Joyless House Book Reviews
So this review is going to be a bit... oh... unorthodox. Olivia Twisted isn't a book in the traditional sense, like ink on paper that you can wipe boogers on, dab open sores and small wounds with, etc. - which is what we would all prefer, of course. In fact it's only available on the INTERNET. (click on the title up there, you don't even have to buy it!) But that's okay, I've been told lots of people have computers these days. The author herself didn't make much noise about it being a book, no book launch or screaming tweets, she just kind of flopped it out there in the dense jungle of the interweb. But the editors at Joyless House think it's a book. There's a whole mess of words in it, it tells a story, and nobody's paying a lick of attention to it, so it meets all the criteria.
O.T. tells the tale of a trans girl who, abused and rejected at home, makes a life among the wilds of the sex trade. Our hero and narrator is subjected to/volunteers for (it's bit of a grey area) every kind of heinous befoulment of the flesh imaginable. If you've been following the Epstein case, or the British-Belgian kiddy sex circus, or if you're up on your ancient satanic texts you'll know that if a person can dream it up, someone is doing it to someone somewhere. The theme of power is a constant here. Recognizing it, submitting to it, realizing when it's only an illusion, and finding it in oneself. The story is ostensibly fiction, but it sure doesn't feel like it. The prose is tight, vivid. There's as much philosophy here as there is sex and violence, but none of it's dressed up. Everything is told with a grim frankness, a sense of humor, and you're sold no rainbows or easy outs. While our cultural gatekeepers discuss the responsible way to represent gender and sexual identity in fiction, Kitty has planted a big 'Fuck You' bomb that only the diligent or the lucky will ever step on.
I recently read a collection of stories Bukowski wrote for the nudie mags in the 70s & 80s. It's reminiscent of Henry Miller. The sex content is fucking looney tunes level, but the prose still bites. Ironically, Buk has been claimed as the patron saint of poetry bros and literate meatheads, even though he was ostracized by those people growing up and made a whole life and career out of giving back what he got for so many years. The author here, at least in this embodiment, is the same way. She weaponizes her rejection at the hands of society. Instead of crawling in a hole and disappearing, she had the audacity to survive and tell her tale. It's beautiful stuff. It's punk rock, is what it is.
I'm really trying not to be a hard on about this. I know sensitive writerly types hate being told what to read, what good fiction is. But I feel like I'm taking crazy pills here. Someone get on this train with me! Just click the link. It's a quick read and it's free. You don't have to admit publicly how good it is, how right I am, etc. But at least admit it to yourself. You cowardly, fucking puke.
With Light and Dust
by Xi Nan & Fish Lu
Well, here I am again, trying to review a book of poetry. Who in the hell do I think I am? I don't know anything about poetry. I don't have an MFA or a BA or a BASF. I don't make the products you buy, I don't even make the products you buy better. I barely graduated high school. Part of me thinks they gave me my diploma just to get me out of there. 'We'll not have another year of this cretin toilet papering our institutions and impregnating our students', is probably what they said. Hell, I'd be a lot more qualified to review the 500 jukebox records I bought for $20 from a friend whose mom used to own a rural tavern but she died recently and there was no one to run the bar. It's sad; she was a sweet lady. And now here I am, wading through a mountain of Neil Diamond and Ray Stevens singles looking for a Jerry Reed in playable condition.
The point is, Xi Nan and Fish Lu don't deserve this. Having their good names associated with a recovering drunk, an inveterate vandal, a small-time huckster like myself. Although this thing did come out on Terror House Press... and I know Xi published on Expat. Meh, I guess if you're going to slum, slum with the best!
