Joyless House Book Reviews

Submission Guidelines 

Joyless House will review  the best in independent contemporary fiction, hard-hitting non-fiction (should we come across any), and, hell, pure filth, if it's interesting and well-written. We don't do genre fiction, for the most part. No sci-fi, fantasy, romance, zombie bondage, troll porn, etc. For a good idea of what we do review, see the books below. 

So . . . are we taking submissions? Maybe. If you like abuse, connect with @joylesshouse on twitter.

Naturally, we'd expect you to review something from the Joyless House catalogue if yours is accepted here. Nothing is achieved without effort, friend.

The Nepenthe Park Chronicles
By: Ali Kinteh
follow: @Rogue_Press_

Not for the faint of heart . . . but, then, if you're going around wearing that badge, you might as well cower in a hole with the daytime soaps, lest you be run over on the street by PEOPLE LIKE US who will have the blood and the guts of this life and swallow no one's bull!

Nepenthe Park chronicles the strivings of a band of young hustlers in the London ghetto. They are chasing love, sex, money, fame, or just survival, all the while, being harassed existentially by the creeping menace of their violent environs. This book is awash in sex, violence and the filth of street-life, so put your adult-size knickers on to read it. Throughout, Kinteh kicks the raw verbiage of the streets, while tapping a vocabulary that kept me reaching for my 1970 Webster's Collegiate Edition. A lot of folks on this side of the pond have an aversion to big words. Well, I say you fools could stand to learn something new!

The London slang is a bit different than the American, but the milieu here will be quite familiar to anyone who has not been in a hole or a racist pout since hip-hop culture exploded into the mainstream. Though the storyline of drug-slinging, gang violence, broken homes and rap-gaming is familiar, Nepenthe Park does not come off as some poetical "Lads in the Hood". I was reminded most of A Clockwork Orange happening in the here and now. Kinteh even leaves a Burgess-like hint at the possibility of redemption. But now I've said too much. Read Ali Kinteh. Cheers to Rogue Press and may the underground rise up to squash the banal.

Archipelago - A Problem
By: G. H. Neale

A high-minded literary journey captained by an acerbic gentleman from Kent. A novel steeped in the Joycean tradition. An eclectic and dense word collage that implies a lifetime of hallucinogenic soul-digging, introspection. A work of ART, mate. When I looked up "GH Neale" on Amazon, the first thing that popped up was a used copy of Journey's greatest hits. Telling, I think. Sublime.

I endured much consternation over how to write review of this book. How to make a critical assessment. I finally arrived at the conclusion that it would be useless to try to do so. I would only obfuscate the point I'd really like to make. The point is: here finally is a book to fully indulge one's deepest, most esoteric intellectual pining. I got just a few pages in, when I felt the warming rush of comfort that comes with finding a proper space in the universe. Everyone should have a room of one's own, is it? This is the kind of book that I will keep in that room. 

As far as particulars? Oh I don't know. Not everything here works. Neale's use of the Joycean method (I use this term for lack of a better one) to delineate the inner lives of his characters creates a nice level of intimacy. The references to the great works of literature of the past speaks to Neale's legitimacy as an artist, but of course will hit or miss depending on the reader's own literacy. The multitude of styles employed keep the book interesting and keep the reader guessing . . . 

But that's enough of that. My intention is not to give a criticism, but to ask a question. Why, when I look this up on Amazon, do I get referenced to one of the most depressing cultural phenomena in modern history?! Are we really that disinterested? It's the sort of question that artists have been asking for a thousand years, I suppose. It's a big question. I'm glad there are still people like G.H. to press the issue. Do your part. Buy this book. Don't be on the wrong side of history.

Two Pumps for the Body Man - a Diplomatic Noir
By: B.A. East
kamikaze white noise
By: Nicole I Nesca

A "diplomatic noir", eh? Hmmm . . . I don't believe I've ever read one of those. Let's see . . . Two Pumps is set in the Royal Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the action centers around a ragtag crew of Americans waging the War On Terror in the Godforsaken desert. Oh boy, Mr. East, those are some shark-infested waters! At worst, we might have ended up with a typically glib, macho spy-thriller violence party. A lot of ruggedly-handsome American boys curb stomping swarthy Middle-Easterners. Luckily, Mr. East's novel is informed by his time spent in the Peace Corps, teaching in Africa and Paraguay and a State Department stint in the Kingdom itself. Two Pumps ends up being a wry ode to the cluster-f*** of confusion that is the WOT. How do you wage a war on terror, anyway? East understands that this is a question without an answer. And he understands the evil of those who build violent careers on lies, vagaries and non-answers.

East avoids offering a straight-up political polemic, though the administration in question is taken to task. We are treated to cartoonish cameos by G-dub'ya and Dick Cheney, who are, after all, more unbelievable than any fiction. The pace is fast. Some of the side characters are not drawn very deeply. But Two Pumps is a page-turner, baby, and it takes some real balls to satirize the great Christian crusade of our times. Bravo, I say. Truth is stranger than fiction. That's why we need good fiction writers; because if you simply tell people the truth, they'll take you for a liar every time.

