Quick Takes: PRIDE OF THE BIMBOS

John Sayles
Pride of the Bimbos
Little, Brown, 1975

I’m not a fan of baseball so if I’m going to read a book about it, it helps if the main character is a dwarf who used to be a private detective and is now in hiding from someone who wants to kill him so he joins a baseball team who play in drag as a novelty act on the small town carnival circuit. That spices things up a bit. This is a novel about hating life though, not loving a game. Its characters are all grotesques worthy of Flannery O’Connor and whose alcoholic, dysfunctional presences could wilt flowers from ten feet away. It’s a tall glass of bleakness, but John Sayles knows humor when he sees it. He just usually finds it on the gallows. Sayles makes a comedy act (the drag baseball team) depressing and makes a humorless beast (the killer out to put a bullet in our dwarf’s head) funny as he has his own misadventures with bizarre characters and a car with serious radiator problems as he speeds through the rural American south on a murder mission. What makes it great is that Sayles loves all of these people, even the bad guy. He inhabits each of their psyches and spends time in the dark corners. He tells us things about these characters that they probably don’t tell anybody. If he doesn’t excuse them, he at least explains them. When you close the book, you’ve got their germs all over you.

Vampire Brats

Poppy Z. Brite
Lost Souls
Dell Publishing, 1992

At my advanced age I felt like a real drip reading (and enjoying) this novel of angst-ridden vampires and goth kids.

On the other hand, I’m glad that I didn’t read it when I was a teenager because I would have been INSUFFERABLE afterward–and I was annoying enough already back then. I know how obsessive I can get. This book would have effected me. It would have changed my life. I would have started to wear all black. I probably would have gotten into eyeliner. I would have dug deep into Sisters of Mercy B-sides. I would have spent my senior year prom night hanging out in a cemetery. There’s not a doubt in my mind, no sir.

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Overheating with Ed McBain’s COP HATER

Signet, 1973 reprint (original printing 1956)

The heat wave that takes over the city here is a primitive metaphor for the pressure that the 87th Precinct feels, from the press, from the public and from themselves, to crack the case of a shooter who’s popping off plainclothes police detectives brazenly in the streets. That’s okay, though. This is a primitive book and it doesn’t ask for you to think of it as anything but that. Its meat is the police procedural, an almost journalistic account of how fingerprints are read and how two strands of hair and a blood pattern on a sidewalk can reveal ten facts about an escaped perpetrator. Its characters, mere side items. Guys with guns and women with secrets. Caveman author Ed McBain beats us silly with his steamy atmosphere.

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The Pretty Good PIGGS by the Pretty Great Neal Barrett, Jr.

Subterranean Press, 2002

Battered, Ebay purchased copy.

In literature, I love dirty, sleazy, white trash Texas.

I love sweaty, bloody, cum-stained Texas.

Barefoot, whiskey-breath, evil-eyed Texas.

Strip club, gun rack, conceal carry Texas.

Big-talkin’, neon sign, tornado warning Texas.

I love books that make all us Texans look like felons with barbecue sauce stains on our shirts. Or good Bible-thumping people just one cool breeze away from scandalous sex with the church organist.

Continue reading “The Pretty Good PIGGS by the Pretty Great Neal Barrett, Jr.”

Calder Willingham’s TO EAT A PEACH

Calder Willingham

To Eat a Peach

Mayflower-Dell, 1966 reprint (original printing 1955)

Calder Willingham is a sarcastic creep and that’s why I like him. This is a novel of summer camp sexual tension as written by the biggest jerk this side of Pluto and it’s deeply funny. No “couple” here belongs together (I put “couple” in quotes because most of these pairings never quite get the plug to reach the socket). The thirtysomething married woman who lusts after a 19-year-old slab of brainless beefcake who merely thinks that she’s acting like his mom could be the most hopeless case. Then, there’s the 46-year-old camp second-in-command who can’t stop thinking about the shapely teenage girl who’s there to mind the horse stable. Meanwhile, when that girl isn’t riding horses daily (double entendre alert!), she’s got an adversarial-slash-flirtatious thing going on with a frustrated bohemian kid who writes the camp newsletter and suppresses his godless, anti-authority, ticking-time-bomb personality for the job. When sex does happen here it’s… nothing much. Just meat slapping against meat. It’s a climax that isn’t much of one. How things change (or not change) afterward is what matters. It’s what Willingham, that jerk, leaves us trying get a grip on at the end.

