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The Fiction Issue 2012

Reviews

Some books make us smile, others make us vomit.
June 18, 2012, 1:45pm

BEST BOOK OF THE MONTH: THREATS

WORST BOOK OF THE MONTH: ON THE BRO’D

BEST COVER OF THE MONTH: BIG RAY

WORST COVER OF THE MONTH: THE GRIMSCRIBE’S PUPPETS

What Alice in Chains did for “Man in the Box,” Michael Kimball does for “Obese Abusive Dad in the Chair (not pictured on cover).” To those who thought he couldn’t top Us, prepare to be utterly punished by yet another high-octane dose of Kimball’s sensitive, acute prose. Why not call in sick next Tuesday so you can get glued to your sofa with Big Ray and a family-size bag of your favorite corn-based snack product? (See page 60 for our excerpt.)

MEGAN BOYLE

THREATS

FSG

This starts off as a kind of detective story in which an ex-dentist loses his wife in a weird accident and the awesomely named Detective Chico tries to help him find out what happened and without you even noticing effortlessly moves into a terrifying exploration of grief and heartbreak and madness that left me short of breath. It made me cry a bunch. Not that it means anything. I cry all the time. 

CRYBABY SMALLS

TRIBURBIA

Karl Taro Greenfeld

HarperCollins

These are interlinked stories about five families—fathers, mothers, children, and nannies—and how they’ve become warped and venal and driven mad by the postbohemian bourgeoisie of Tribeca, and how even these members of the 1 percent are now being driven out by members of the .01 percent. There’s some dark truth in these stories of adults struggling with finally growing up, but you know what? Whoever told you that you could be a writer or painter or musician and live like an investment banker? This is also a book about how the creative upper class pass on the same faux-bohemian values to their kids. And then they’ll wonder why their kids move back home and are unemployed for a decade when they’re finished with college.

GIANCARLO DITRAPANO

SKAGBOYS

Irvine Welsh

Norton

Oh cool, a Trainspotting prequel. And only a decade shy of the (presumably first) Trainspotting sequel. I guess the only horse Welsh’s kicked lately is the dead one.

RIMSHOT

KINGDOM COME

J.G. Ballard

Norton

When I was a child I hated Ballard for growing a sense of humor after his 1,000-percent serious 60s stuff. When I grew up, I put away my childish things (beret) and realized that funny-Ballard beats the living shit out of goth-kids-Ballard. And is also a kajillion times scarier. This is the last book he wrote before he died and both his most hilarious and his most terrifying, because it’s about a racist middle-class revolt in the London suburbs that uncannily presages the rise of the real-life English Defence League, and also because the narrator is like an even more psychotic version of Richard Grant’s character in How to Get Ahead in Advertising. RIP, dudre.

LEROY GUMPTION

KASHER IN THE RYE

Moshe Kasher

Grand Central Publishing

This is a memoir about a nerve-rattled Jew who got hooked on dope and bounced from one funny farm to the next. Reading this book was like looking out the window, if your window overlooks anywhere in New York, at any time, ever.

HOT GYNO

ON THE BRO'D: A Parody Of Jack Kerouac's On The Road
Mike Lacher
Adams Media

You would think there would be tons of anal happening in this reimagining of Kerouac’s most famous book of male friendship, but there isn’t. Still, the whole thing does a fine job of sucking its own cock.

INDIAN BUMMER

ZONE ONE
Colson Whitehead
Doubleday

A postapocalyptic-zombies-roam-Manhattan book that aims for lyrical and empathic, trying to be a “smart guy’s zombie story.” Unfortunately, it ends up as an “MFA-teacher’s zombie story,” i.e., it will bore your eyeballs off. Reading World War Z very, very slowly in a very, very uncomfortable chair might achieve the same effect.

TITO PICCOLINI

HHhH

Laurent Binet

Grasset & Fasquelle

I love it when literature surprises me. Just when I think something is going to be a zany experimental history of Hhgregg, it’s a super-serious Nazi assassination fanfic laced with meta-author commentary. 

MEGAN BOYLE

SISTER STOP BREATHING

R.A.P. MUSIC

Williams Street

What can suck is admiring a writer and then discovering she’s writing in her second language. When I think how Joseph Conrad wrote in his third language (after Polish, then French), I get a huge case of God, I am uneducated. Chiara’s English is perfect. She does not make mistakes. But since Italians have better taste than Americans, their discriminating word choices can really charge a sentence that would be dead with the most common choice of the American mind. Since we have to give everything a name, as if it were the damn law or something, people will call the contents of Barzini’s collection “flash fiction.” That term has never really jibed with me, but Barzini is writing something, call it whatever. And it hurts you that you’ll never have a sexy Italian accent.

