From the Gut Book Reviews

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Ted Fauster | 1400 Bourbon Road, Apartment 219 | Cross Plains, WI 53528

Honest reviews. No favoritism. I’ll read any fiction but romance. Books read and reviewed as they come in. Current backlog is about six weeks. E-books welcome in MOBI format; please email them here. Printed books read first.

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ABSOLUTELY GOLDEN | A book review by weird speculative fiction author Ted Fauster

ABSOLUTELY GOLDEN
by D. Foy

A book review by weird speculative fiction author Ted Fauster

It’s the summer of 1973. No cellphones. No Internet. No worries.

And no clothes…

ABSOLUTELY GOLDEN follows the slow but steady cosmic awakening of Rachel, a mousy, middle-aged schoolteacher who, years after the numbing death of her husband, has allowed herself to be drawn into the parasitic orbit of obnoxious hedonist, Jack, a disgustingly charming character written so perfectly by Foy I could not divorce myself from the thought of Jeff Bridges carrying its weight. A bit of a stick in the mud, Rachel agrees to attend Camp Freedom Lake, a nudist colony in Northern California with Jack, and his ecdysiast “cousin” Jenny.

For me, Sharon Tate took on the persona of this demure woman turned radiant folk hero. Understandably apprehensive but emboldened, Rachel begins her journey by dying her hair a magnificent shade of gold. Little does she know, her entire world is about to be transformed.

This book shines, capturing the Magnavox gleam of the early ’70s in all its daft and sometimes dippy grandeur. Up at camp, a quirky cast of comedic perfection appears from out of the woodwork, plying for the attention of the radiant new goddess that is Rachel. Still uncomfortable in this new role, but willing to try it on, Rachel finds herself growing and transforming into an entirely different creature, while coming to grips with some stark realities hidden beneath the crusted veneer of her previous life.

It becomes clear, early on, that Rachel herself feels invisible, pushed along by tidal forces beyond her control and slowly drifting out to sea. All she wants is to be wanted. And, for once in her life, to be truly seen:

[…This went on, like some diabolical Mobius strip, until one Oakland night–one very hollow West Oakland night, I might add–a man in a bar walked right through me, the way ghosts are said to walk through walls. Finally, I understood….]

ABSOLUTELY GOLDEN is a Shakespearean odyssey, gifted with a bounteous amount of Dickensian dialogue and inner monologue that drips like honey:

[…”There was once a man,” he said, “whose love went unrequited for years. He’d tried everything to win his beloved, from serenading her in the moony light to sending her gifts of silver and gold and other shiny things….”]

It also has its fair share of pulp ’70s denim chic:

[…”And that’s cool, too, man, he’s pretty funky for an old jive-ass cat like that you know, duck, I mean, what with his going around without any pants and that….”]

This book is heavily dosed with all sorts of off-the-wall good humor, as well. And it would be a crime to take it too seriously. But maybe, like, that’s whole point, man!

For what’s its worth, this is one righteous read, and I am down, Charlie Brown. And I do mean, I can really dig it.

BEYOND THE GREAT, BLOODY, BRUISED, SILENT VEIL OF THIS WORLD | A book review by weird speculative fiction author Ted Fauster

BEYOND THE GREAT, BLOODY, BRUISED, AND SILENT VEIL OF THIS WORLD
by Jordan Krall

A book review by weird speculative fiction author Ted Fauster

This was my first Jordan Krall, and it definitely will not be my last. More of an epic cosmic poem than a novella, this short read very quickly grabs your attention in the most improbable way–in the form of a swelling, disjointed narrative.

Told not only through an unreliable narrator, but almost entirely void of any guideposts whatsoever, the reader is cast into the emptiness of space (somewhere between Mars and Earth) and fed bits and pieces of a sprawling saga told via numerous viewpoints by characters who are all very likely suffering from what is revealed to be Barrington’s Syndrome (go ahead and google it; there’s nothing out there), an affliction similar to Asperger’s that is affiliated with interstellar travel .

The short version: If Syd Barrett and Stanislaw Lem were stirred together in a Petri dish, the result would be this novel.

There’s much more at work here than can be adequately vocalized, including the channeling of Vonnegut and Burroughs. It stands to reason I simply have to read this book again. And again. I very enthusiastically plan to.