This is one of the good “dirty books” of the 1950s. It was too puerile to be seen as serious literature, but too well-written, too full of character and with not enough raw sex to be pornography. Some readers in the 1950s probably kept this hidden from polite company. In 2017, its wicked sense of humor keeps it readable. I blew through it in two days.

 

 

Internet Explorer is FAKE NEWS (also, a word on Jack Clark’s novel NOBODY’S ANGEL)

WEBSITE PROGRESS UPDATE:

Things are coming together. I’m feeling good. How about you? Did that spot ever clear up?

For about three hours each day, I do what’s essentially a data entry job on this site, linking pages, uploading images, copying, pasting and editing. I fire up a Blu-Ray commentary track or some music (the TURBO KID soundtrack is doing me good lately) for background entertainment and I chug along. The film portion of the site should be done in about a week, likely sooner.

The ONLY problem I’ve noticed is that in Internet Explorer, random images here show up as very tiny. An image that’s normal-sized in every other browser shrinks down to something less than a thumbnail on IE. I don’t get it. Research hasn’t helped. I’ll look into it more, but I have a half a mind to just decide that Internet Explorer sucks and forget about it.

I’m a Google Chrome man. Chrome is the browser of cool people, I say!

Only dorks use Internet Explorer! Let’s spread this around.

And speaking of life and death problems…


Jack Clark

Nobody’s Angel

Hard Case Crime reprint, 2010

I’ve never driven a taxi in my life, but this novel makes me feel like I’ve been doing it for ten years. And I mean that in a good way. This story of one sad cab driver who stumbles into TWO different murder mysteries while he makes a living on the streets of Chicago is a travelogue of the city, as well as of the job and of the narrator’s frayed nerves. Jack Clark writes prose full of coffee and misery and moonlight. He was a taxi driver for thirty years and as in all of the coolest fiction, this is a writer writing about his own life, just under the thin guise of the crime genre. Meanwhile, you don’t care much about the murder mysteries. One involves a standard prostitute-snuffer who prowls the streets in a van at which our narrator only got a quick glance (barely remembers a thing); the other is someone who’s out killing cab drivers. Jack Clark builds no house of cards, nor does he intend to do so. There are no compelling clues. And our narrator is no detective. His idea of sleuthing is driving past a murder scene a few times and most of his ideas turn out be wrong. It’s no matter, though. Here, the dead bodies are less important than how our narrator feels about them. The investigation, like a taxi, is a vehicle for traveling the byways of his soul and it’s not the nicest neighborhood. To his great credit, Jack Clark also brings in one more brave and important dose of reality here: Sometimes some mysteries go unexplained.

 

 

Ann Sterzinger’s THE TALKATIVE CORPSE (and a brief website progress update)

I thought that I would have this website completed by now, but NOPE. I bought the domain name and the web space last November and I’m still learning on the job.

I’m still having bad ideas, working on them for several days and then trashing it all when I figure out that it stinks.

I started out with NO vision for this site, but one is slowly cohering by trial and error. When it’s finished, I’m hoping that this Constant Bleeder bullshit is something decent. We’ll see.

In the meantime, here’s a piece about a good book that I just read:


Ann Sterzinger

The Talkative Corpse

Hopeless Books, 2013

In this novel, a 40 year old educated man toils in minimum wage helljobs in Chicago circa 2011-12. Also, his girlfriend dumped him and he’s late on the rent for his shitty apartment.

Life has been kicking this guy in the balls ever since the internet killed his old newspaper job. Anne Sterzinger’s John Jaggo is a man under EVERYONE’S boot heel. Is he The World’s Biggest Loser or is he a kind of tarnished saint who suffers for the sins of modern living? Sterzinger argues the latter. This book is his journal, written to be sealed up, buried and discovered by people in the future. If Jaggo’s given up on happiness now, he’ll take immortality in a hundred years or so. He writes like it’s the only thing that keeps him sane.