GIANCARLO DITRAPANO

THESE DREAMS OF YOU

Steve Erickson

Europa Editions

This is the guy people have been telling me for years is “Pynchon’s heir”? Really? Maybe I missed the part in Vineland (it was long) where the Left Coast Boomer stereotype waxes guilty about not being accepted by the black kids at college and connects with his adopted Ethiopian daughter through the music of David Bowie’s Greatest Hits, but this shit is beyond square. It’s like if NPR was a book instead of just something I have to turn off every morning when I get to work at the Daily Grind.

TIMOTHY HUTTON

THE PATRICK MELROSE NOVELS

Edward St. Aubyn

Picador

Four novels that are kind of like if Downton Abbey were set now and produced for HBO rather than PBS. In other words, fewer cripples who magically stand up next to fireplaces and more drugs and rape and sex and suicide and sodomy, which is far more representative of the English upper class anyway.

TANO SMELL

THE LAKE

Banana Yoshimoto

Melville House

Of the people who will purchase this book, 3 percent will be named Alyce, 10 percent will be purchasing a Frequently Bought Together package containing The Lake and two Haruki Murakami books on Amazon.com, 15 percent will be Banana Yoshimoto fans, 25 percent will have always wanted to read Banana Yoshimoto, and 47 percent will buy it on a mysteriously strong impulse they will later attribute to the words “Banana” and “Yoshimoto” eliciting unconscious memories of banana-flavored Runts candies and Yoshi from Mario.

MEGAN BOYLE

THE GRIMSCRIBE'S PUPPETS
Various writers
Miskatonic River

Uh, tribute albums are kind of fun because bands can cover one band’s songs in their own style, but having different people write their own stories in an established author’s style is called fan fiction, and there’s already a whole, shitty internet full of it. Only way you could do worse is to make the tributee an overrated, sub-Clive Barker horror writer who intentionally keeps his work out of print to preserve his “mystique.”

(I'M TALKING ABOUT THOMAS LIGOTTI)

TASTEFUL NUDES

Dave Hill

St. Martin's

The only other book I have recently (ten years ago) read that, along with

Tasteful Nudes

, can also be described as comedic essays was one of those dreadful books by David Sedaris. I am going to compare these two men and their books, but solely for blueprint purposes. The stories from Dave Hill’s life are much funnier, he wrote them inside his balls, and his stories are also true just like he says they are. Not like David Sedaris said that his were and then they weren’t or something?

GIANCARLO DITRAPANO

AGAINST ARCHITECTURE

Franco La Cecla

PM

This is a novella-length manifesto about the “starchitects” like Frank Gehry, Renzo Piano, and Rem Koolhaas whose egos have been ruining architecture for half a decade, and it is basically the exact, picture-perfect takedown anybody anywhere has ever wanted to write about what’s wrong with their profession. Scathing, unpretentious enough for nonarchitects to enjoy, and so irrefutably dead-on that one of his targets (Piano) actually wrote him a blurb, effectively saying, “Yeah. You got me. I’m an asshole.” Hats off, you furious wop.

TM PRESS

MAGIC HOURS: Essays on Creators and Creation

Tom Bissell

Believer Books/McSweeny's

Mesmerizing... the bastard stepchild of a three-way between Dwight Macdonald, Gay Talese, and the Paris Review interviews, mixed in a tumbler by a modern-day hipster-bartender version of Greil Marcus.

THEODORE STILLSMELLY

ENERGY FLASH: A Journey Through Rave Music and Dance Culture

Simon Reynolds

Soft Skull

Hey, Britain, quit writing fucking nerdbooks on rock and roll. We want to read about Julian Cope spending two years straight on acid and the KLF firing a machine gun full of blanks into the crowd at the BRIT Awards, not ludicrously overblown track-by-track descriptions of Screamadelica (did you know the Andrew Weatherall remix of “American Spring” “pivoted around an exquisite harpsichord motif like a scattered handful of stardust”?) and block quotes on MDMA from the American Journal of Medicine. Thanks for making rave culture even more boring than it was at the time, which was plenty.

