Book Review – Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread by Chuck Palahniuk

★★★ 3.5 Stars

Genre: Short Stories / Fiction
Publication Date: May 26th, 2015
Publisher: Doubleday

There was actual cannibalism afoot in this book and I didn’t even notice because I was too busy trying to unprocess the medley of other sour details this book was feeding me. I guess it follows through with its promise, because now I have to slice the memory off of my brain.

Don’t get me wrong, Make Something Up is not by any means a bad collection, but it’s kind of crude after reading Haunted. I adored Haunted despite the fact that it was meticulously vile, because that works for depressive horror novels. Not so much for humor novels. This kind of tasted like a really elaborate yet flat dirty joke in places, but there are several stories that are great. I liked the African folktale parodies especially, which were hilarious. “Loser” and “Red Sultan’s Big Boy” are also prime dark comedy. “Cannibal” is the one I’m going to have to unread somehow.

If you like your humor in snot and blood colours, you might like it a lot, but I would recommend reading some of Palahniuk’s earlier work first – Haunted, Fight Club, Invisible Monsters, etc.

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Book Review – Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk

★★★★★ 5 Stars

Genre: Horror / Mystery
Publication Date: April 11th, 2006
Publisher: Anchor

Haunted, the infamous grotesque burlesque – there are no ghosts left skulking behind in this show, only the bitter chill left by the horrific acts of the living.
Gentle and harmless as being on the receiving end of a sober vivisection, this is not an easy book to stomach for a lot of people. It’s a stroll through the internal corridors of horrible people, down to the swampy, mold-lined stomach of the theatre they trap themselves in to get famous or die trying. Haunted is not for the sensitive heart, but it paints the darkness of people uncomfortably well.

A group of writers join a retreat to escape their lives for awhile, but they don’t know it involves being locked in an abandoned theatre. They are given amenities and relative comfort, but it’s not long before the isolation brings out their bad pasts and worse natures. Haunted is a novel split into short stories regaling how each character ended up alone in a rotting old building with just their personal ghosts to prove they were ever alive. Some have murdered people, others wish they had murdered someone because what they’ve been through is worse, but nobody is clean or unbroken.

Five stars is a controversial rating for a controversial book, I suppose. Infamously, parts of this book are known for making people faint or vomit during live readings (“Guts”!), but it’s not like that consistently and the imaginative premise is worth sloughing through a bit of gross details. I don’t feel bad for rating it five stars. I really loved it, enough that it’s etched its way into my favourites. Maybe I saw it with an abnormal eye?

I feel like the difference between loving and loathing it could be as fragile as how disheartened with life you feel at that moment in time, so I can see how someone feeling optimistic or who disliked dark reads would hate Haunted, but I find it kind of beautiful. Beautiful like a dead enigma floating in a dusty old jar – the details make it quite hideous to think about but also it feels valuable to know the story

“Hot Potting”, “Obsolete”, and Mrs. Clark’s saga are all potent stories, but you’ll be more familiar with the notorious “Guts”, or perhaps “Exodus”, which in my opinion tops “Guts” as far as disgust goes. “Speaking Bitterness” will uproot your organs a bit. It makes a point about acceptance and gender that is hard to discuss anyway with fatal bluntness, but it’s horrific and difficult to read.

Most of Haunted‘s staying power is from its frank depiction of human nature at its worst. The visceral stories like “Guts” are one thing, but the psychological, like “Speaking Bitterness” or “Exodus” are the ones that leave a dark impression. I don’t find it a “comedy” like the sadist blurbs for this book seem to. There’s a few uncomfortable laughs seeking the tongue, but it’s definitely a horror drama and a bitter, bitter depiction of social illness as well. The depths to where a person’s selfishness can sink them have no visible bottom, but it’s bad fortune just as often that lands someone in a situation where they are forced to create their ghosts.