It’s an essential perspective on the follies of the early 21st century. Sterzinger knows the sting of fluorescent lights, the horror of customer service and the terror of shitbag bosses at low-level office computer drone jobs like John Steinbeck knows Salinas Valley. Her narrator is articulate (and funny) in a well-read way. He neatly disembowels the Occupy movement (Jaggo attends a demonstration and finds it less than inspiring, to put it mildly), while also having little fondness for the fruits of capitalism.

And while everyone today has something to say about technology, Sterzinger is among the very few to talk frankly about how it’s taking away our jobs. Whatever the hell it is that you do for a living, there’s someone somewhere working on a machine, a website or a program to make your job, or even your entire industry, obsolete.

Capitalism considers the working class to be cattle, at best (and a burden, at worst), and Socialism has slid into laughable irrelevance. Most people into Socialism in 2017 are privileged bumblers. Socialism needs a strong and galvanized working class to make any sense at all. Today’s working class ain’t buying it. They’re not on board. They don’t care. They’re too busy bracing themselves for their jobs to become worthless while the rest of the world enjoys the technological innovation that made it happen. For Socialism to be relevant, the working class needs to feel relevant. And that’s the exact opposite of what’s happening.

Some in Generation X got hit extra hard with this. They went to college in the very last moments that a degree in the Humanities was still considered worthwhile. They graduated into a precarious job market and so heavy in debt that a suspicious mind might think that said debt was the sole reason why they were lured into college in the first place.

On the upside, Ann Sterzinger is doing HER job as a novelist to document all of this shit. THE TALKATIVE CORPSE is a book about one sad man in 2011 and 2012, but it feels like the end of the world.

But it’s NOT the end of the world.

The brilliant stroke of this book is that it’s presented as an ancient artifact discovered by the people of an unimaginable future (their presence felt faintly in an introduction and a few scattered “translator’s notes”). Every tragedy is undercut by how its main character, and all of us, are now dust. You and I are far-gone fertilizer here, no matter what our problems or status. It’s poignant and in a way it makes us all laughable.

It’s a book that gives us exactly what we deserve.

Kenneth Davids’ THE SOFTNESS ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE HOLE

Kenneth Davids

The Softness on the Other Side of the Hole

Grove Press,  1968

Maybe YOU could resist a fifty-year-old paperback called The Softness on the Other Side of the Hole that you found in the vintage rack at a used bookstore, but I couldn’t. It was $3. The great title was worth at least $1 of that; the bizarre description on the back cover was worth the other $2 and more.

It gets flying right from its opening sentence when our hero, a homeless 72 year old hippie, innocently smokes a joint in the stall of a women’s restroom and a guy in the adjacent men’s room starts to flirt with him through the wall on the assumption that he’s speaking to a woman. Our geriatric pothead likes girls (or used to back when he could get the job done), but he eventually plays along because…

1) he’s high as a giraffe’s eye,

2) he’s a nice old man who likes to make people happy,

and

3) author Kenneth Davids has no interest in making a lick of sense (our 72 year old man somehow convincingly affects the voice of a woman in her 20s as he chats through a glory hole). Davids writes like he just took a couple monster bong hits and then went to type some stuff (and he probably did). He rambles, treats periods and commas as optional, and is most interested in ruminating on loneliness, aging, and drugged mind states–and building up to a taboo plot twist that’s the last atom bomb gross-out after some creepy sex acts and nightmare phallic drug hallucinations.

It’s trash, but it’s a trip. It was put out by the old Grove Press and it plays like psychedelics-sprinkled pornography for a few quick chapters, especially when the old man gets lost in the fantasy that he’s a girl, and then it makes left turns into places where the most shameless boners won’t remain standing.

I give it a thumbs (and ONLY thumbs) up.