More great stuff from Screamin' Skull Press. Edgy prose and poetry from Winnipeg, of all places! What we have here is a compilation of three books of poetry written in 2008, 2009 and 2011. The themes are sexual freedom, class identification, marginalization, alienation, coming of age. The stuff of poetry, isn't it? 

Nesca's perspective is often at odds with society, her surroundings. She is proud and defiant, yet fragile and self-deprecating. Always looking for the TRUTH in every word, asserting her worth amid each indignity. The stuff of poetry indeed. 

The first selections are rapid fire, stream of consciousness, the language vivid and raw. Full of the anger of youth. Later selections are more thoughtful, still angry at times, but more informed. I found myself most enthralled with pieces from the 2nd and 3rd volumes here, but I suspect that these are informed by the chaos of the 1st. It's as if the reader is taken on a journey along with the poet - from a place of chaos and riot to a state of . . . wisdom, perhaps? I don't know. Wisdom is a big word. Nesca is never so presumptuous as to assign herself such a trait.

Nesca's style is affecting and honest. Prose without pose. And this collection of three books ends up being a very effective package -the rare whole that is more than the sum of its parts. Success. Nicole I. Nesca is an artist that deserves your support! Be on the lookout for more from Screamin' Skull Press.

By: Alex Mussawir

A very brief collection of short stories. I'm not sure how to buy the damn thing, but you can read it for free online at OK . . . 

The title rather neatly describes Mussiwar's writing style. This is, perhaps, reverse-irony? No matter. A stark economy of language is employed here and the results are chilling at times. A creepy sense of detachment persists in these first-person tales of sadness and formative alienation. Sounds like a good time, yes? Well, buck up! Maybe it's high time you read something that's not more trite, oversexed pap! 

As in his poetry (which is well worth finding out), Mussiwar's style here is utterly void of sentimentality or purple adornment. It's naked. Uncomfortable. It's art, I think. Hardly any of the above can be said for what generally passes as literature these days.

Witness the uncomfortable probing of this brave, young writer in the exclusive Joyless House interview!

Making Monsters
By: Joe Turk
follow: @joeturk182 

I was drawn to this book by Joe's artwork. See: The images are creepy, hideous at times, yet attractive; savvy. A wry sense of humor is ever-present. I was quite pleased to find Making Monsters a reasonable literary extrapolation of Joe's freaky paintings.

We have a doozy of a doomsday scenario here, folks. Planet Earth is speeding toward extinction in a dozen different ways. It is like Orwell on a high dose of prescription speed. Our cast of characters meet rushing doom with wide eyes and a rather bemused curiosity. They never quite manage to get over themselves even on the brink of the big lights out. So many human endgame scenarios converging at once might seem like piling on - if several of them weren't already set in efficient motion in the real world, here and now! (Ever heard of Monsanto, pal?)

Turk is a talented writer and Making Monsters is a page-turner. You will find yourself racing forward to find out what horrible plague will visit our heroes next. Good stuff. Turk makes a comment on the state of the human race that is not . . . optimistic, per se. But he maintains a sense of humor and a sense of fun throughout. Maybe there's hope in that. 

About a Girl
By: Tony Nesca

I came across whilst wandering the vast nether regions of the inter-web and was immediately intrigued. Here are some people that GET IT, I said to myself. SSP has a good catalogue of books; I started with About a Girl, a free form novella following a chance couple on a day bar hopping through downtown Winnipeg. 

Loved it (see the 5 star rating). Nesca often eschews punctuation and employs a free-association narrative style. The whole thing has the feel of a long poem - the street punk's answer to the epic, maybe? Really. The language is vivid and the characters more so. These are THE PEOPLE of the city. Shady characters. Rock n' roll and booze. Very reminiscent of Bukowski and the beats.

The action opens with a chance encounter at a bus stop between a young man and woman. Strangers. They take the plunge and spend a wild day together, throwing off the soul-crush of the work-a-day, day-to-day. This book is all about what lies beneath, the Id, about making the decision to either rip yourself open and live by what's real, or let the world tie you up. The chaos and the crazies that make up the milieu of the 'Peg's bar scene form a fast, edgy context for the exploration of this central dilemma.

This is rock n' roll and art. It's life. Read it if you're interested in any of the above. 

Show Me the Way to Go Home
By: John Neu
visit: Wisconsin's North Woods . . .

This book is, on its face, a taut and rather unforgiving small town murder mystery. In this respect, it delivers. All the human elements (criminals, cops, witnesses do-gooders and busybodies) go about in the often bumbling, sometimes uncanny way that real humans do. In the end the action has its conclusion in a way that is affecting, disquieting and overall, satisfying.

