Tag Archives: fiction

Guy Psycho and the Ziggurat of Shame

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After seven years of holding down the rowdy and fascinating Drunken Odyssey, literature professor, drinker and writer John King, lately of Florida, has released his novel Guy Psycho and the Ziggurat of Shame upon the summer reading market. This writer thinks shame like walk of shame, like you’re wasted. It’s a story about a decadent goth band’s journey to get a decent gig that involves reliving the legend of Gilgamesh for this weird-ass superfan in his fortress in Tennessee that must be modeled on Adrian Belew’s house.

King’s site is full of truly interesting and mostly-useful perspectives on literature, including an entire series on Shakespeare films. Also discoverable is a tender longitudinal document of King’s friendship with Orlando’s Nathan Holic. His name is Holic, people! John’s like breh, I’m a holic too, wenn du weisst was ich meine. I can imagine them together, drinking or eating opium or what the hell King does, and discussing the tough choices of writing novellas.

Where Guy Psycho comes in is its connection to King’s noteworthy love of comic books and B movies, documented on the site under “curatory of schlock.” The reader gets a strong sense when reading down Guy Psycho‘s relatively slender spine that the novel, far from being one of those “serious” books, is to be read as a comic-book ride, which is appropriate since Gilgamesh began as the comic book of its day, as did Faust.

Right away this writer liked how the story is about a fictional band, because fictitious music is some of the best (see hatestep). In the front of the book we get the members of the band conveniently listed, followed by the admonition “style is meaning.” Thanks, professor! The book then drops us into a wheel of speeding events that definitely give flashbacks of harried nights on tour, all arranged to a sort of ritual importance that should not be overlooked just because it’s a crappy band on a crappy tour. Did King play punk rock? “Oh, but Beto O’Rourke did. Did you know he can skate too?” Fuck right off.

Early on in the text we get something of Douglas Adams’ ability to render the prose itself scaled to its significance, oscillating within painstaking precision and hyperbolic decadence, though this attenuates as the plot thickens. King writes to write, and his affinity for comic book slapstick backs up against all kinds of cultural signifiers and name-drops disguised as hallucinations. This writer bets that such economy is probably what he was going for in terms of technique in Guy Psycho. What Carl Hiaasen would read like if he weren’t a boring normy.

The text is at turns cleverly satiric, intentionally “psychedelic,” as some commentators have named it, and often claustrophobically jumbled. Without giving anything away, the whole story is in a series of interiors, and there are times when this writer stopped reading to imagine both how all these vistas would render to the naked eye, as well as how stressful some of these leaps of imagination physically would be. Keep in mind that I did Cumberland Cavern once and am still traumatized. Did King squeeze through Cumberland Cavern before he set this son of a bitch somewhere beneath Rock City? I’ll keep my comments to myself.

Besides our mutual love of Tennessee, ziggurats and made-up bands, I noticed that I easily could grab King’s references to ancient literature, but part of me wonders if the lay reader would get some of the characters’/settings’ intentions/functions. My only critique would be for King to slow down and let us feel it, and to let the characters really work things out. There are some feelings expressed inwardly by the guitar player, but by way of late-placed exposition, instead of an opportunity to test Guy’s ego in front of the family, or make an in-your-face parallel to the relationship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu that many readers might need. Or not! Just thinking on the keyboard here.

As Gilgamesh and Guy Psycho run on epic running-gear, I don’t expect Hamsun’s psychological clarity, but I would like to see the band members really come up against each other’s abilities, will and personalities to provide some kind of tension in need of decision. Without it the book only really pinches at the band members’ high-heel-tortured feet, and reads like one of my 2-Strats comics, where the reader is just along for the ride and doesn’t get to touch.

All in all Guy Psycho and the Ziggurat of Shame is filled with hilarious visuals, insightful gags and a brief lesson in ancient epic. What Guy has to be ashamed of is up to the reader. Don’t download it, dickieeeeee, buy a copy and then give it as a gift after you read it!

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BYEBYE AND SHLORT EARNS 4.5/5 STARS

Time to visit www.exitosngnosis.com and pre-order your Byebye and Shlort, recipient of a 4.5/5 score from IndieReader! It’s much cheaper before May! Or be smart and tell your library to get it for you!
Review here: https://indiereader.com/2019/03/byebye-and-shlort/

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BYEBYE AND SHLORT – NEW NOVEL MAY 2019 BY EUGENIO NEGRO

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Lit Crawling with Bentboybooks

At the lovely, dearest Green Arcade in the “hub” of San Francisco we encountered this store-exclusive Lit Crawling from Bentboybooks, a tiny publisher of whom we are, as usual, the shit-last to learn.

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Funny enough this October 2017 zine, besides being exclusive to Green Arcade, is not listed on Bentboybooks’ website. Turns out to be a survey of their recent zines.

The collection of mostly poetry begins with an anthology, complete with CV beginning in 1972, of Jan Johnson Drantell, whose work evidently has been rediscovered and put into the zine. Her poems could be called provocative: her voice earnestly and compassionately pushes against the ideas and word-bunches of her time, beginning in the Vietnam era. I really can’t pick a favorite poem, they are all so precise and on-point.

Then comes Pam Martin, who is quite joycean, and I’m a sucker for anything joycean that pulls it off, so I’m in. She’s apparently a big deal in the local art-organizing scene, and I mean the upper echelons, the museums and so forth.

Drew Cushing closes the collection out, and he seems to be the ringleader of Bentboybooks. His selections have a lot of political allusions that will have to remain over my head until sometime after I finish this zine review.

I’m finally excited to say that the book turned me on (ha ha) to the devotedly naked Ronald Palmer, whose books I will be investigating soon. Apparently he’s complex, capable and raunchy, so I’m looking forward to it. His story Manikin is very San Francisco-completist, lots of locations named, five-Os bleaching sidewalks. He’s always naked in his promotional photos, so it’s got to be good.

Check out Bentboybooks every time you spot one!

Shiticide Slaughter Troops

You are here to learn the theory and practice of Shiticide. Boys will be organized into Shiticide Slaughter Troops … We’re not fighting for a scrap of sharecropper immortality with the strings hanging off it like Mafioso spaghetti. We want the whole tamale. The Johnsons are taking over the Western Lands … And we are not applying in triplicate to the Immortality Control Board. Anybody gets in our way we will get our communal back against a rock or a tree and fight the way a raccoon will fight a fucking dog.

–WS Burroughs,

The Place of Dead Roads

Since I Laid My Burden Down by Brontez Purnell

Video by Nick Taplin, Post-Consumer Records

Saw a video a few months back of Brontez Purnell reading from his up-and-coming book Since I Laid my Burden Down and had to get a copy as soon as it came out. Tried to read it with his voice in my head. The book has been doted upon with a marvelous thick library jacket by New York City University’s Feminist Press.

The punk rocker, performance artist and otherwise notable Oakland figure, whom I remember as one of the few interesting people on Earth in the vacuous universal hell of 2005, published the zine Fag School beginning in 2003. He has also published the Cruising Diaries in 2014 with the collaboration of Janelle Hessig, from whose Tales of Blarg I first heard of his exploits, as well as 2015’s diary-style Johnny Would You Love Me if my Dick Were Bigger. Since I Laid my Burden Down is sort of a Bildungsroman framed in a memoir. Is there a word for that?

DeShawn, blessed with the emotional receptivity that marks a faggot amongst his church-centered community, reflects during a funeral trip to his Alabama hometown of his trajectory in making his life meaningful, and not wasting his faggot people skills in the office of a rural preacher. Regardless of his shifting relationship with his mother, there is the feeling that he thinks his mother has limited her life becoming a preacher herself.

DeShawn is drawn as a product of generations raised by women, with men absent or devoid of father quality. The protagonist seeks mentorship and trust naturally, nevertheless, through his everyday channels, even through an older married lover. Despite making his own way, fleeing Alabama for California, DeShawn never really feels like he can stand the weight of his life on his shoulders, and has problems with memory and scale. Like a lot of us.

The book is full of family, church, death, sex, and the perverse distortion of time and place unique to being in one’s early thirties. Particularly rewarding are the terse but deft descriptions of family members, such as “DeShawn’s mother always spoke recklessly when it was unnecessary, and coolly when it was greatly needed.” Wait –how do they ever know when is which? Does the narrator mean this in hindsight or…?

Throughout the story DeShawn visits two funerals and relates cleaning out several dead people’s houses, visits the gracious and lovable mother of both an early lover and an early abuser, and wears out the patience of a girlfriend in New York, all the while taking stock of the relationships he put on hold or fled when he left Alabama. Along the way he sees some ghosts that grow more vivid and some that thankfully fade.