The narrative is so overwhelmingly powerful and addictive. I literally absorbed the entire story in less than two hours. Upon finishing, I felt the same sensation I did after watching 2001: A Space Odyssey for the first time. In a weird way, I also felt like I had somehow just sold my soul to the devil.

[…We are losing our sight, anyway. We are losing nearly everything. Generation after generation, the information becomes watered down and distorted and then watered down again and again and again until nothing remains but a ghost behind a veil….]

Krall bends time and reality. His wordcraft is nothing short of stellar, and his timing is impeccable. This is a writer who wields words and cadence like weaponry, punching you in the face along the way, grabbing hold of you like an angry vagrant with a wild but very important, pretzeled story to tell.

The tumbling narrative pulls you relentlessly forward in a truly splendorous almost gravitational way that compounds and confounds the further it is allowed to go, which is to the very end.

It’s a short read. One I promise you will not soon forget.

THE GREEN KANGAROOS | A book review by weird speculative fiction author Ted Fauster

THE GREEN KANGAROOS
by Jessica McHugh

A book review by weird speculative fiction author Ted Fauster

What if junkies really are speaking to ghosts?

What if being an addict isn’t nearly as horrible as we often make it out to be? What if true happiness is something that can’t ever be forced upon a person?

In McHugh’s twisted speculative fiction tale of addiction and loss, the drug-addled Perry Samson lives and breathes for atlys, a drug so rich in its addictive properties it is served up laced into the very flesh of its donors at the Kum Den Smokehouse, an old whorehouse turned five-star restaurant in the futuristic Patterson Park of Baltimore. With an older brother already dead from drug use, atlys has destroyed not only Samson’s life but the lives of all remaining family members.

But… has it?

There’s a surprising amount of heart in this novel that really begins to radiate toward the end. The pacing is masterful, with an at-first jolting but expediently tuned shift not only in perspective but point of view that works to drag you deep into depravity, kicking and screaming, straight down the hell chute into Perry’s repulsive world. It’s necessary. This works perfectly to cement the mind of the reader in a location where it truly needs to be to digest what is about to come.

Ribbons of Burroughs and Dick are blended into the base flavor of this novel, with no punches pulled. Those faint of heart or weak in the gut may want to give this one a pass. You won’t find any apologies here. Even hardcore aficionados of weird speculative fiction will find themselves tenting their eyebrows from time to time. Perry’s world is a very dark and dangerous place. But it’s nothing compared to the dysfunction within his family.

Therein lies the dark heart of this tale, deeply woven within the woolen fabric of addiction. Whose fault is it? And to what lengths should we go to “help cure” someone clearly not interested in being rescued?

I became immersed in the language, reveled in being led down dark alleyways and through one destitute setting after another, peeling back the scabs. This is especially powerful when told via the vantage point of Perry.

[…God, the state of him. His body is skeletal, full of scarred divots, but his face is the worst. His chin is less prominent, and his cheeks are completely gone. Without fat in his face, it’s no more than sallow bone. I consider the possibility that he’s dead. After all, it wouldn’t be my first corpse conversation of the day….]

But it’s the heartfelt moments that ground you in the harsh reality of our hero’s predicament, that really make you question what you’ve been told and taught, the narrative forced down all our throats.

[…The good things before my addiction have either been erased by drug use or were never there in the first place. There were no family trips, no school functions she chaperoned. She made no costumes and baked no cookies. She never helped me learn my lines for school plays….]

In particular, Perry’s sister (Nadine), who is still friends with his ex, seems to have the deepest hold.

[…”I don’t want to see you anymore, Perry. Neither do Mom, Dad or Serena. We’re ready to write you off as another loss….]

Such is the coarse psychology of this book. Viewed from both sides, the path to a “cure” becomes a rapidly forking network of heavily weighted decisions.

The most refreshing aspect to THE GREEN KANGAROOS (I won’t give away the meaning) is the way McHugh unapologetically turns the table on who’s to blame. Is it the addict causing all the suffering in the world? Or should the ones who supposedly love them shoulder more of the responsibility?

Hell, is anyone to blame?

This book will keep you turning the pages. It’s also full of fiendish twists, and plenty of appropriately developed sci-fi and tech to get your weird glands salivating. Looking forward to the sequel.