July 19, 2012

Your micro-review roundup: 19 July 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.)

Gay Dwarves of America, by Anne Fleming

Gay Dwarves of America
By Anne Fleming
Pedlar Press

It's been a while since we've heard from our friends at Pedlar Press, a small Canadian publisher dedicated to experimental yet mainstream-accessible work, and who are right now putting out some of the best designed mass-produced paperbacks in the entire Western indie world; but their latest recently showed up here not too long ago, Anne Fleming's story collection Gay Dwarves of America, and I have to admit that this may be one of the best ones they've put out yet. See, unlike most of the Pedlar titles I've reviewed here, Fleming's manuscript doesn't start out deeply experimental and then with crowdpleasing aspects added to it, but is instead a collection of mainstream stories about such banal subjects as suburban teenagers acting stupid while bored, then adds an engaging experimentalism to the dialogue, style and even plot turns, making this a highly entertaining yet dark-tinged and thought-provoking tome, the kind of extremely well-written human-interest fiction you might otherwise see at a place like McSweeney's. A bit too precious here and there, which is why it isn't getting a higher score (I could've done without the story containing just one word per page, for example), it's nonetheless a highly readable and satisfying collection from a press known precisely for such collections, and comes today with a big recommendation.

Out of 10: 9.0

The Sugar Frosted Nutsack, by Mark Leyner

The Sugar Frosted Nutsack
By Mark Leyner
Little, Brown and Company

It would not be off the mark to call Mark Leyner the "King of the Bizarro Authors," given that he is one of the only practitioners in the whole country of this "Monty Python meets Psychobilly" subgenre to regularly score lucrative contracts with large mainstream publishers, and to be featured in such national media outlets as Entertainment Weekly. And now after a long hiatus, he's finally back with a new novel, the appropriately absurdist The Sugar Frosted Nutsack; and after reading through this latest inspired piece of weirdness, it's easy to see why he's the undisputed king of this particular genre, because the pure sense of imagination that Leyner brings to the table far outstrips almost anything that almost any other American bizarro author is writing these days. Ostensibly about a group of ancient gods that are still around to meddle in human affairs, now living in a penthouse apartment at the top of a Dubai skyscraper, like most bizarro novels this is merely chapter-one window-dressing so that the marketing people have something to write on the dust jacket, with the story quickly expanding so to eventually be about everything in the world and nothing all at the same time, a gloriously chaotic wallowing in the pure joy of language itself, a proud literary tradition that (with a little squinting) can be directly traced all the way back to G.K. Chesterton at the end of the Victorian Age. Granted, this is a bawdy and hyperactive version of Chesterton, but I believe that proto-nerd would highly approve of the work of Mark Leyner; and so will fans of Douglas Adams, Will Self, David David Katzman and Hunter S. Thompson, a clever stream-of-consciousness fairytale that's best experienced by passing it quickly from one ear through the other, and letting the burningly unique images seer a tattoo on the back of your psychic retinas.

Out of 10: 9.0, or 10 for fans of bizarro fiction

The Stein & Candle Detective Agency, Volume 1, by Michael Panush

The Stein & Candle Detective Agency, Volume 1
By Michael Panush
Curiosity Quills Press

I don't know if it's been simple mistakes I've been experiencing recently, or if the public is having a harder and harder time telling the difference, or if it's a case of publishers trying to eat their cake and have it too, but it seems lately that I've been receiving a growing amount of review books specifically marketed to me as grown-up titles, when after reading them I've realized that they are actually Young Adult at best, or even juvenilia at worst. I mean, take Michael Panush's The Stein & Candle Detective Agency, Volume 1 for example, which I know for a fact was publicized as adult fiction when first pitched to me at the electronic ARC service NetGalley.com, because I just checked again right this second and it's still listed there as such; but after reading just the first few stories in this blam-blam alt-history serial actioner, I came to realize not only that it's something only an overly caffeinated thirteen-year-old boy could love, but that it even sounds like an overly caffeinated thirteen-year-old boy wrote it, a cartoonishly immature thriller in which a whole series of easy cliches (steampunk, private eyes, Nazis, '50s biker gangs, vampires, etc) are haphazardly stirred together into a muddled, unsatisfying stew, and then garnished with the kinds of jokes you might hear at a junior-high-school talent show. I'm not sure whether to be more troubled by the fact that this was thought to be appropriate to pitch to me as a middle-aged reviewer of exclusively adult fiction, or that this would indeed be appropriate anymore with an alarmingly high number of genre-fiction litbloggers; and while I agree that it's unfair to single out Stein & Candle for this entire phenomenon, this is certainly the first time that I've specifically stopped and thought out loud, "This was glaringly inappropriate to publicize to someone like me, and it really bothers me that the publisher has received justification from our arrested-development culture at large to do so anyway." Buyer beware.

Out of 10: 6.4

Filed by Jason Pettus at 2:26 PM, July 19, 2012. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |