Joyless House Book Reviews


Ciao, ingrates! Or... do you even know what ciao means? Ha ha, no, it doesn't mean it's time to get in line for your dinner tray. Rest easy on your bunk there, partner. Ciao is an old Cuban word meaning, basically, 'fuck me'. It's along the lines of 'oy vey' or 'uff da'. And this little collection of stories chronicling the existential gropings of the marginalized of Miami, Florida, USA is heavy on the ciao indeed.

Miami is both our least and most 'american' city and the people squished into its periphery, living by the glare of blinding decadence, champion a special brand of desperation. A vertiginous perspective is afforded while serving drinks to someone who paid more for her ass than you will make in a year.  


Most of the characters in Ciao! are displaced, or misplaced in some way, trying to find love, acceptance or just survive in a town with the values of a funhouse mirror. No one is prettied up in this book. The people of Ciao! Miami don't read like stand-ins for political ideas, and their stories aren't allegories. The people of Ciao! are your friends from back in the day, the crazy uncle who used to take you for rides in his Camaro, the dude you used to buy weed from, the stripper you dated for those three weeks when you were way too into cocaine. That very nice, freaky-religious lady who let you crash on her couch for a few months when you couldn't find work. Their stories are your story, if not for a couple lucky bends in the road.


Fawzy Zablah presents these underdog tales with the pathos and simple human touch that can only come from familiarity and empathy. His voice is free of affectation and sentimentality. The brave, if often doomed truth of his characters speak with a clarity that transcends style. A fascinating read.

If you are not too late, seek out a copy of Liberty City as well - a comic that was written by Fawzy and illustrated by Brian Van Gold (included with my copy of Ciao!). It is incredibly disturbing, violent and fun - everything a graphic novel should be!

Ciao! Miami

by Fawzy Zablah


Book II in the Expat Press 2020 calendar has arrived and it is one Jim Dandy of a shoegazer's delight. In Faceless in Nippon, Dale Brett takes us on a slug's-eye-view tour of modern urban Japan. It's the story of one neurotic's last chance dance in the Land of the Rising Sun. One man's brave quest to push his own inherent awkwardness to its most soul-disorienting extreme. 


Our narrator has reached the point of utter disillusionment with life in his native Australia and decides, in rather arbitrary fashion, that a reassessment of self can only be accomplished in a land far, far away, in a place where he knows no one and doesn't even speak the language. He's essentially running away, and admits as much. But I guess it's a nobler course to take than simply rotting out the rest of one's life amid the familiar stink of one's own ennui. But hey! This isn't a review of my own life choices, now is it?! Back to the sad book at hand, thank you very much.

Now a book about a white man's immersion in Japanese culture isn't unprecedented and runs the risk of spinning clichés. The obsession with all things Japanese is as American as apple pie and sham democracy by now and almost just as tired. But after all, Dale's Australian; he's no Yank Seppo. Hell, Aussies and Americans are as different as... Democrats and Republicans! (For all you foreign Joyless House readers, that was a joke) 

Fortunately, our narrator's gaze remains almost masochistically void of ego. His baffling interactions with the native population and English-speaking expats alike no doubt help keep it that way. Our hero is no Don Juan-san, is what I'm trying to say. He finds that making meaningful human connections is just as hard in the eastern capital of vapid consumerism as anywhere else. Oh there's plenty of ramen and Asahi and manga anime (whatever that is), but rather than glowing in the worship of hipster fetishism, the totems of Japanese pop culture are seen as nothing more than the tools of the self-loathman's dull trade. And there are even some fair-sized nuggets of genuine cultural insight to be had along the way. How's that for yer twelve bucks?!

Brett's style is terse, (I've made a vow not to use the term 'minimalist' in reviews for the rest of 2020) but still intellectually pleasing. He chooses his words carefully (also not using the term 'economical').  The parts where the protagonist/narrator is loping off on a tangent of un-reality - drug induced or otherwise - the meter and word choice are tweaked ever so slightly, deftly creating the desired trippy affect.

In short, what you're getting here is more of what you've come to expect from Expat Press: quality craftsmanship in both prose and printed product. Metaphysical cum physical witness to the existential bumblings of cranks and weirdos of every persuasion. A lot of love. That's what you get. Get yourself some.