Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Great Feels and Sexual Astral Projections: A Review of Witch Hunt

I’m always reluctant to pay for poetry. When I do, I usually go for authors I already know from narrative fiction.

I had never read anything from Juliet Escoria though.

I bought her new poetry collection Witch Hunt because I’m a fan of the book’s publisher Lazy Fascist. I bought it because I liked the title.

Admittedly, I don’t know much about poetry, but I really enjoyed Witch Hunt. Juliet Escoria’s writing is many things in this book: dark, humorous, bleak, sarcastic, lewd, satirical.

The poems—divided into chapters—are a mix of free-verse and narrative style. Some are more like stories (yes, complete with paragraphs and punctuation!), others defy all conventions of structure and form. Escoria even fucks around with font-sizes and poetic images (e.g. a scan of a gas station receipt), which is all really unusual and fun.

And the titles of the poems are generally a good time in their own right. They include: “CASUAL MISANDRY,” “TOP 10 GREATEST FEELS,” “HAIKUS FOR HORSE HATERS,” and “ASTRAL PROJECT MY PUSSY” among many other notables.

I found myself moving between moments of depressive introspection and laughter while reading Witch Hunt. Escoria’s poems come off as deeply personal for the most part, but she touches on many universal topics and themes: life regrets (or lack thereof); awkward sex; strained relationships; meth; etc.

Real People should have no problem connecting with Escoria’s writing on some level.

So yeah, I definitely recommend Witch Hunt
The book is a fantastic balance of dreadful angst and irreverent, biting humor. 

I especially recommend it to fans of Melissa Broder and Sam Pink. I recommend it to people who don't normally buy poetry.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

A Tour of the Northeast With Bullets: A Review of Tommy Red

A Guest Review by Stanton McCaffery

Tommy Red by Charlie Stella is an intense and gritty tale of aging mob bosses, crooked cops and federal agents, and one hitman who's too good at his own job. It’s a lean book and a lightning fast read with a plot that touches just about every zip code between New Hampshire and Baltimore.

What strikes you first about this book is the dialogue. There’s really nothing quite like it. Aspiring writers should read this book with a pen and a pad at hand and follow along closely. Accolades on the book’s cover say reading the dialogue is like listening to a conversation. They’re not lying. And as a native New Jerseyan and someone who commutes every day into Manhattan I can tell you that yes, people do indeed talk like this.

The book kicks off when Tommy, who does in fact have red hair, is contracted to gun down a gangster turned tattle-tail discovered in New Hampshire. Through an old friend, Tommy’s paid to go to New Hampshire and make the guy disappear. Unbeknownst to Tommy, the crime family who initially organized the hit wants to tie up any loose ends linking them to the crime, Tommy included. But remember when I said that the hitman’s too good at his own job? Well here's where that comes into play. You’ll have to pick up the book to find out where it goes from there. It’s worth it.

While the dialogue and the plot reel you in, the characters are what make this a gem. Tommy in particular is well executed. He’s not the kind of guy to give excuses for who he is, but woven throughout the book is a backstory starting with the death of his father that makes us empathize with him.

And here’s a warning about all the characters in this book: With the exception of Tommy’s daughter and one FBI agent who's still wet behind the ears, these are not decent people. But, man, are they fun to watch.

Tommy Red
is likely to remind readers of some great movies. I’m thinking maybe The Godfather, maybe Casino, which is actually mentioned, but really Goodfellas. The first time I saw that movie it scared the living shit out of me, how ruthless those guys were. And just like Scorsese with that film, Stella doesn’t hold back on the brutality. You can feel the punches, smell the vomit, and hear the gunshots, except of course when the silencers are used.

My verdict on this one: get it and read it twice.

Stanton McCaffery was born and raised in central New Jersey, where he resides with his wife and son. He has degrees in history and political science and manages communications for a United Nations agency. He is currently working on his first novel. Find him on Twitter here.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Hooray for the 80s: A Review of My Best Friend's Exorcism

A Guest Review by Stanton McCaffery

My Best Friend’s Exorcism
 by Grady Hendrix is a fun and kind of campy ride through 1980s insanity, touching on everything from mullets and hair crimpers to Phil Collins and E.T. to the War on Drugs and religious paranoia. Hendrix pulls us in with nostalgia and girlhood drama to tell us a story about the horrors of growing up and the strength of friendship.  

Like Hendrix’s previous novel, Horrorstör, which was set up to appear like an Ikea catalogue, Exorcism’s cover and design are similarly grabbing—they look like someone’s high school yearbook, filled with cryptic messages, autographs, and inside jokes.

The book tells the story of Abby Rivers and her friendship with Gretchen Lang, the friend referenced in the title that Abby does indeed exorcize. Abby's from a working-class family, but is attending the snooty Albemarle Academy on a scholarship. There’s a class divide throughout the books that makes us empathize with and ultimately root for Abby.

Of one of the many things this book does well, it captures adolescent loneliness perfectly through Abby’s struggles and reminds readers that for a kid nothing feels quite as bad as thinking you don’t have any friends. Similarly, it reminds us of the power of young friendship. The first chapter tells how Abby, an adult looking back on her adolescence, now has people she casually refers to as friends, but that “she remembers when the word ‘friend’ could draw blood.”

In Amazon reviews Hendrix has won many deserving comparisons to Stephen King for his use of the mundane to get at the horrific and paranormal. It’s also worth mentioning how Hendrix, like King, disarms readers and lures us in with likable characters, goofy nostalgia (though in the case of King it’s for the 60s, not the 80s) and tight prose. Though Exorcism never quite goes for the jugular in shattering the world of Albemarle Academy the way King has shattered his worlds in, say, Carrie, we still see lives ruined and costs exacted on the protagonist and her friends.

And there’s nastiness here too. My favorite scene deals with a near-lethal dose of tapeworm eggs.

, while certainly enjoyable for older readers, can also serve as an entry point into horror for younger people growing out of the YA genre. The nostalgia and the obscure 80s references are laid on a little thick at times (there’s even mention of a shirtless Patrick Swayze in Skatetown USA early on), and some are surely to go over younger readers' heads, but the true strength of this book is in the characters and the relationships they have with one another. The book’s ending is particularly powerful in that regard.

My conclusion: Pick up this book and read it, whether you remember the 80s or not.

Stanton McCaffery was born and raised in central New Jersey, where he resides with his wife and son. He has degrees in history and political science and manages communications for a United Nations agency. He is currently working on his first novel. Find him on Twitter here.