CHARLIE HUSTON, c.2004.
picked up author Huston's debut novel for a beach read weekend
at Puerto Penasco, page turning through it in two days. The
1st-person narrator is a whiney, total victim-hero, but with
enough Everyloserman qualities--NYC hovel-level living, loser
bartender job, booze to wake up, booze to sleep, five-fingered
lovelife, no car, no cool stuff, no future--to seem appealing
in a help-me-save-me sorta way. He tries to do the right thing
like stop drinking and call his Mom & Dad more often, but
the rest of the world gets in his way.
The plot fires off like a wadcutter out
of a .357 when his neighbor asks him to watch his cat Bud while
he's away. Suddenly blobs of scary muscle in no-taste clothing
snoop his neighbor's apartment and Hank--that's our baseball-lovin'
lifemess--get suckered into a ratpack that leaves him hospitalized.
More pain arrives while he's convalescing and question marks
concerning his neighbor's whereabouts leave nasty bruises.
They even skull smack the cat and leave him with a broken leg.
The cat, I mean. Hell, Hank's already got
a kidney kicked out of him and the story's just started.
Machinations abound. Bodies start dropping.
Booze, drugs, blood, but not much sex weave together for a
loose plot. It's down Cain/Goodis/Crumley rough, dark roads
with Williford humor steering by post-Pulp Fiction explosive
extravagances and signposts revealing a Nicholas Ray-like humanist
11/11/2010 by Larry Crawford
BAD THINGS by
This sequel to Caught
old Hank Sixpack three years later sober as sand down the
Yucatan below Can-Cum. He's got 4 1/2 million clams stashed,
boosted out the SF Giants for football's Dolphins
as a sneaky disguise, and keeps Bud in his cabana as if the
cat's on the wanted poster with him. The title alludes to
six hash marks tattooed on his arm to remind him how many
lives he's extinguished. He's clear, but pretty frayed. Tan
and fit, but saucer-eyed paranoid. The plot shakes loose
like a landslide when a Russian tourist noses around. Hank
ends up pushin' him off the Kukulcan juggernaut at Chichen
Itza to get things rolling. Investigating, federales spy
Bud. Hank leaves Bud and runs back to the USA to protect
his parents as his identity slips into international news
loops. Life becomes a series of events to live through or
evade while everybody you meet or know becomes untrustworthy
or easily killed.
That's about it for any pre-planned
plotting. Early on, Huston opts for the slippery slope of
it-is-what-happens attitude. The rest of the novel is like
an un-mapped road trip with the author writing the day's
events on sleazy, motel stationary for the maids to find
along with their $500 tip.
But it's tasty, especially if you savor that give-in
to fast foods every week or so. But the drive-thrus all start
feeling the same and the persona of Hank becomes more and
more processed. Suddenly, I became painfully aware that the
author wasn't coming from that un-recognized, tortured life
of a Jim Thompson, or didn't have the true grit experiences
of a Kent Anderson in writing his fiction. I don't require
authors to lead miserable, scary lives to write about miserable,
scary situations, but when affectation usurps believability,
this type of fiction crumbles into, well, fiction.
There's a third sequence to his character called A
Dangerous Man from 2006.
Shoulda never tossed the cat, Charlie.
11/21/2010 by Larry Crawford
BARBARA RODEN, c.2009.
read these "ten spellbinding stories" (DJ flap blurb) and
have not enough recollection to write about them. And I finished
the title story last night! Oh yeah, now I remember some
of "Out and Back", where a couple enters an abandoned amusement
park on the insistence of the photographer/boyfriend. All
of it falls into a simple allusion of their Me Tarzan You
Jane relationship, using literary trickery like the
dilapidated signage for the roller coaster broken away
to the remaining letters COST. The creepiness builds as they
scurry deeper into the wreckage of lost dreams and abandoned
fun times, but the author drops anchor in her own
pools of cold sweat by overweighting the symbolism. On the
other hand, the title story, "Northwest Passage", fails to
stir post-reading trepidation by not prescribing enough eruditeness
in the plot bones. This is the story of two very different
nomadic youngsters voluntarily grounded in a scrounged-up
miner's cabin in Canada's wilderness next to a 60s-something
grandma protagonist who gives us this very scanty looksee
into an Anomalistic Event. Concluding that anything's
possible feels like there's just not enough clues for caring,
or they were too subtle for my addled brain to pick up in
the story's body.