What I do know is this: I read With Light and Dust on an unseasonably balmy spring day in Wisconsin (you don't want to know what a seasonable spring day is like here), sitting on a lawn chair, drinking a beer, with nothing else to do because, in case you haven't heard, the world is ending. It gave me a peaceful, easy feeling. The world is always ending. I felt a kind of connection. Like these messages from the other side of the world, instead of losing their meaning in translation, gained something sublime. Too often the literature and poetry of your own culture is filled with the noise of that culture. Reading it can be like pointing the mic at the PA speaker. Nothing but feedback. These poems give us a chance to look at the common problem of being human, but from a different perspective. Maybe if I can trade my noise for yours, we both end up hearing something we missed? I don't know. Thanks to Terror House for putting out a beautiful book and cheers to Xi Nan and Fish Lu. A poet has no country, a poet has every country.
The Ice Cream Man
& Other Stories
by: Sam Pink
So, Pink is back with a brand new edition... stories from Chicago, Florida and Michigan... and you'll all be glad to know I'm already spent of the will to make this review read vaguely like a Vanilla Ice song.
If you are familiar with Joyless House Reviews you already know that we are fans of Sam's work. To claim impartiality at this point would be sick and wrong. But... what about familiarity breeding contempt? Sounds pretty sexy doesn't it? (eyebrows move up & down suggestively) Will Pink's turn as the Ice Cream Man be the Trick Too Fucking Far? Will the fruit of this vine finally turn sour to the finicky tastes of this online reviewer? Will the voice finally begin to cloy in this the sweetest of Pink's collections? Do we have the sticky makings of a literary rift for the ages??!!
No indeed. In fact this may be my favorite book yet in the ever-growing, the veiny and slick, the fat & formidable Pink Cannon. A few stories, Blue Victoria in particular, are marked by a new grimness. It's a trademark of Pink's to explore the miserable and mundane in life, ultimately sparing the reader with his humor and humanity. Many of the stories here are along that same line, but there are also a couple that leave you with a little hole in your gut. It's like the author put his meaty paw on your shoulder, looked you calmly in the eye, poured all the knowledge of his hardscrabble years into your jittery soul, and with his other hand, shot you in the stomach with one of those tiny guns ladies keep in their stocking in old time gangster movies.
You wipe away one small tear as you watch him walk away, with his steel-toed gait. God bless that man, you whisper. Then you put a hand to your gut and looking at it think, why am I bleeding?
Anthony Dragonetti Expat Press
Alright! (stretches, cracks knuckles) Time to get down to my favorite bit of business: reviewing a book by an author on the same label that publishes my shit. Not a queasy proposition in the least! (begins to absently rip out large tufts of hair from groin area)
Ha, ha. Just kidding folks. We keep it as clean as an olympic swimmer around here. Thankfully, once again, the editorial eye at Expat Press proves to be unassailable.
Confidence Man is the debut from NYC's own Anthony Dragonetti. It's a cohesive collection of shorts that reads like a well-written diary. Still it doesn't come off as overly solipsistic. The city itself, the author's family, his Italian heritage and (cue creepy organ music) the Catholic church all serve as characters crucial to the narrative. The prose here is great, in the realist style, I would say, not quite minimalist (a sigh of relief from everyone who's been bludgeoned by the avalanche of books full of four word poems), but efficient. Sort of reminiscent of the beat aesthetic (genre cliche used to maximize relatability, sorry [you hypersensitive pricks]) where a piece is meant to be read out loud. The stories here have natural meter and musicality. And... I guess we're pissing all over the fourth wall here... I can verify; it checks out. I heard Anthony read a couple selections from the book live and in the flesh. We snuck it in before the great zombie apocalypse.
You know what? Fuck it, as long as we're doing the dirty dog on the whack-ass rules of literary journalism (just that phrase makes you want to punch somebody in the face, don't it?) here's the scoop: I got to meet Anthony and he's exactly as advertised. He's a sincere dude, in it for the right reasons, and it comes through in his work. Same goes for Pink.
Confidence Man is an earnest attempt to reconcile life in this modern age. A quest for truth and morality. A walk in the dark urban woods, holding hands with the ghosts of family, faith, New York City and the fucking internet. It's real and it's real good. Shop Expat Press, Soft Skull, 11:11, Heavy Athletics, all that shit. Stay safe or kill with faith. Selah.