Thursday, May 26, 2016

Yes, This: A Review of Ladybox Vol. 2

Okay, this isn’t really a review.

I just want to rave about Ladybox Vol. 2.

Such a brilliant idea.

A collection of seven literary zines and chapbooks. Seven different "badass authors." Fiction. Poetry. Biographical essays. Beautiful art and DIY aesthetics. Yep.

And guess what—“Ladybox is not genre specific.” You’ll find everything from artful fantasy to sleazy realism among the pages of this collection.

Fuck yes.

The writing, across the board, is superb. I particularly enjoyed Constance Ann Fitzgerald’s Creeps and Interstellar Bruja by Rios de la Luz. But it’s all really awesome. Trust me. 

And opening this collection felt like Christmas. The zines and chapbooks were mailed in a small, decorated box filled with stickers and patches. It was magical. 

Sadly, though, you can’t share in the magic anymore. Ladybox Vol. 2 was a limited run. They’re gone now. But hey, let this be a lesson to you. When Ladybox Books announces plans for Ladybox Vol. 3 don’t snooze or you’re gonna lose.

Now, after experiencing the sheer awesomeness of Ladybox Vol. 2, I can't help but wonder: Why isn't this more of a thing in the world of literature? If my favorite authors and publishers put out zine-and-chapbook collections like this on the reg, I'd snatch them up left and right—I swear. I think others would too. Small press authors and publishers wouldn't have to work day jobs anymore. Maybe? Either way, the world needs more of this sort of thing.

Here are the authors of Ladybox Vol. 2. You should check out their work, friendos.

Tiffany Scandal
Rios de la Luz
Meliza Bañales
Emily O’Neill
Jennifer Robin
Isobel O’Hare
Constance Ann Fitzgerald

Monday, May 9, 2016

A Fringe Culture Love Letter: A Review of Locust House

The Locust is my favorite band, and I'm a fan of Adam Gnade’s music. So, yeah, buying Gnade's novella Locust House was a no-brainer for me. 

I didn’t really know what to expect though, as I’d never read any of Gnade’s fiction. 

Well, turns out he's pretty damn good at this literature thing.

Locust House is a novella-length rumination on a time, a place, and a culture. It’s an impressionistic love letter to San Diego’s fringe music scene, circa 2002. It is beautiful, unsettling, and immersive.

Gnade presents readers with a handful of misfit characters who orbit San Diego's gritty noise-punk milieu and frequent the Locust House—a home-turned-concert venue, rented and operated by the members of The Locust during the early 2000s. Some of these characters know each other, some don’t. However, they’re all drawn to The Locust's extreme, envelope-pushing music. They are propelled by feelings of alienation, deep political convictions, existential angst, and shitty relationships. They desire something raw and extraordinary in a society brimming with flatlining culture and post-9/11 paranoia. These characters, I should mention, are all secondary to the sights, sounds, smells, and ephemeral feelings that are lyrically detailed in the novella. 

Gnade deals heavily in fleeting moods, moments, and atmospheres—not so much in conventional story. Don’t start this book anticipating a plot. Don’t go in expecting traditional character development. The characters of Locust House are more the means than the ends

And it's worth noting that Gnade’s focus on setting and rich sensory details flies right in the face of current literary conventions. For that reason, Locust House was a breath of fresh air.

When done right, I love a good savory ramble. And Gnade pulls it off deftly. The world of Locust House is made entirely palpable for the reader—the frenetic music, the drugs, the dingy apartments, the steaming elotes locos. All of it.

Now, as I mentioned above, I love The Locust. For me, it was certainly enjoyable to read Gnade's hard-edged, romantic prose about artists who blew my world open during my younger years—just as they seemingly did for the book’s author.

That said, I'm not sure how most readers would respond to Locust House. Without at least some level of interest in The Locust and early-2000s noise-punk, I don't know that there'd be as much resonance. Locust House is, even for a work of novella-length, a pretty slow and impressionistic burn. 

So, with that in mind, here are a few pre-reading recommendations for those who might not know anything of The Locust or Adam Gnade. Take ‘em  or leave ‘em—I don't care.

1) Listen to some choice tracks from The Locust and other bands that come up in the novella. Lucky for you, I’ve put a list together so you don’t have to use your precious time scrounging around for this stuff.

Fret not over the size of the list—these songs are incredibly short. Many clock-in under a minute. 

Okay, have at it, Otis. This is the best of the best. Well, a small sampling of it, at least.

“Tower of Mammal” – The Locust

“Circle Jack” – Melt Banana

“Birth Control Blues” – Arab on Radar

2) Listen to some of Adam Gnade’s music. It’s not mandatory, but I think doing so will help you lock into the voice of Locust House. Gnade's got this beautiful spoken-word, neo-Beat delivery on his musical recordings. In Locust House, he seems to write in a way that conveys a similar feel, a similar rhythm. Having his voice in my head—the particular way he speaks—was definitely an asset to my experience with the book. 

Here are a few recommendations... 

Friday, May 6, 2016

You're Gonna Carry That Weight: A Review of Tribulations

Some people are calling this book a collection of horror stories, and I’m not entirely sure why.

Okay, sure, Tribulations certainly serves up a healthy portion of horror fiction. And most all of the stories are horrifying on some level. But there’s just so much going on here that is well beyond the horror genre.

So much.

Like neo-noir, dystopian, post-apocalypse, magic realism, psychological thriller, cyberpunk, and literary fiction.

Let’s be clear about something: Genre-wise, Tribulations by Richard Thomas is one of the most diverse short story collections around. And the stories, well—they’re all really fucking good.

My first exposure to Richard Thomas’s writing was his collection of shorts titled Staring Into the Abyss. I loved it. Naturally, I bought Thomas’s other collection, Herniated Roots. Loved that one too. And now, having now read all of Richard Thomas’s published short fiction, I can say that the man delivers a consistent and unparalleled gift for classic short storytelling decked out in dark, glimmering contemporary themes and aesthetics. And Tribulations is now the reigning champion of that fine tradition.

But what do I mean by classic? I’m referring to the way Richard Thomas’s stories always present a heavy moral or message—and I don’t mean political. I mean universal. I mean human. His stories will have you contemplating missed romantic connections, loves lost, relationships with family and friends. Thomas will have you second-guessing your marriage and then reaffirming your commitment to it within the span of a few pages. He’ll have you questioning your entire life’s trajectory.

Short stories used to do that, I think.

They used to challenge readers and force them to reflect on their lives, on the world and their place in it. Well, now they do again—at least when it comes to Richard Thomas, and especially so among the pages of Tribulations.

Think O. Henry with monsters and wasteland settings. Think Shirley Jackson with strippers and ghosts. Think tasteful twists and several megatons of incendiary emotional payload. Sadness, angst, anxiety, fear, lust, love, sentimentality—Thomas covers all bases with raw authenticity and daring creativity.

Here are some synopses of my favorites from Tribulations:

“Vision Quest” – A man’s desire to reunite with his family revolves around deliberate high-speed freeway wrecks. Yeah. Fans of J.G. Ballard’s Crash will love this one.

 “The Wastelands”
– Life on the fringes of a dystopian police-state sucks, especially if you had to kill your wife and kids to spare them a fate worse than death. So why not team up with a mutant-humanoid giant in a desperate attempt to revive them?

– A man falls in love with a woman he thinks might be a stripper. Hilarity does not ensue.

“The Handyman”
– Hey, it’s a cruel, cyberpunk world and a man with a multi-purpose cybernetic arm has gotta do what he’s gotta do to get by, amirite?

– A hardscrabble, Tarot card-reading construction worker falls headlong into a sordid romance.

– A mythological creature stalks the children of a small town.

“Asking for Forgiveness”
– A humanoid dog-child contemplates the controversial decisions of its human parents.

“The Offering on the Hill”
– A tale of a man’s mystical, desert-wasteland, post-apocalypse, desperate-horror-dread-quest to be reunited with his family.

Richard Thomas’s Tribulations is slick neon city streets and deep primeval wilderness. It’s a loved one’s caress and burning blood in your eyes. It’s blossoming hopes and deteriorating relationships. It is the soft dance of fireflies and the snapping maw of a rabid feral dog.

Yes, time to re-up on the Xanax, friends, because the twenty-five stories of Tribulations all deliver on the titular promise. Big time. You’re gonna feel the weight of the world as you read, and you're gonna love every second of it.