Review: Gutmouth by Gabino Iglesias

July 26, 2013 at 6:14 pm (Bizarro, Review, Writing)

I’m a sucker for dystopian stories, tales of a future where science, love, and humanity have failed us and we have created a horrible, twisted world. In books like Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World, civilization has lost its empathy in addition to its capacity for pleasure, outside of government mandated diversions. In the cyberpunk worlds of Dick, advances in technology have turned our cities into crime-ridden, soulless nightmares of hedonistic anarchy. These stories have a common thread in that the societal circumstances are so well drawn and detailed in their implications that they practically become a character in themselves. Gutmouth, the first novel by Gabino Iglesias, sees the author taking the idea of futurism and dystopia to a noir-soaked and terrifying conclusion. In doing so, the book becomes a disturbing window into a sexually twisted, morally corrupt universe with many dark stories to tell.

Iglesias chooses to focus on the story of the titular Gutmouth, a hard-living hunter, tasked with tracking down criminals for MegaCorp, the corporation that rules society from the top down. These mostly aren’t your typical crimes like rape and murder, but instead such infractions as “growing your own food” and “not paying enough tribute to the corporation.” Like the dystopian stories mentioned previously, the world itself becomes a character here, expertly detailed and fully fleshed out and dripping with fluids. The punishments for crimes in Gutmouth go far beyond anything rational. We see men and women stripped of their skin, whipped and beaten, mutilated and sexually destroyed. The twist is, not all of this is punishment. Some people undergo horrific procedures almost exactly like the penal system dishes and actually pay for it at a “Genital Mutilation and Erotic Maiming Center.” See, there’s this drug called Algolagnix, which turns pain into pleasure at the level of the nerves themselves. Add to that the salamander DNA treatment that allows people to grow back limbs, and it’s perfectly normal to have a fetish that involves your genitalia being sawed in half. Remember kids, always go to a professional.

Gutmouth has enough to deal with between his job and trying to avoid getting on the wrong side of the law. He has a toothy, disgusting, British-inflected mouth living in his gut. Things really go off the rails for him when the mouth in his stomach ends up having sex with his girlfriend, a three-breasted hooker with a heart of gold. The classic trope of the girlfriend cheating with the best friends takes a twisted turn when the “friend” is living inside the protagonist’s torso. Can he bring himself happy revenge through murder? And will that help him with his mouth problem? Iglesias deftly weaves these plot points and characters into a sick and funny noir for his readers. It’s evident that Iglesias is a horror aficionado in addition to a new bizarro author, as the language and concepts he utilizes to describe this crazy world of sex and gore is truly stomach churning. I mean that in the best possible way, this one is a must for fans of off-kilter horror, especially if they enjoy sci-fi twists and fetishistic sex craziness.

The book itself, like all new bizarro author series books, is fairly short, but Iglesias uses his space with the efficiency and deft handling of a veteran. The book is a completely mad ride, tells a simple story with great descriptive effects, and overall is the perfect way to spend an evening in the company of some truly disgusting and awesome characters.

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Review: The Kyoto Man by D. Harlan Wilson

July 18, 2013 at 3:39 pm (Bizarro, Review, Writing)

A man transforms into a city, decimating the landscape and endless miles of life around him. It is a chronic condition, one he cannot control. Is it a metaphor for a super virus, ceaselessly spreading across an area and wiping it clean of higher life forms? Should we instead turn toward personal narrative? Perhaps the transformations stand in for some crutch like alcoholism or drug addiction turning a man into a monster bent on the destruction of his loved ones? Or is it just some guy helplessly metamorphosing into an ancient Japanese city to which he has never been, never seen, never studied? A mystery of apocalyptic proportions that even he cannot solve for himself? Such interpretations do not come easily or clearly with D. Harlan Wilson’s The Kyoto Man, a fun-house mirror shattering novel that switches form and function as fast and often as its protagonist. Understanding is slippery, and Wilson, who once declared  that plot was his mortal enemy, doesn’t make it simple for his readers, but half the fun is the ride, and the author’s absolute mastery of form and experimentation with the schizophrenic way in which the story is told make this book well worth the price of admission.

The novel opens after “The Stick Figure War,” a conflict which has left, in its wake, a series of timecrashes and zoneshifts. Our protagonist trips about through time and space without rhyme or reason, and in doing so loses whatever tenuous grasp on identity he once might have had along with the comforting solidity of reality. He encounters (and occasionally murders) various versions of the terrifying Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, a martial arts obsessed psychotherapist and various lovers, all of whom become victims of his metropolitan transformations. With each change, reality seems to slip a bit further down the hole, darkness growing omnipresent and meaning ruthlessly carved away. In one sense, it’s hard to say what The Kyoto Man is about, but in another, what isn’t it about? Pop culture, science fiction, kung-fu, personal responsibility, entropy, autobiography and more all woven together into a pastiche that bores its way into the reader’s brain like a power drill.

With each transformation, the nameless (or multiply named, depending on your point of view) protagonist careens back and forth between storytelling styles. Jumping from the relatively expected “criterion prose” to other voices within prosaic storytelling is a given, but then, the The Kyoto Man goes off the rails. The thousands of transformation tales take the shapes of everything from stage play scripts to sitcom episodes, prose explosions intentionally aping Cormac McCarthy to old world broadsheets. Even a wanted poster makes its way through the telling, not to mention various others that would best be left for the reader to discover. Perhaps Wilson is sitting behind his desk, reading reviews like this one, smashing his words onto the page and chuckling with secret knowledge that he’s setting traps for reviewers, playing with readers’ minds and creating chaos for no reason other than its being fun… well, the fun of reading The Kyoto Man often lies in the surprising and anarchic turns that his words take, so whether dripping with meaning or devoid of reason, The Kyoto Man is a must read for any reader who appreciates a heady trip through the surreal. The aftermath is simply picking your brain up off the floor.

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