Poem – “Banshee”

Banshee

Always on the search for the sacred skull,
A species, an animal not yet born
Where does it go, these hours eking by
Like tar through the teeth of a banshee

They sort us out like precious seedlings,
By colour, by face and by name
Then they throw us to the breeze with careless hands
Like we never meant anything to them
The torrent fills our heads like a banshee…

©S. M. Shuford 2018
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Book Review – Slices by Scott Cole

★★★★★ 5 Stars

Full Title: Slices – Tales of Bizarro and Absurdist Horror
Genre: Bizarro / Short Stories
Publication Date: July 16th, 2017
Publisher: Black T-Shirt Books

“There are moments in life when ideas are shifted, priorities get rearranged, and entire worldviews flip upside down. This was one of those moments. Everything I had known up to that point suddenly changed with a taste of my own arm.”

Slices plays amongst delirium and absurdity as a child of their species, in their world without borders between real and false. This book has optical nerves and wild hands collecting nightmares out of the little corners forgotten out of fear. It reshapes them and sautés them until a breathing buffet table of dreams is all that’s left for you. It is a collection that makes you smile, even if it uses a needle and thread to make sure that you do.

Quality over quantity wins every time. Slices is not a heavy piece for a regular or even an unleaded book-glutton, at a bit over 100 pages, but so much original idea and care has been put into every story that when it’s like finding a rare bird dead on the road when it ends so suddenly.

There is an overarching body horror vibe, if you didn’t get that from the bologna arm flanking the cover, but this twists into body humor just as often. I loved the title story “Slices of Me”, about a man who discovers he has no blood but his skin makes rather nice appetizers, as well as “Hole”, and ‘Playtime”. “Multi-Crabs” and “God” poke a razor-nailed finger at the blatant coldness of consumer culture and gimmicky ads, but my real favourite has to be “Violins For Sale”.
“Violins For Sale” reminds me so much of Neverwhere, I think because it captures that same eerie-yet-delightful eldritch stalker feeling that the villains of that novel had, and it’s great. All-in-all, Slices is definitely its own type of meat, but a delicious and rare sort nonetheless.

Book Review – Parasyte Vol. 1 by Hitoshi Iwaaki

★★★★★ 4.5 Stars

Genre: Horror / Science Fiction
Manga Demographic: Seinen
Publication Date: July 26th, 2011
Publisher: Kodansha

All about a boy and his alien mutation.
I don’t think I’ve read a book before that actually made the idea of having a sentient being burrowed up inside your arm sound awesome, but I suppose there’s a first time for everything.

Parasyte asks what separates humans from what they see as “lesser” life sharing the same Earth. Is mankind indeed the parasite? A sort of self-made malignancy eating up their own planet, that answers their conflicts with other species with extermination of that species? When an alien race lands on Earth and begin usurping the bodies of humans, will humans and these parasites be at odds because they are different or because they are on the level of rivals?

I’d low-key sought out this manga for awhile, but was kind of mixed about actually starting it because of the iffy status of its being in print at the time. Fortunately, Parasyte has since returned to regular print in an even better version (an anomaly for horror manga in English), so I don’t actually regret hesitating this time.
This was thoughtful and intense and surprisingly fun. Weirdly adorable too, thanks to the parasite Migi and his squirmy bug-eyes. Others have remarked that Parasyte can be something of a gorefest, which I suppose is true but I didn’t really get that from it. Not moreso than any other dark seinen series, anyway. You’d probably like it a lot even if you dislike rampant explosions of guts. Its violence is a little more tasteful than that, I think.

Book Review – Nothing is Strange by Mike Russell

★★★★★ 5 Stars

Genre: Dark Fantasy / Short Stories
Publication Date: December 31st, 2014
Publisher: StrangeBooks

Nothing is Strange is an illicit, dairy-based love affair between synthetic dreams and the sensors and nerves of your eyes. It is nutritious but decadent written chocolate.
Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to concentrate paper and idea into a human, for this would be the most intriguing one to chat with. But being your typical homunculus, it would probably be flawed somewhere vital and mope about mourning its own existence for always, and wouldn’t want to chat at all.