But more than that, this John Neu is a WRITER. He is a disciple of Emerson and Thoreau. Over the course of a novel that might otherwise be just another mystery, Neu's descriptive eye sets it apart. He has clearly spent years making his communion with nature, with God's world, as it were, and his reader's reward is a vivid landscape done in a patient and loving hand. Find it at

Return to the Dirt -
Three Tales of Work and Death
By: Geoff Sturtevant
The Annotated Boris: Deconstructing the Lyrical Majesty of Boris the Sprinkler (And Other Tales As the Need Arises)
By: Rev. Norb

"Being a person is just the strangest thing to do before you return to the dirt." This line seems to indicate the crux of Sturtevant's literary impetus. The three short stories here are all testament to the great joke played upon us sentient beings when we are born into the great poop-filled sandbox that is Planet Earth. One is reminded inevitably of Kurt Vonnegut, not because Sturtevant reaches for it, but because the all-important elements of humanity and humor are ever present in these tales. Also the elements of science fiction and Orwellian paranoia ring true.

Return to the Dirt reads like three freaky pot dreams extrapolated and dissected. The writing is crisp, the imagery vivid. Sturtevant is a top-notch writer. Probably this book fits into some current genre, but lumping it in with any particular mountain of slap-dash ebooks would do Sturtevant a disservice. I'm reminded of Vonnegut, but there are also elements of Chuck Palahniuk and classic Orwell here. The point is, care enough to separate the wheat from the chaff people! This here is a well-executed trilogy by an excellent writer. This is the kind of work we need to support!!

I will resist the urge to review the reviews of others who have reviewed this book on this site. For the record, however, I think certain of their high-handed opinions miss the point entirely. (Initials P.S. - P is for Patrick S is for Sprunger!) Politics and "social responsibility" are concerns germane to certain genres of punk rock music; it is silly to hold genres on the opposite side of a healthy punk rock coin to the same standard. In that regard, as in their music, Boris The Sprinkler were a perfectly logical extrapolation of the Ramones.

As for the book itself . . . well, I'm a little biased. The Concert Cafe in Green Bay was the elementary school of my rock n' roll education and Rev. Norb was the kooky science teacher. You loved him because he was always devising dangerous experiments; at the same time you were terrified by his emotionless, space alien-like demeanor. Having spent 20 years playing in hapless punk bands myself, I was riveted by the history of the band. As far as the exhaustive minutia underscoring Norb's lyrics . . . well, who can really digest all of that?! 

The fact is, Norb is a brilliant writer with an utterly singular style. His MRR columns should be compiled and published. (Do I wax clairvoyant here? Reverend?) His book offers rare insight into a weird and beautiful anomaly - a truly unique time and place in punk rock history. Everybody knows the story of Green Bay as unlikely football mecca. Few know that for a few years in the '90s, all the best bands in the world made their pilgrimage here. And invariably the good rev. was there to officiate the ceremony - with his wacky vestments and strange incantations.

By: Nico Reznick

I was hooked pretty quickly here. Right off the bat Reznick eschews gender stereotypes, writing a male protagonist in the throes of a strange sex fetish. I'll avoid rehashing the plot here, but essentially our hero gets off on trolling funerals for fresh mourners to boff. Alright; something different! I was quite impressed and more than a little humbled by the ease with which Reznick mind-hops from male to female characters. Well done. Anhedonia is fast paced, always compelling, always thought-provoking and enjoyable throughout. 

Reznick's narrative command is exceptional considering this is her first novel. Her approach reminds one immediately of Chuck Palahnuik, but as you get further into Anhedonia, a more relatable humanity becomes clear. There is much lamenting on the trappings of modern society; disaffection and cynicism abound, yet (SPOILER ALERT????? . . . . . Yes, I think so.) a surprising optimism wins out in the end. At times I felt Reznick gave too much play to her artistic insecurities by frequently referencing Palahniuk and indulging in some almost apologetic justifying of the leap into writing for an audience. (I'm guilty of the same thing.) Hopefully positive reaction to her debut novel will give Reznick the confidence to leave her literary influences in her dust from here on out.

The Do-Nothing Boys
By: Tony Nesca

If you haven't yet familiarized yourself with Nesca and Screamin' Skull Press, then for shame. My disdain, my disdain . . .

What we have here is a formative tale; it's not expressly autobiographical, but it's written with the embedded perspective and uncanny detail that is only possible when one is writing from personal experience. Nesca's style is immediately recognizable - machine gun prose, punctuation used only when he decides it fits. Visceral. Here Nesca is writing a teenage protagonist and he easily slides inside Ziggy's strong, young head. I enjoyed the contrast between Ziggy's perspective and that of the slightly more mature narrator of Nesca's About a Girl. 

The action is sex, drugs and rock n' roll. Teenage desperation. The violent death-throes of the idealism of youth. Think of a teenage Bukowski had he not been horribly disfigured physically and emotionally; that may give you some idea of Ziggy's impetus and attitude. This is writing intent on communicating the human experience. It's the legacy of the Russians, Henry Miller, Hem and the beats. It amounts to rock n' roll put to words on the page. I hardly think our good author would be disappointed by that.