The hot flesh of summer is here, and everyone wants to read about vacations and things covered in sand and margaritas and making love on boats. Not me. I hate this season. So the last thing I want to do when I’m living in the thick of it is read about it. If you feel the way I do, here are three short books that will make you feel strange in the sun.
The Last Horror Novel in the History of the World by Brian Allen Carr
How does one write a zombie novel without falling into the trap of being pigeonholed as the guy who wrote the zombie novel? It’s no easy task, and yet The Last Horror Novel in the History of the World sets itself apart from others in its genre right from the start, with a title provocative enough to announce the imminent end of its own universe, a kind of reminder that you’d better read now, while you can, because once what’s inside takes hold you’ll be just another blood bag.
The most appealing thing about Carr’s horror is the number of forms it takes, and the subsequent mutations the story’s landscape carries out along the way. The youth of Scrape, Texas, are gas-station kids. When fucked-up creatures begin to appear in their town, they barely slow their parade of drinking, fucking, and joking. More than anything, they treat the new developments—a woman in white who hoards dead kids in the water, black hairy hands that crawl across the ground grasping for anything they can get a handle on, etc.—as just something to do. Carr can stack quite a nasty string of messed-up imagery, and yet the life inside the book continues on, flipping back from lines of death into more beer, more sense that everyone was just as fucked before the monsters rolled out as they are now.
Throughout it all, Carr’s magic shows in how he handles territory most would strand as genre. He fills the pages with magnetic, mostly sparse language, not far from how Robert Coover’s recreations bring new threads to a corpse. His new mythology, set right in the middle of nowhere that many would consider the heartland of our country, is new and old at once, sick and rhapsodic, alive and not afraid to die. “The black magic of bad living,” the book reminds us, “only looks hideous to honest eyes.”
The Luminol Reels by Laura Ellen Joyce
Luminol is the stuff cops use at crime scenes to discover remnants of spilled blood. In that spirit, The Luminol Reels provides an index of the long array of mankind’s atrocities, particularly those in the form of violence against women.
The book is divided up into the ten types of traumas it relates, a Dante-like relation of the rings of pain: Agonies, Martyrs, Murderers, Porno, Rituals, Bodies, Virgins, Sacrificial Laws, Saints, and, finally, Luminol. Each section contains a handful of one- or two-page texts, somewhat like specimen slides, describing sick little short films that each provides an eye into a hellish scene or mind. “Mass Burial,” for instance, reads:
The smell is rotten in the desert. Putrefaction is scrambled in the heat. Some of the girls lie with their faces missing, brains leaking from the dead zone, but with their right arms or feet still covered in creamy flesh.
Relief can be gained by visiting the mass grave. Run your fingers through their hair and breathe in their sharp violent scents. Lie on top of them, rolling your heavy body over theirs, catching blue-black hair in your teeth and tasting their sweet perspiration where it collects underneath the fester and damp of their corpses.
There is little hope here, and even less relenting. Joyce’s hand is as unflinching in its force as any of the deathly actions rendered to the bodies on any page, almost like an alarm light throwing its glow over room after room, or stations in an exhibit of twisted murder scenes. Each leg is mercifully brief, landing its blow and moving into the next.
Like its namesake, The Luminol Reels coats the floor of every surface it presents with a stain that won’t be easily forgotten.
Spooky Plan by Drew Kalbach
“Mysticism is just tomorrow’s science dreamed today.” That’s one of the four quotes opening this document, borrowed from communication theorist Marshall McLuhan. It sets the book up well in one of my favorite modes in a body of writing—the use of words to create space, rather than reflect it. Books should build a location that did not exist in any past—a window to somewhere else, now opened.
Spooky Plan, as its title portends, has the dark heart full for this test. It opens with a section titled Planchette, after the Ouija-board recognized device that facilitates automatic writing. Each text in Planchette, according to the book’s end notes, takes its title from graffiti found on the walls at Pompeii.
The book is opened to weird light, like a hallway that just seems to keep going, changing colors, textures. The first text goes, “You defecate and you write ‘hello everyone’ / as if feces mean anything.” Then later: “You rub your eyes / to pinkness and pus, and days change if vaguely, / and total in the freezer glow, the shrimp which melt, / your hands cover spotted walls, / the apostate dissolute feeling which grinds / into your eyebrows and lobes and fringes all the rest.”
Mad science, right? What is he saying? I don’t know. I pick up so many books now and within minutes see their picture before I’ve even been given the chance to take it in. The science of Spooky Plan is in the orchestration, the way Kalbach welds ass cracks to CPUs, literally banging together from line to line a kind of terminology and logic that seems foreign-born as it passes through you, and then you’re turning around to look where it went after it made it through. In this way, the book actually seems haunted, filled with residues compiled in scripts that offer no easy way out, that fill around you like the air inside a ghost house in a video game you lose sleep to stay up playing through the night.