her love life, as well as an ongoing mystery regarding an anonymous stalker with a violent streak who starts leaving notes around the building for her to find. As usual with Pedlar, the results are erudite without being pretentious, creepy and charming at the same time, the whole thing put out with the care for fine materials and clean design that this press is known for. It comes highly recommended, and has me now looking even more forward to my next Pedlar title, Michael Boyce's Anderson, which I'll be tackling next week.

Out of 10: 9.0

Filed by Jason Pettus at 3:30 PM, March 31, 2011. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |