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.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Lucid Nightmare Horror: A Review of Creeping Waves

Horror fans are going absolutely apeshit over this book—and for good reason.

Imagine a literary collaboration between H.P. Lovecraft and William S. Burroughs. Imagine a meeting of folk horror and unbridled hallucinatory surrealism. Imagine an ancient witch-cult using a New England radio station to infect and commandeer the minds of its listeners. Imagine raving insanity and repellent gore. Imagine a writing style so offbeat that you find yourself questioning the author’s sanity.

This is Matthew M. Bartlett’s Creeping Waves.

Creeping Waves 
is the sequel to Bartlett’s 2014 masterwork Gateways to Abomination (acclaimed weird-horror author Scott Nicolay rightly hailed Gateways as “the most important collection of 2014”). Both books are comprised of vignettes—short stories, flash pieces, epistolary slices, and “historical” fragments—that detail a supernatural onslaught of epic proportions in the town of Leeds, Massachusetts. Much of Creeping Waves’ content, like that of its predecessor, revolves around the radio station 87.9 WXXT, the present-day project of a centuries-old witch cult seeking to, uhhh, takeover Leeds? The world? Institute Hell on Earth? It’s actually unclear what  WXXT & Co.’s endgame is, but it’s part of what makes the book(s) great. There’s a puzzle-like quality to understanding the “big picture” in both Creeping Waves and Gateways. To engage these collections is to descend into a deep, dark rabbit hole brimming with nerve-shredding phantasmagoria beyond your wildest imaginings. I’ve read both books; I still haven’t pieced it all together. The WXXT universe is a labyrinthine abyss filled with goatmen, sinister artifacts, mountains of insect larvae, wilderness orgies, “Thursday Night Death Jazz,” and old-fashioned murder. Much like in the stories of H.P. Lovecraft, the forces of malevolence exist and operate, largely, just outside the scope of human comprehension. Let me warn you: Bartlett’s writing will get under your skin. It will make you feel deeply unwell. 

And, to reiterate, Bartlett really pushes the envelope on style, structure, and form. Do not expect any prototypical horror prose from the man. Some of the characters are recurrent, yes, but many are only fleeting. This book isn’t really about characters. It isn’t about plot either. It’s a 
lucid 266-page nightmare on paper. All bets are off when it comes to literary conventions. Bartlett's got guts. He's that rare once-in-a-generation author with a mold-breaking creative vision and the chops to put it to paper. I can’t commend Creeping Waves enough for its unapologetic literary rule-smashing.

So, if you’ve so much as Googled this book, you already know people are shrieking its praises.

Believe the hype—it’s all very justified. 

My recommendation: Pick up a copy of Creeping Waves.


And for those new to Bartlett's work, pick up Gateways to Abomination and Creeping Waves. Take a long trip to Leeds. Tune in to WXXT. Get lost in the woods. Join an ancient witch-cult. Read the books in order. Dive headlong into Bartlett’s diabolical nightmare universe. Embrace the future of horror.

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.