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Sloughing Off the Rot
By Lance Carbuncle
Vicious Galoot Books Co.
Reviewed by Karl Wolff
A guy named John awakens in a cave with no memory of his former life. He is harassed by Santiago, a foul-mouthed wiry old guy who acts like the personification of the male id. The quest narrative of Sloughing Off the Rot involves John following a red brick road called El Camino de la Muerta and confronting his nemesis, the Man in Black, Android Lovethorn. What the Dr. Reverend Lance Carbuncle brings to the party involves turning the ordinary into the extraordinary. Imagine John Bunyan's allegory The Pilgrim's Progress re-imagined by Joe Coleman or The Wizard of Oz turned into joyous Cronenbergian body horror with abundant references to pop culture. Sloughing Off the Rot is something like that. The bizarro fiction genre, while fitting, lacks the lowbrow mysticism that infuses this novel.
John becomes John the Revelator when he frees Santiago from imprisonment during their quest. Santiago had become covered with plague-ridden boils. John cured him of his ailment, absorbing the sickness, albeit with an embarrassing side effect: abundant flatulence. Joining him on his quest is Joad, a gentle giant imprisoned with Santiago, and a rag-tag crew of oddballs and derelicts. Some of their names can not be reprinted here, but there is Three Tooth and Alf the Sacred Burro. Alf horks up bezoars, undigested petrified material that Santiago cracks open and smokes. On one level, the story is an ultraviolent re-telling of the Christ story, while on another level, it is a gleeful celebration of everything foul, messy, and viscous that the human body excretes. In the opening scene, John, overcome by sexual feelings, deposits his seed upon the ground. In this case, his semen transform into horrifying creatures. Santiago kills one and eats it, horrifying John in the process. Suffice to say, Sloughing Off the Rot is an acquired taste, like balut or organ meat. (Reading this was akin to chomping down on duck lung or pig liver. I've had both. They are a rare bloody treat for foodies of a certain persuasion.)
What's impressive is that Reverend Carbuncle's transformation of John from morally derelict lost soul to Christ figure is both believable and narratively compelling. It's so easy to paint by numbers with quest narratives and Christian allegory. The respect for John the Revelator's sacred status as healer and savior gets enmeshed in the narrative involving brutal violence, squishy fleshapoids, and obscene outbursts. The sacred and the profane co-exist, bespeaking something pre-Christian and pagan, while at the same time the narrative drives ahead, since we know the confrontation between John and Android Lovethorn will be both inevitable and predictable. (Guess who wins?)
One final aspect worth noting (and John noticed this too), is the complete lack of women in this environment. Santiago tutors John in the ways of the blumpkins, ovoid fleshapoids covered with vaginas and lactating breasts. Whereas this could have become some rote pornographic sidetrip for the male characters, Reverend Carbuncle gives the blumpkins emotions and agency. Despite their utterly non-human appearance, John, Joad, and Santiago become attached to their respective blumpkin. Granted, the misogynistic undertones should be understood for what they are, since everything is happening inside of John's head and John was a very bad person. In reality, John sits paralyzed in a coma on a hospital bed while suffering from bedsores. The biggest challenge for John is whether or not he wants to return to that world. But the quest distracts him from this immediate concern, including the ever-present threat of Android Lovethorn. Part psychogeography, part hallucination, part body horror, and part vision quest, Sloughing Off the Rot is not for the squeamish, easily disgusted, or overly serious. This is bizarro literature as fine art.
Out of 10/9.5; as good as it is, this isn't for everyone.
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