A re-reading could launch hidden discoveries,
however. Anything's possible, right?
11/22/2010 by Larry Crawford
DARK, NO STARS by
STEPHEN KING, c.2010.
I read in the LA Times this morning that two 20-somethings,
enraged at having been stopped making a left turn by a 59-year
old female crossing guard while she managed a brood of 20 or
so kids in a crosswalk, got out of their Expedition, pummeled
her to the ground, took her whistle and hand stopsign, then sped
off. These chollos were arrested later in their home, since they
left plenty of open mouthed witnesses to write down their license
Sure, no one was killed, but the breakdown of decent, human
behavior is almost as startling as their own moronic disregard
for being caught and facing the consequences of their actions.
Society functions by agreement. It is scary when it collapses
at such a basic level.
King writes scary. In this leadoff novella he
does just that, but with a calamitous tone of all-consuming misery.
And while the initial action of “1922” is horrifying, the expanding
consequences become far worse by dooming those innocents in
the way. King believes there's such a thing as community. And he's
not always willing to wait for brimstone to make the final
bludgeoning for disconnecting from what makes us human.
“1922” is a confession by a man who has murdered
his wife. But what's even fouler is that he's gotten their teenage
son to help him do it. Wilfred Leland James can deal with the
blood spill, the abandoned well burial, the demise of livestock,
even the growing presence of a rat horde chewing his miserable
life out from underneath him. What he can't abide or control
is the disintegration of his son through the forces of shame,
guilt, hatred, and fear. This is played out on an 80-acre scratch
farm in the dust bowl of Nebraska in 1922, all the more resigning
for its unawareness of the coming Great Depression that will
render the reason for this crime moot.
How many more dominos have to fall before even crossing guards
refuse to show up? Get the feeling we're running out of chits?
King's next sendup, “Big Driver”, is not in 1st person,
but it might as well be, as there is no PofV shift from Tess—middle
aged, single, blonde and skinny—as she fights back from rape
and near death with a single load in her Lemon Squeezer .38 and
an out-and-out, monomanical Retribution bile souring her taste
of things. Tess is the authorial voice for a quasi-successful
series of cutesy/cozy mystery novels featuring a group of bluehaired
Miss Marple wannabes known as The Willow Grove Knitting Society.
Driving home from a speaking engagement, she gets trapped by
a Green Giant with a jolly penis known as Big Driver (his pickup
line is classic King: “Instead of changing your tire, how about
I fuck you?” p.148),
which leads eventually to Tess blowing away this retarded asshole's
Mother, the asshole himself, and asshole's even bigger asshole
brother. The plotting is typical King page-turning bravura, but
he spends too much time convincing us that Tess could revenge-murder
these three as if they were standups in a carnival shooting gallery.
And he's not successful; any more so than by winding up this
predictable tale with a mouthpiece plant from a fellow rape victim
stranger that gives Tess the airtight way out devoid of legal
The third, and shortest story, is just plain
radioactive. In “Fair Extension”, a newly-discovered
fast and lethal cancer turns an already-disgruntled man into
targeting his once-closest buddy as the source of all his woes.
And the Devil, cleverly disguised as a roadside deals vendor
named Elvid sets him up with a 20-year remission as long as he
agrees to “transfer the
weight” (Scribners, ISBN 9781439192566, c.2010,
p.255) which turns his best friend and neighbor's once-wonderful
life into a living Hell. What makes the bargain so toxic is the
unfair over weightiness of death and destruction upon his supposed
adversary's whole family while our now-cancer free whiner enjoys
just the opposite. Even with tongue in cheek, King giving this
repulsive gasbag dialogue like—
Life is fair. We all get the same nine-month
shake in the box, and then the dice roll. Some people get a
run of sevens. Some people, unfortunately, get snake-eyes.