The prose is unadorned and direct, more diary-like in the beginning, with creams of sly humor beaten in. The back of the book features quotes that I personally found a little hysterical, such as “foul-mouthed and evil.” Perhaps these refer more to Johnny. Purnell’s narrator swears a lot, but only in that the book irreverently records the living language, and is meant to be read out loud. This, in my opinion, is one of the book’s greatest strengths. Anyone obsessed with Pitchfork-level simile-spraying could find any great oral art in corners of Brontez’ sentences, from beat literature to Henry Roth to … I don’t even know, I hate that phony free-association name-dropping stuff. Altogether I appreciated that the prose, though steeped in contemporary slang and naturally-occurring humor, betrays none of the lascivious revelry of Johnny but rather a deep and true affection and understanding for most of DeShawn’s characters, regardless of whether he gets along with them.

He knew feeling good was a setup

Reading the sexual escapades and mentions of a youth steeped in punk rock, it was kind of hard for me, at least, not to place Brontez himself in for DeShawn –as he placed himself as close to the fictional glass as can be in Johnny –so I recommend the reader enjoy the book first and then go cyber-stalk the poor, highly-exposed author. The night their post-Loma Prieta freedom punk warehouse gets closed down, even a fictional lover tells DeShawn “everyone knows who you are.”

I also appreciated how Purnell manages to fit the realities of Deep South life into the story in tiny but excellent bites. This stuff is unimaginable for us west-coast types with our Hollywood-deadened intellects, and the author even points that out in a funny moment. He relates how the principal at the school would remind DeShawn, when he got in trouble, that “your great-granpappy used to raise chickens for my family…” This is the medium of DeShawn’s family’s story that must never be overlooked: in the south there are these horseshit relationships that can be evoked as if to show loyalty, but are really just threats of force. In turn, the protagonists internalize this doublespeak and wield it on each other with varying degrees of purpose (we’ve got this out west with Latino immigrants too). Maybe I just found this insightful and brilliant as a dumb Californian beach bum. What am I gonna school the reader with, the abusive roundabouts of various pelagic fish?

It’s probably clear by now that my only challenge for Purnell for next time, should he decide to do a next time, is to work out before writing who the narrator is. This way the key emotion, be it sex-crazed enthusiasm or reflective love, can really shine through consistently. The reader also could really get cozy within the work’s world if Purnell takes the above decision, moving on some from the format that seems to have begun with Johnny. Finally, this will doubtlessly also address some nitpicky tonal issues I have with some parts.

Since I Laid my Burden Down is a document of a unique life within its unique time and place, an effective and efficient balance of the personal and the universal. Cut that self-conscious crap out about “I don’t recommend every book to everyone.” Get Brontez’ new book and have everyone you know read it!

I have to say, for myself, that I feel that more of these kinds of stories are auspiciously coming into my life. Not necessarily being written, but coming to my attention. Maybe I just don’t get out enough, I don’t know.
But anyhow, when I read Since I Laid My Burden Down, I enjoyed it in one way the same as I so immensely enjoyed Malae’s What We Are: in that the books are full of people I would be friends with. It’s not so simple as “an outsider,” because the question would be, outside of what? Rather it’s a member of a certain socio-economic group who has made certain socio-economic choices within the flush of cash of the Bay Area, a consciously growing and becoming, empathetic scumbag, with no time for the oppression of success, health or other bullshit. Stuck in a phenomenological spiral. The kind of people whose extinction I constantly fear after years of living in Santa Cruz and San José. When I read these books I feel like they were written for me!
Incidentally they both dropped Bukowski’s name, who may well have been highly empathetic besides being a scumbag. Some scholar can comment below about that.

I feel, further, that this book’s approach belongs at least in part to the great tradition of “pack all my youth into some stories so I can stop trying to remember every last bit of it and get ready for the all-out fuckery of maturity.” Brontez certainly demonstrates in Burden the wisdom and ability to handle time and memory necessary to do so, and he certainly has a fascinating maturity and decline ahead of him, unlike most of us. The Savage Detectives is also a great example of this approach, and even I myself, at least as concerns dialogue, am dumping all the silly shit I ever heard from fifth grade up into the mouths of my characters in Byebye and Shlort, the thing I’m working on. I’m excited to see what Brontez comes up with next.

Visit the Howlarium

It’s been a while since I posted a check-in with the Howlarium! Jason Howell has been inviting writers to take advantage of his challenges and tricks for some years now, and there’s always a killer essential question and a passel of samples of stories from writers everywhere in the Howlarium.

The present edition consists of chunks of writers’ stories and works in progress. If you’re a proper writer, that is to say, a writer who likes to read, you’ll love it. Go visit!