Nothing is perfect as a short story collection could be. It molds the shapes which only exist in the act of sleep and solidifies them into a theatre of little masterpieces. Nothing is hypnotic, humorous, horrifying, and every other H word that we spit out in haste when we can’t really describe what we feel. It’s truly neapolitan, and not only because one of its stories harbors a serious ice cream fetish.

I stubbornly straddled the fence on this book for awhile even though it kept popping up, and the guilt for that is real. If you’re not sure, just try a small bite. It pretty much becomes a vortex after that, and good luck running free from it.

My particular favourites were “Dunce”, “Escape From the Butcher’s Shop”, “The Living Crown”, “Extraordinary Elsie” and “Stan and Stan”. Interestingly, these all stand out because they challenge the innate fatalism of people. One is not always meant to be what it seems they will at birth, even if everyone they meet says otherwise. Not when there is a whole world waiting out there whose mere touch can change anything.

Harvest of Horror 2018

It looks like it’s that time of year at last. Hello, horror fiction and molasses-black cavities from the sheer volume of candy! Halloween is a season of body horror in all its forms.
Harvest of Horror is an event I’ll be doing every October where I’ll be posting horror-related goodness – reviews, poems and writing – for most of the days leading up to Halloween.

2018’s Halloween reap ranges from surreal to sweet to sickening, and all good reads as it turns out. A few are quite controversial works of horror, such as Oct. 15’s book, Better the Devil You Know and Oct. 4’s Haunted. Fortune might choose to smile grandly near the end of October, for I have a book coming out of my own around that date – the dark poetry compilation Loverboy. I’ll be sharing some samples with you all then!
The full Harvest of Horror line-up:

October 1 – BOOK REVIEW – ‘Nothing is Strange’
October 2 – BOOK REVIEW – ‘Parasyte Vol. 1’
October 3 – BOOK REVIEW – ‘Slices’
October 4 – BOOK REVIEW – ‘Haunted’
October 5 – BOOK REVIEW – ‘Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread’
October 6 – ART BOOK REVIEW – ‘Autopsyrotica’
October 7 – POEM – ‘Hematoma’
October 8 – BOOK REVIEW – ‘Zerostrata’
October 9 – BOOK REVIEW – ‘Snowy Pines’
October 10 – BOOK REVIEW – ‘Silent Hill’ Comics Part 1
October 11 – BOOK REVIEW – ‘Silent Hill’ Comics Part 2
October 12 – SHORT STORY REVIEW – ‘The Gown’
October 13 – BOOK REVIEW – ‘The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls’
October 14 – BOOK REVIEW – ‘Lychee Light Club’
October 15 – BOOK REVIEW – ‘Better the Devil You Know’
October 16 – SHORT STORY REVIEW – ‘Eden’
October 17 – POEM – ‘Last Dreamtime’
October 18 – ARTICLE – The Transience of Survival Horror
October 19 – BOOK REVIEW – ‘Carrie’
October 20 – POEM – ‘In the Oil’
October 21 – POEMS – ‘The Devil’s Laughter’ / ‘Yearn’
October 22 – BOOK REVIEW – ‘The Night Parade of One Hundred Demons’
October 23 – BOOK REVIEW – ‘The Hour of Meeting Evil Spirits’
October 24 – POEM – ‘The Unsacred Water’
October 26 – POEM – ‘A Fortunate Purge’
October 31 – HALLOWEEN

In some related news, I’m no longer on Twitter @ghoulsgrimoire. I decided to “minimize” with a new account, @cannibalatheart dedicated solely to art, horror and book updates. It’s both my own art and art I enjoy. No more poetry or book reviews there. They don’t really work with Twitter’s restrictions, at least not for me, and I’ve got enough to work on. I am also in the process of restarting my DeviantArt and Ko-Fi pages under new names, and ended my Patreon. I haven’t time for that one either. I don’t understand how anyone makes use of a program that seems to put even more pressure on a creator. Anyway…

If you like my reviews, please consider a small donation to Ko-Fi, or sharing the page with friends. There are no obligations. It can be a once-only donation, and it’ll help me afford to self-produce horror and poetry books yearly. Thanks, and enjoy! Have a great Halloween!

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