It's just how the world is.
—makes for sprinting quicker to the final paragraphs.
And speaking of The End, he finishes by wishing for more. Wow.
This, of course, is King's closing irony, considering his protagonist
is a fucking' bankster, and leaves no doubt who has always
owned this shithead's soul.
The closing adventure, “A Good Marriage”,
is another 3rd person PofV exclusively from the wife of 27 years
married to an accountant and amateur rare money collector. He
also collects mementos from the dozen or so women he's raped,
tortured, and murdered, which starts the ol' Fear Train a-rollin'
for the wife when she discovers his hidey-hole out in the garage.
When he realizes he's spotlit, the hubby starts a long, sympathetic
dialogue to convince his Pollyanna wedding partner that everything'll
be fine, just as long as she doesn't upset the status quo.
On a personal aside, this being the final pages of Stephen King's
latest, I attempted a late-night finish, finally succumbing to
drowsiness around midnight and about half-way through this story.
At 3AM, I found myself hugging the porcelain and throwing back
some of what, I suspect, was ingested from this book.
I consider King the current, undisputed master
of dark fiction on this planet. If there's a criticism, it is
that he's too prolific and some of his published work should
have stayed in MS form or gotten filed in the “character studies” folder.
Except for “1922”, the bulk of Full Dark, No Stars should've
made one of those considerations.
Thematically, 3 of the 4 novellas here deal with abuse toward
women in its most horrible manifestations. Enough already. That
horror hobbyhorse has been parading the grounds for decades now.
I don't need a female action hero twist on the Death Wish scenario
any more than I crave another variation puzzling the “gee, officer,
I don't understand, he was always the perfect neighbor” witness
I love ya, Stephen, you Dickens of Death, you. I guess I voided
this one in too spectacular a manner to give it much rational
12/05/2010 by Larry Crawford
PACK by JASON STARR,
He felt better than he had in years; he had limitless energy
and a raging sex drive. So , he asked himself as he
lay on his back next to his amazing, sexy, irresistible wife, what
exactly is the problem?
Well, one problem is that it took 146 pages to get here, 94
before he's even involved in the first chewfest. For a Horror
novel, it's quite slow out of the cave. I mean toss-the-book
slow, especially with a hip audience that is way ahead of this
whiney, milquetoast victim hero as he plods through the fated
steps to lycanthropy. Classic stories of this sort tend to focus
on the despair felt by a moral man turned murderously feral best
exampled by cinema's The Wolfman of 1941, to An
American Werewolf in London of 1981. It's the perfect fictional
journey if you want to go against the standard happy ending and
slaughter your sympathetic hero.
Okay, the book starts speeding up once he meets the guys of
the pack at the playground, but it really redlines when it hits
midpoint. You have about as much chance of dropping it as Mario
Andretti has of letting go the steering wheel into the Indy turns.
But just because it'll keep you up all night doesn't
mean it's a satisfying read, just a compelling one. Hell, cocaine'll
keep you up all night with the same kinda benefits. In fact,
if you substitute a heinously-addictive drug for the wolf bite—as author
Starr has with a pint of Michael's family beer—at least you'd
have a believable story.
But, hey, what's the fun in that?
Our transformer hero is Simon Burns. He lives on the
Upper West Side of the Big Ap and is married to Alison. They
have a boy named Jeremy in the Terrible Threes. Simon gets
fired from his advertising job ‘cause he isn't aggressive enough and becomes
a house husband, complete with the critical-but-supportive, now-Enjoli-ad
wife. She's pushing pharmaceuticals for a living and Simon for
a better marriage. Simon takes the place of their by-day babysitter
and starts wheeling Jeremy around the city's playgrounds. The “major
meltdowns or poop disasters” (p.29) become tiring.
