A review of Fistful of Feet by Jordan Krall

December 7, 2009 at 5:25 pm (Bizarro, Review, Writing) (, , , , )

A review of Fistful of Feet by Jordan Krall
by Michael A Rose

I feel like I’ve been riding through the desert on a half-dead horse, dry and aching for water, skin raw from the sand and sun blasting by me, a bullet wound festering in my side, and the scent of a woman’s sweat-soaked high heel lingering in my nostrils. Surprisingly, this isn’t a bad feeling – it’s a good one – because thanks to the transformative power of literature, I’m able to vicariously experience the wild west of the old spaghetti westerns through Jordan Krall’s “Fistful of Feet.”

I’m not a Western genre aficionado, I’ll admit that up front. What struck me immediately about this book though, was the style. It’s deceptively simple and straightforward, which I was not expecting. Stay with me though – this was carefully and exactly intended by the author, and therein lies his genius: Krall crafts a tale using melodramatically simple black and white characters who (mostly) wear their motivations on their sleeves. He front-loads the book with a huge number of characters, all with their own weird fetishes and motivations.

At first, this is difficult to swallow; the juxtaposition of complex cast of characters and simple narrative structure and language, and then the magic of Krall’s stylistic choices began to reveal itself. Through the clever storytelling contained in Fistful of Feet, Krall starts to weave the stories of these people together, and he not only brings in the bizarre, he actually utilizes all the standard tropes of the genre, making this as much a literary grape-stomp as it is an homage to a long-neglected literary genre. This is the straight-forward narrative of the classic Westerns, but with twisted sex. This is Louis L’amour gone haywire and driven half man by ancient unspeakable gods. This, in a word, is bizarro.

The story follows the archetypal lone wanderer, Calamaro, a rough and tumble stranger with many mysteries following behind him (my favorite mystery by far is the wooden donkey he drags along, which holds many secrets of its own). Calamaro drags himself to the local brothel in the small town of Screwhorse to set himself up with a room, but of course, as the genre demands, nobody’s comfortable with the new stranger in town (save a madam with a heart of gold and a few others). From there, things get perverse and hilariously wild, and that’s good: Krall is at his best when he taps into the reader’s prurient interests. This book is delightfully filled with sexual depravity and otherworldly references to unspeakable acts. The descriptions of the various delights at the town’s whorehouse are alternately stimulating and grimace-inducing, and that’s exactly how Krall holds the reader’s attention. A careful balancing act of alien starfish and four-footed prostitutes on one side with all the classic tropes of the old Clint Eastwood films on the other.

All in all, a fun read, and a must for any fans of genre-mashups, westerns with a twist, non-traditional lit fans and of course, strangers with nothing to lose. You might find yourself punching a horse just because you know they’ve been talking about you behind your back.

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Zerostrata Review

December 3, 2009 at 9:25 am (Bizarro, Review, Writing) (, , )

A review of Zerostrata by Anderson Prunty
by Michael A Rose

If Zerostrata was a tea, I would call it “bracing, with a hint of undeniable sweetness.” I would drink it on Wednesday mornings at work to make me feel on edge with anticipation of the day to come, and awaken me to the possibilities while simultaneously clearing my sinuses. But Anderson Prunty’s Zerostrata is not a tea – it’s a book – and a damn good one.

Zerostrata follows the story of Hansel Nothing as he returns to his childhood home in an effort to find himself and give his life some sense of meaning. He has no memory of where he’s been for the last decade or so. In a normal story, the plot would quickly become a tiresome cliche in which the focus is getting back lost memories, but in Prunty’s capable hands, the story stays firmly planted in the present – a present where a beautiful girl runs naked in the rain and a mysterious therapist named Doctor Blast prescribes a strange series of events that shake Hansel Normal’s world up completely.

One of the best things about reading Zerostrata is the juxtaposition of bizarro humor and strange events with a real sweetness. Sure, there are gang members who make the world’s most delicious salad from their own flesh, and liquid-like airspace complete with magically mobile trampolines to keep falling victims safe for their therapy, but at its core, Zerostrata seems to be a love story. Not in the traditional sense, but in the sense that once we find the right person, nothing else matters outside of that, no matter how difficult or mundane. There is a beautiful scene which I will not ruin for you involving raindrops toward the end of the book that contains a monologue I may ask Prunty for permission to use in my wedding vows some day. That’s the kind of experience this book gives a reader – being carried through the strangest of places, only to come out on the other side and find some sort of magic.

This is a quest story where the protagonist doesn’t know what the ultimate goal is, and as it is revealed to him, the reader sees it as well. That conceit alone makes this truly worth the read; highly recommended.

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