HEAVIN HELVIN

GOD IN PAIN

Slavoj Zizek

Seven Stories

Hey, beardo, the nice part about not believing in God is not spending your entire life reading books about that shit. That, and the fucking.

ATHEISM

BUTTERFLY IN THE TYPEWRITER: The Tragic Life of John Kennedy Toole and the Remarkable Story of A Confederacy of Dunces

Cory MacLauchlin

Da Capo

Toole occupies a similar position to Vonnegut in terms of writers who married slightly cruel humor and an innate understanding of the abject misery of the average person’s life with a warm-but-uncorny sense of Middle American optimism, and also in terms of writers whose fans are some of the most insufferably bland “weirdos” you will ever have the misfortune of being bad-breathed into the corner by at your average college party. Good straightforward bio, but I’m sure all anyone’s going to care about is the chapter (5) where it explains how Ignatius Reilly was based on a fellow college teacher in Louisiana named Bobby Byrne, and the chapter (12) where it explains why Toole committed suicide. Which is because he was gay. Just kidding, it’s cause he was crazers.

L'DOYE

TREES

Anonymous

Smithsonian Nature Guide

You know what fucking rule? Trees. You may be thinking, “Oh, what, those wood things with the leafs on them?” and while that’s a fair rudimentary assessment, buddy, you’ve still got

tons

to learn. And to get laid by knowing. I knew a kid growing up who could identify all the major trees of our area like some sort of 18th-century botanist, and though he was pantsed mercilessly every day of high school, I talked to him on iChat recently and he has since had more boyfriends than you could shake the pliant bough of a budding alpine laburnum at.

THOMAS MORTON

THIS IS HOW

Augusten Burroughs

St. Martin's Press

Theoretically “funny” advice about everything from an extremely preachy man who thinks he’s seen it all. How’s that for a terrible book idea? Terrible is how.

HENRYETTA GREENE

GRANTLAND QUARTERLY ISSUE 2

Edited by Bill Simmons

McSweeney's

This evaluation is not based on the contents of this book. Not at all. The contents are the same fantastic pop-culture articles you find on Grantland.com, including a piece about Eddie Murphy that should win some kind of award. Thing is, if I can get the same great content online for free, then you better make sure you then resell that content by wrapping it in a REALLY sweet book, not a half-decent one with very crappy illos inside and a dust jacket that seems to be designed by McSweeney’s shittiest intern. I mean, the first issue was bound in the same material basketballs are made of! BASKETBALLS! COME ON! You can do better, bros.

TIM SMALL

People have been comparing this guy to David Foster Wallace, but that’s a lazy comparison. All that JJS and DFW have in common is that they both write long essays and have those names that are, like, triple names. That’s the problem with blurbs: They’re often full of shit. For example, they might say something like, “Astonishing... the missing link between David Sedaris and David Foster Wallace, with a dash of Flannery O’Connor and a hint of moonshine.”

THEODORE SMELLYFARTS

FARTHER AWAY: Essays

Jonathan Franzen

FSG

Authoritative and elegant... this is what would happen if you put Jonathan Franzen, Jonathan Franzen’s grumpy uncle, and Jonathan Franzen’s sense of self-worth in a kitchen robot, set it on mince, and added a few slices of rare, exotic bird meat.

THEODORE DEADLYFARTS

FEAR OF MUSIC

Jonathan Lethem

Continuum/33 1/3

When these little fuckers first came out and were just mini-histories of classic albums written in Asperger’s-esque detail, they were a major guilty pleasure. Then, like some English teacher with a Dead quote above the classroom door, they started letting people write short stories and personal essays “inspired” by the albums, and now look where we are: a 140-page undergrad term paper by Jonathan Lethem on the least interesting record by one of the least interesting bands of all time. What’s next, guys, an improvised Bret Easton Ellis audiotape on Kirsty MacColl’s Electric Landlady? Wait a second, that’s actually a great idea.

COPYRIGHT 2012 VICE MEDIA

ON THE GROUND: An Illustrated Anecdotal History of the Sixties Underground Press in the US

Edited by Sean Stewart

PM

Enough with the oral histories already. It works when you’re documenting something like the New York punk scene or David Lee Roth’s life that’s so packed with amazing stories you can just have all the key players sit around a tape recorder, tell them, “OK, start at the beginning,” then let them babble until they hit the end and you hit the stop button. If you’ve got to have explanatory paragraphs every five pages to connect the dots between Paul Krassner and Gilbert Shelton, you’re basically just handing us your transcripts and saying, “Here, you make this.”