Just in time, Simon meets “the pack”—a group of three
dads who also watch their boys during daylight hours. None
of them are married, however. Ramon's an actor, Charlie's a
fireman, and Michael, well, Michael's a full-blown, fuckin'
They bond. Any suspicions of a gay thing—Simon thinks
Gere from Pretty Woman to “scruffy” Don
Johnson to “broad muscular shoulders” (p.36) as first impressions—can
be dispensed with. No cultural buzzings as red herrings here.
These dudes are just “hip, relaxed, and very cool” (p.37). It
doesn't take Simon long to get together with them after hours
to eat T-bones with their hands and drink brew tainted with wolf's
Remember the old joke about waking up naked in a vacant
lot with a pickle up your butt? Well, that's Simon's next scene,
sans the condiment. It's morning, it's Jersey , and Simon's old
boss' house—which is now a grisly murder scene—is close by. Simon
makes it back home, lies to his wife, and starts feeling the
good things about being an under construction wolfie.
Like sex with Alison as if he's hooked to a Viagra drip 24-7.
How ‘bout an appetite so strong he eats 4 Macdonald's
burgers at once?
Or passing bike messengers and taxis while he takes his daily
In fact, he becomes so extraordinary—even helpful and condescending—his
wife accuses him of having an affair and starts talking the Big
Of course there's also blooming torso hair worse than
Robin Williams and the ability to smell the cheese factories
in Wisconsin from Manhattan, and, as he continues to metamorphose, “he felt
like he wasn't in control of the decisions he was making, like
he was a visitor in his own body” (p.208). Cops are pawing around
his boss' murder and the full moon's arisin', so he turns to
his pack buddies and alpha Michael helps him by slaughtering
any possible witnesses. Trapped, he lopes back to his wife and
confesses he's a werewolf. That goes over about as well as saying
he's Lil Red Ridin' Hood's Grandma with a drag queen fixation.
Since that doesn't work, he confronts Michael to save the others
in the pack from becoming full-fledged werewolves. Don't ask,
but the logic's explained by the obligatory Gypsy type—you know, “Bevare,
Bevare, da wolf boy, my son!”—when Michael's old, old father
comes out from hiding in the wolfbane bushes. In the end, you
don't know which to do: laugh, cry, or shoot author Starr with
a silver bullet.
This sounds like melodramatic pastiche, and it is. But
there are a number of fun moments, really. My favorite is the
side bar story of Olivia. She's a single-something, man-hunter
looking to get laid when she meets Michael. He stupidly gives
her the werewolf hickie and she rampages the city in total,
feral delight, brightening up the book as much as Simon brings
it down with his incessant meek-dog whimperings. All she wants
to do is fuck and chew, even to the extreme of walking into
a rough bar and exclaiming the tired line, “what does a girl have to do to get
laid around here?” (p.265).
This is tongue-in-snout urban fantasy, without the strained
subtext of Mike Nichol's 1994 cinematic disaster, Wolf .
It's a potty break from the serious wolfings of, say, Thomas
07/23/2011 by Larry Crawford
OF THE SPECIES by
MICHAEL OLIVERI, c. 2001
She could have easily killed him by now. Instead
she fucked his brains out. He sat back on the bed. “What kind of mess have I gotten
myself into,” he muttered.
This novel has coveted quite a glowing reputation but
I question with whom. There are no reprints available, so obtaining
a copy at a reasonable reading price is difficult. The trade
package of cover design, layout, bookbinding, etc. is certainly
limited edition at $200+ is over my head—but the proofreading
is the most atrocious I've seen in a half a century of reading.
There is literally an error a page in spelling, paragraph indents,
grammar. Beyond the city slicker mistakes of describing a desert
landscape—rattlesnakes do not chatter among themselves like birds
and coyotes—the writing is not a deterrent to the experience.
Unless you consider the absurdity of a Nazi-like witch's coven
overseen by a satyr in a totally-autonomous town existing without
notice in presumably modern-day America , that is.
But, hey, why spoil the introductory fun of a guy hanging
like a scarecrow in a corn field with his flesh pecked off
by sprite-eyed crows, or a real wetdream blowjob to extract “precious
bodily fluids”(1) for
enchantress' control? There are plenty of grisly-an'-girly
vignettes that make this novel a fun read, but the clothesline
that strings them all together? Well . . .
