I’ve been dying to get the word out about three intriguing (and vastly different) titles before they fall off the literary radar.
First up is John Edward Lawson’s new poetry collection, The Troublesome Amputee. I wrote the introduction to this book, which I have to say is one of the weirdest and goriest collections of literary poetry I’ve ever read. Lawson, a writer at the forefront of the “bizarro” movement, really comes of age as a poet in this collection, which features topics ranging from the most successful scatological poem I’ve ever read (a piece about zombies tongues that travel in the sewers (“Will Work for Food”)) to an ingenious catalog of the ugly side of famous comic book super heroes (“Marvels of Horror”). At turns audacious, at others hilarious — and always surprisingly inventive — this book really disturbed and disgusted me in that creepy way that I like so much. And that’s saying a lot. The Troublesome Amputee is a generous collection of Lawson’s work, clocking in at 96 pages, and revealing a wide range of poetic talent. If you’re truly looking for something different, get this trade paperback book for $8.95 from Raw Dog Screaming Press.
I love fast-paced, well-plotted psychological thrillers, but nothing prepared me for the one-two punch of Jeff Strand’s remarkably tight new novel, Pressure. This book goes places I wish more thrillers would go: into the dark and twisted pathways of the mind, exploring the boundaries of what we take for consensus reality. Strand — known primarily as a humorist — here takes off the funny gloves to deliver a fatal body blow with all seriousness. Pressure is essentially about the tension between two childhood friends, as one of them turns increasingly, morbidly…different. And yet the bond remains, even as Strand ratchets up the dread and things seriously take a turn for the worse. You can’t help but identify with the very human protagonist and his escalating trouble with his old friend in this story. It’s a great example of the “edgy” thriller, one in which the lines between the moral and the taboo, the innocent and the guilty, are always palpably felt in the emotional rollercoaster ride of the story. The writing is as sharp — surgical sharp — and the pace is pitch perfect. I loved it. Get your quality hardcover edition right away from Earthling Publications .
Finally, I want to recommend an offbeat book that’s a year old, and probably a flash in the pan of the literary scene, but one that in my opinion should not be overlooked. A lot of people I know enjoy Tom Robbins‘ quirky novels (like Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, or Jitterbug Perfume) for their wild play with language and humorous, whimsical approach to the universe they create. In this book, Wild Ducks Flying Backward: The Short Writings of Tom Robbins, you get what you love about Robbins but in an unusual presentation, along with many welcome and refreshing surprises. The book is really just a collection of ephemera, featuring batches of travel essays, tributes to celebrities, critiques, short-shorts, poems, song lyrics and interview responses — mostly reprints culled from a wide variety of magazine publications that you might not have read before or cared about. I didn’t expect to really give a darn about Robbins’ opinion of, say, Jennifer Jason Leigh, or, say, his musings during a visit to an antiques shop in Montana, but after the first sentence of each piece in this book I couldn’t stop reading. His love of language perpetually won me over — it’s contagious and fascinating — and even when I found myself disagreeing with his politics or his treatment of women, I still found myself laughing or subscribing to his idealism. It’s as though he realizes that these short essays are not as heavy with significance as his (already rather “light”) novels, so he simply enjoys the wordplay and the whimsical musing for its own sake. Although there is very little horror in this book, some of the pieces do have a dark side, and I think it’s fair to claim that Robbins is a fantasist. There’s plenty of dark stuff to be found in the lyrics of “Honky Tonk Astronaut” or the poem, “Triplets” (with lines like, “I went to Satan’s house./It was supposed to be an Amway party./I wanted one of those hard as hell steak knives.”) And if you enjoy my “Blather” department in The Goreletter, I have a strong feeling you’ll be entertained by this book (I mean, one entry in Wild Ducks is simply dedicated to Robbins’ love of the letter Z, for crying out loud). Wild Ducks Flying Backward was published by Bantam in Sept 2005 to a mild reaction by mainstream critics, but even though there is some unevenness to it, I think it’s a pretty solid book, thick with think pieces, loaded with laughs. You can still find it on amazon.com for under $10.