ERIK SPETTS

MYTHOLOGIES

Roland Barthes

Hill and Wang

Jesus Christ, what an eyesore. Book design has fallen a long, long, long, loooooong, long way since the Penguin days of the 60s, but even by contemporary standards this is some for-real dogshit. What are they trying to do, trick Elmore Leonard fans into reading French semiotics? That’s only going to make them angrier, you dopes.

JEAN BAUDRILLARD

SUBLIMINAL: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior

Leonard Mlodinow

Pantheon Books

I can really get behind a book that breaks down, in a scientific manner, how it’s highly likely that I’m misremembering the shittiest parts of my life. Here’s hoping volume 2 will include a chapter called “Yes, I Am So the Coolest Person Ever. And Extremely Physically Fit.”

HEY SALLY

WRITING IN PICTURES: Screenwriting Made (Mostly) Painless

All of Us, Together

Vintage

Does any writing manual ever start without saying all other writing manuals are bullshit and this is the one that isn’t going to try and force a bunch of rules on you, just give you a little guidance and inspiration in order to help you find your own path to success? Might as well throw your necktie into the trash can while you’re at it and tell us, “Mr. Manual is my father. You kids call me Wri.”

JOEY MCINTIRE

HALLELUJAH, GIANT SPACE WOLF

Daniel Bailey

Mammoth Editions

At poetry in general, I’m usually like, pshaw. I am not pshaw at Daniel Bailey. I can honestly say he is the poet out there who I see “creating a cosmos.” Hey, do you guys do lines? Want to do a line? OK, this book review is about as cramped as a bathroom stall, but I just like cutting lines and giving them out to people. Here’s one from

Hallelujah, Giant Space Wolf

: “let’s do unto others as we would do unto the hottest Christian girls ever.”

GIANCARLO DITRAPANO

IF I FALTER AT THE GALLOWS

Edward Mullany

Publishing Genius

These are good. Plop. There goes another little baby into the drink. Here is the wall to look at. There is the toilet-paper roll. There’s the mirror. Yes, this is the life. Wait, is this the life? Why did you let them finger the cubes in your glass? Are you gay? You are, aren't you? Whose bathroom is this? How did you get here? Where did you come from? These are little still lifes, Mullany's poems, these little cubes in my whiskey that I'm drinking sitting on the carpeted bathroom floor wedged between the toilet and the wall. Keep looking around. It's never going to be the same. Mullany falters at the gallows, because that's what men do.

GIANCARLO DITRAPANO

THE UNSEEN
Nanni Balestrini
Verso

PURE FILTH

Peter Sotos and Jamie Gillis

Feral House

I sometimes wish Peter would write a book about something that didn’t involve extreme sexual situations/violence/terrible things and turn his hand to something a bit more gentle on the soul. For when he writes good, he’s one of the best out there. Funny, addictive and succinct with incredible powers of observation and perception. I have always suspected there is an amazingly beautiful book about love and life buried deep somewhere within his cuddly/terrifying-bearman heart. This book—about porn legend Jamie Gillis’ “private tapes”—definitely isn’t that one; although it’s one of the most remarkable/eyefucking you are likely to read all year.

RYAN GOSLING

MEAT HEART

Melissa Broder

Girlie Action

There are like three Melissa Broders: There’s the Melissa Broder in person, who seems very put-together, kind of a deal-maker (I think she’s an agent). Then there is the Melissa Broder of Twitter. There’s no two ways about how she fucking slays it on there. Then there is a third Melissa Broder, who just published Meat Heart, a solid poetry collection I might gloat more over if I weren’t waiting to read Melissa number two in its pages, not this third Melissa I didn’t even know there was. If she ever decides to harness what she does on that stupid fucking website we’re always looking at, some of the most badass poetry ever might occur.

GIANCARLO DITRAPANO

Experimental fiction of this sort usually sends me into full-on Dad Mode, but before I could smugly bellow, “Looks like someone forgot to print the periods!” in my boxers, in the kitchen, I realized I was already 150 pages in and texting friends to cancel drinks. A fictionalized account of Italy’s

Autonomia

protest movement in the ultraviolent late 70s (the “Years of Lead”) centered around the 1980 Trani prison revolt and subsequent bloodbath and told in the naturally punctuationless cadence of a fried-but-nostalgic barstool companion. This would make perfect inspirational reading for all those Occupy kids if they ever took a break from relishing the stench of their own farts.

B.B. KING