Tim Wilder has one reason to hate women: his ex-wife.
Driving into the seemingly-innocuous burg of Rapture, population
1503, located God-knows-where, he's pretty much broke, has
no home or job prospects, and is sitting in his only possession
of value after the divorce: a restored 1978 Camero he managed
to hide from his faithless wife. His choice in rolling trashcans
should tell you everything you need to know about this dude.
He stops for a bite to eat and inadvertently watches the sideshow
of 4 women forcing the waiter—later
to become the sheriff—lick bitch's boots. He crashes in a sleaze-bo
motel only to wake up sperm-drained, car stolen, money gone,
suitcase bye-bye. Walking the town, he notices all males are
strangely subservient to the women; even male children don't
attend school next to their female counterparts. No one will
help him except the besotted pastor, Father Mike. It is clear
God is abandoned in Rapture and Father Mike becomes our info
dump for past atrocities and the current ministrations of the
witch's coven that's enrolled all females to its purpose. He'd
led a revolt, you see, but that stink got buried along with
a lot of dead buddies. Men are “only
here for labor and breeding” (p.81), and the women so maniacal
in their control that remaining dudes have “underwent voluntary
castration” (p.92) to avoid their spells.
Alexandra is the head honcha sorceress who's riding
on Sebastian the Satyr's back to propagate the continuing bloodline
of Gaia's(2) children known through legend as Nymphs and Satyrs.
They've decided Our Hero is carrying the chromosomes of their
ancestors and can contribute by impregnating Alexandra and
siring another Satyr. Past couplings between Alex and Seb have
created only human munchkins—they
apparently drowned them like puppies or ate them like lambs if
they were male—so Tim is paramount to their continuing survival.
The rest of their interpretation of pagan mythology is hocus
hooey, and, most appropriately, Tim quips his plight as “a breeder
for a feminist witch bitch serving as a sex slave for a forgotten
Greek myth” (p.165).
The bulk of the novel plays “kind of like a bad B-movie” (p.174),
but, hey, I love Bava's Black Sunday from 1960, okay?
After what I'll call the Foil Cover Era of the 1970-80s, Horror
seems to be tip-toeing between camp and revulsion, as few new
directions have surfaced, causing this sub-genre to collapse
back into its parent, Fantasy. Deadliest of the Species is
not the standout its market price or Stoker award win suggests,
but it strings together some pretty unique and gnarly snares
like Tim having his testicles spellbound into Alexandra's hands,
or visuals like all the little girls finding their pet cats slaughtered
on the sidewalks when they start off to school in the morning.
And the Big Boss Battle is riveting and Alexandra's finale a
surprise. Not many Horror novels use sex so tantamount to their
storyline, although the correlation between it and violence and
death is inadequately explored. Misogyny, a slam-dunk theme for
this novel's direction, seems also to be puerilely underindulged.
There is an interesting sidetrack, however, addressing the carnality
that runs through paganism like a mother lode in that its suppression
is the basis for most Christian and Muslim religions. Further, “the
Earth Mother taught . . . the harmony of all life, not the glory
and divinity of the single being as the Christians preached” (p.198).
Unfortunately or not, there's just too much nastiness in the
adversarial characters to welcome these counterpositions as balancing.
Postreading leaves a taste of dilettantism, bolstered
more by the author's blurb on the back cover—which refers to
Microsoft as the “Beast of Redmond” among other geeky notations—than
the fact that Oliveri has not produced a second novel in the
past decade. But kudos to him for getting this out of his system
before we had another Jared Lee Loughner on our hands.(3)
Strangelove, or How I Learned to Love the Bomb (1964),
2) That's Earth Mother to all you non-Greenies or de-frocked
Hippies out there.
3) Jus' kiddin',
Michael. I worked in Redmond for 25 years and that “Beast” made
us all very rich. And I didn't even hafta sell my soul, I don't
06/23/2011 by Larry Crawford