Review: Scary People by Kyle Muntz

February 23, 2016 at 6:33 pm (Bizarro, Review, Writing) (, , , , , )

Everyone is turning into scary people. That’s the first thing you need to know. It’s hard to say exactly what else you need to know about Scary People, at least as far as the plot goes. If you ask me what it’s about, I’ll tell you that it’s about a guy hanging out with his friends, and the changes they go through over the short time we get to witness. So sure, let’s call it a bizarro coming-of-age novel, only the protagonist’s best friend Mathew keeps dying. But that’s normal, right? Sometimes your best friend chokes to death on his own vomit, or is hit by a falling anvil. He’ll be fine. Before you know it, he’s up and about, ready to fight the Lord of Darkness. And sometimes your on-again off-again crush is a fiftieth level barbarian with a violent streak for raping pirates and befriending ancient samurai. And sometimes aliens give presents to children to prepare for the day they invade to steal them all, because they’re probably pedophiles. And sometimes mobs mistake you for evil people and chase you down. But then sometimes, you just kind of hang out and drink eggnog in your friend’s basement. That’s how it goes.

Scary People is an absolute blast to read through, in case you can’t already tell from the above. There’s cartoon-like comedy and harrowing tragedy sprinkled in equal measure throughout. What separates it out from both “typical college kids hanging out” alt lit and alternately from weird and crazy “shock and awe” style bizarro is the clarity and precision with which Muntz crafts his language in this delight of a novel. Separated into short, almost poetic paragraphs and thematically relevant sections through smart use of white space, Scary People reads fast and propulsively, the prose simple but beautifully intricate in its structure. There’s a heady dose of experimentation when it comes to the style as well as form, with classic tropes twisted into shards of weirdness and fun surprises.

Muntz also shows he’s not afraid to get meta-fictional. An example: One prominent character is actually referred as the deus ex machina, however when the hand of God is needed to make things right, the classic trope of a character asking for a miracle is cleverly subverted when the quick fix is no longer available. There’s also a beautiful moment where the characters wonder if perhaps all their misfortune is because they are fictional characters in a book, but come to no conclusions. Ultimately, this is the magic of Scary People: the readers and the characters may know they are fictional, but that doesn’t make their problems any less real, or them less empathetic. When faced with a series of existential nightmares and bizarre happenings, all you can do is wish for better things and keep moving forward. Especially when the world around you is increasingly filled with scary people.

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Review: The Driver’s Guide to Hitting Pedestrians

December 31, 2011 at 1:10 pm (Bizarro, Review, Writing) (, , , )

I first discovered Andersen Prunty a few years ago at a convention where I picked up a copy of his novel Zerostrata. I was blown away by his prose style, his handling of the material, but most of all by his sublime understanding of dream logic. I became an immediate fan.

In this wonderful collection, The Driver’s Guide to Hitting Pedestrians, Prunty’s surreal narratives weave in and out of logic without ever feeling forced. That’s the gift Prunty provides us: His dream logic doesn’t ever feel random or weird just for the sake of spontaneity. No matter what happens, it feels deliberate, carefully constructed, and beautifully expressed.

The Driver’s Guide to Hitting Pedestrians features Prunty’s musings on “the twenty-three most painful things in life” including such diverse topics as “relationships,” “fate” and “pants.” Once I started reading, I devoured these stories. There wasn’t a single story among the bunch that I felt didn’t belong here, though I’d like to highlight a few of my favorites without spoiling any of the surprises:

The titular story leads the charge, and is a wonderful exercise in world building. It takes the author mere sentences to lay out a whole sociopathic society for us, the detail dripping from the wheel wells of the drivers who run down pedestrians. Great characters, a fun story and a wondrous dystopian vision.

The Balloon Man’s Secret is easily one of the best short stories I’ve read in the past year. Poignant, amusing and written in a stylized way that establishes a time and place that seem familiar yet uniquely distinct. The character of the balloon man, and the people he meets, are absolutely wonderful, and the story wraps up so perfectly.

Prunty hands out an excellent dose of body horror in Teething, as short and pointed as it is unsettling. The ending, once again, was piercing and perfect.

But these are only the smallest handful of the goodies that await in this collection. Andersen Prunty’s shortest stories have a fascinating way of showing us the finer points of a character with great brevity. The Ohio Grass Monster,  for example, reveals the inner workings of a troubled boy by simply showing us how he relates to his hobbies and his friends. What bubbles under the surface, Prunty leaves us to decide. Similarly, in stories like The Champion of Needham Avenue and Where I Go To Die, the prose is simple and alluring, even though the situations themselves are dreamlike and bizarre. The stories leave the reader with a sense of understanding and familiarity even though the place and people are unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. This is how Prunty’s dream logic operates, and it’s an amazing thing to behold. (I should also mention that The Champion of Needham Avenue might have the best opening line of any story, ever).

I highly recommend this stunning collection to anyone interested in short stories, especially those who enjoy lucid dreaming. The Driver’s Guide to Hitting Pedestrians is like a lucid dream in which just after you’ve gotten control, everything changes and shifts, and you don’t trust the characters standing next to you even if they look like someone you know. They might just be something painful in disguise.

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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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Passive-Agressive vs. Persuasive-Impulsive: Random Events

July 23, 2008 at 12:44 pm (Personal, Writing) (, )

I love it when I come across examples of smarmy, not-quite condescending enough to get mad at, but still vindicating speech and text in real life. This site, Passive Aggressive Notes, is the perfect way to get your fix of some of the funniest rudeness available. For those of us who enjoy using condescension in our daily lives (ie: anyone who works with the public) or even those who are affected by employers and authority figures with a witty mean-streak, it’s totally worth your time.