David Cole’s REPUBLICAN PARTY ANIMAL

David Cole

REPUBLICAN PARTY ANIMAL

Feral House, 2014

 

When your life is ruined by a lie, you’ve lost all of your friends and everything you’ve worked for collapses overnight, it seems like you have a few options left to consider. You could eat a bullet for lunch. You could become a strident, droning victim and bore everyone until we not only lose interest in your trial, but we start to think that you deserved it. Or you could joke mercilessly about the whole affair, preferably in a book that reads like a thousand dirty secrets told in confidence between two bar stools—and that’s the path that David Cole takes, thank God.

Now, let’s get one thing straight here: Infamous Jewish “Holocaust denier” David Cole is, uh, not a Holocaust denier. This is not a fact that I got from fake news (whatever that is) or some blowhard on social media. I got it from Cole’s own words in this very volume. David Cole says that the Holocaust happened. David Cole agrees with the mainstream that European Jews during the Third Reich were rounded up, forced into camps and killed in large numbers. There’s nothing wrong with my copy of the book. No pages were ripped out. Everything is spelled right. The ink didn’t come off on my hands. I wasn’t on drugs. My old Kindergarten teacher once told me that I read very well.

David Cole acknowledges the Holocaust (let’s say it again). It’s here in professionally typeset plain English. So can anyone who’s EVER hated him for that FINALLY shut up? If you question Cole’s authority on the Holocaust, how about we at least buy that he’s an authority on what’s in his own head? Sounds reasonable to me.

The (very) brief summary of what makes Cole such a hot lump of coal deemed unfit for sensitive hands: He questions that Auschwitz was an extermination camp.

While Cole believes that other camps, such as Treblinka, were true blue death destinations, he posits that Auschwitz was more likely a labor camp for a warring country who really needed it. Its famous gas chambers, mere legend. He doesn’t say that Auschwitz was a country club, but he thinks the facts have become distorted over the years and that it’s his job as a researcher to set the record straight.

Is Cole correct? I don’t know. He’s read more Holocaust literature, interviewed more people on the matter and done more personal inspections of the original site than I’ll ever do. I say we leave it for the historians to argue. If you’re not an active participant in Holocaust research, neck-deep in the reading and well-weathered on the traveling, I don’t care what you have to say. When non-historians get in on this, they tend to bring in their politics. Pundits win and history loses.

Pursuing this matter in the face of violent resistance (and I do mean real violence, with punches thrown and death threats from high places) is only Cole’s FIRST self-destructive act. He’d have a few more, including one literal faking of his death and a changing of his professional name and a path that lead to working with the most image-conscious human beings on Earth outside of high school kids: politicians. Los Angeles resident Cole was a real up-and-coming mover and shaker of the little-acknowledged, well-moneyed, but marginalized Hollywood right wing. He hobnobbed with everybody in the scene, worked the room from front to back and threw legendary parties. Powerful people loved David Cole. They admired his work ethic. They wanted to team up with him. The kid had a future.

Then these people found out about Cole’s controversial Holocaust past (through machinations best revealed in the book) and they pretended to never know him.

Such is life in the big leagues. Anyone who has anything to lose will always distance themselves from the pariah. All sides of the political spectrum are fat with lies and hungry for more. They play to people who don’t read far past the headlines. They know how truth distorts the very moment that more than one mouth is talking about it and they take advantage of that (except when it’s working against them). Cole, a quick-thinking achiever who admits that he’s comfortable being a manipulative weasel, felt comfortable among other weasels. And then they chewed him up.

This is his story. Sounds like a good book to me.

As with any memoir from a disgraced person, this one invites suspicion of its accuracy. What do Cole’s relentlessly bashed ex-friends and ex-girlfriends here have to say? I don’t know (none of them seem to be writers), but what makes Cole believable is that he’s funny. This book is not a screed or a plea for mercy. It’s a laugh-out-loud take on a screwball-worthy situation. Cole seems like the kind of guy who could find out that he’s got a terminal disease and then start joking about it five minutes later. I always believe truly funny people because they’re not afraid to make themselves look pathetic. There’s too much humor in the sad truth to reach for some boring lie.

David Cole’s fall is the worst thing that ever happened to him—and he sees both its tragedy and its comedy. Any real seeker of truth ought to be able to do that.