A woman just asked me to help her spell the name of her insurance company. “Montgmento, Monsurnetall,” she said, over and over, as I frantically looked for anything to assist my google. After a minute or two, I asked her for an address. “1st Avenue and Oak Forest,” she replied. So now I’m looking for a “Montugmeatballs” or some such thing at the corner of 1st and Oak Forest. Turns out it’s MONUMENTAL. You know, an actual word? And it’s in Oak Forest, IL. Not in Chicago on a street called Oak Forest. And besides that (excuse my elitism) she couldn’t spell Monumental.

There is a form our office uses from the Chicago Housing Authority that always prints off a blank page after the first page (which is the actual letter). They will not let us change this, even though all it would take is one back-space, and despite the fact that it wastes twice the amount of paper that could be used by printing a little “2” in the corner of an otherwise untouched page of paper. And people wonder why government agencies are losing money.

Play idea: Based on an actual true-life experience of mine from a few months ago, I am finally writing out the dramatic version. A homeless man engaged me in conversation at an El stop. Being friendly, I talked to the guy, and he asked me strange questions such as “Do you hate homeless people?” I, of course, said that I didn’t, and felt my liberal bleeding-heart ire rise. Turns out this was a strategy. To make a long story short (until you see the play, anyway), he followed me onto the train, sat next to me at the end of the car (effectively pinning me in my seat) and proceeded to ask me if he could come home with me and use my shower. This was a 300 pound man with ranting/inappropriate laughter volume problems. When I said that I couldn’t have anyone over, he told me I was full of shit (because I had previously said I didn’t hate homeless people) and threw cold pizza at me. Should make a fun 10-minute. I’m still not entirely certain how it will end though… it needs to be taken further than it was in reality (with me walking home looking over my shoulder)… thinking…

I haz a tired.

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11-year-old got tired of shouting at cars to slow down on his street

July 17, 2008 at 4:47 pm (News, Writing) (, )

(Hey Keith, I’m stealing your news blog format. You’re the old hand at this, of course, but I like stealing. It makes me feel alive.)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Landon Wilburn, 11, has a future as a cop – a traffic cop.

(They do say that childhood obesity is on the rise, after all. Insert donut joke.)

The youngster, who used to shout at speeders to slow down as they drove through the Stone Lakes subdivision in Louisville, now has taken matters into his own hands.

(He’s only 11 years old and he’s already shouting at passing cars to slow down in his neighborhood? What it neglects to mention is that his favorite drink is prune juice, he can’t stop watching Matlock, and he hates it when his school friends stand “on his lawn.” Also, doesn’t the quote about him taking matters in his own hands sound kind of sinister? “Landon likes to lay spike-strips and landmines near his house to prove a point…”)

Dressed in a reflective vest, wearing a bicycle helmet and armed with an orange Hot Wheels brand radar gun, he points and records the actual speed of passing traffic.

(Oddly enough, this is also a pretty apt description of the homeless guy near my bus stop who rants about Jesus.)

Landon also carries a flashlight with a built-in siren.

(In case of terrorists.)

“When I saw it happening, I got the biggest kick out of it,” said resident George Ayers, 61. “People were locking up their brakes when they saw him.”

(“Cars skidding all over the road… screaming people running from the wreckage… ah, youth…”)

Many in the subdivision are frustrated that motorists tear through the neighborhood at 55 mph despite signs posting a 25 mph limit.

(Wouldn’t it be nice if we could send a feisty 11-year-old outside to solve all our suburban troubles? “Hey, George won’t paint his fence white like the rest of the block. Let’s get that Landon kid to stand on his lawn and yell until he caves in.”)

Officials said the city will install speed humps in the neighborhood if 70 percent of residents agree and are willing to put up half the money.

(Glad they’re shooting for 70%, because half of Landon’s allowance won’t even pay for the tar.)

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December 6, 2005 at 11:31 am (Theatre, Writing) (, )

A friend of mine had the idea of posting 10 second plays. So here’s mine. Please leave, as your comment, your own 10 second play, and perhaps I’ll do something cool with them some day or something. Have fun!

ABACUS by Michael A Rose

TONY
(Sits playing with an old abacus)
What fun! I certainly enjoy my abacus!

MAC
(Entering from wings)
I hate math!
(Smashes the abacus)
And I hate you!
(Smashes TONY, exits)

TONY
If only I’d listened to my mother and become a cancer patient!

(Lights fade to red, then blue, then chartreuse, then back to red again as the National Anthem plays.)

(END OF PLAY)

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An Ode To Blank Verse

February 16, 2005 at 4:30 pm (Writing) (, , )

While studying John Dryden in grad school, I was taken with the idea that he wrote in blank verse, defying the conventions of the time. I like that, since to me, rhymed verse tends to get annoying very quickly. So anyway… I wrote this. Enjoy! (And remember, you saw it here first! Please cite me if you share this, eh? 🙂

An Ode to Blank Verse – Michael Rose (02-13-05)

When studying poetry
I find rhyming idolatry
Decidedly lower a rank,
Than shunned rhyme and meter
For nothing is sweeter
Than verse most transcendently blank;
For verse without pretense
I yearn for precedence
And leave rhyming verse in the dust;
The plot subjugation
Creates indignation
At the expense of a rhyme scheme, I trust;
“A gimmick!” I cry
While I diligent try
To satire what I here condemn;
“It’s unnecessary,
and really quite scary,”
I say, while this couplet I mend;
Admitting my folly
To you, reader most jolly,
Will apt make this poem most terse,
But at least I do cease
‘Fore we all rest in peace
And that’s why I champion blank verse

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