Haunt / Long-Form Religious Porn / Angel Meat, Three books by Laura Lee Bahr

The story goes, Laura Lee Bahr wrote Haunt, didn’t know exactly what to do with it, asked writer John Skipp to read it, following which he founded Fungasm Press solely to publish it. (He’s since published other writers under this Eraserhead Press imprint.)

To put it inadequately, Haunt (2011) is like if J.G. Ballard’s The Atrocity Exhibition were a ghost novel. A woman named Sarah While has (probably) been killed. One of the suspects (we think) is a guy named Simon Would. And there’s a guy named Richard who is usually addressed in the second person. And the book has a Choose Your Own Adventure motif:

Does he…

Burn it?

—OR—

Bury it?

—OR—

Bring it?

I’ve read Haunt twice and still don’t know whether I can recommend it— though I plan on reading it again, which has to count for something. I think the novel is center-less—“center,” as in, “the center cannot hold,” the kind of center that we hope the universe has, which it probably doesn’t. So why should a novel be expected to have one? Because novels are supposed to bring order to an orderless universe, except when they’re not, which may be the centerless center of Haunt, and determining that one way or the other is why I’ll be giving it a third read.

Long-Form Religious Porn (2015) does have a center, a gruesome sex-rooted double-murder, from and around which the realistic novel’s memorable characters pursue their lives in a Los Angeles I recognize as the one I live in—it’s The Great Los Angeles Novel, really, with chapters as sturdy and startling as your favorite short stories, but the outlaw sex scenes ensure the novel won’t get broader attention until Bahr has published a few more books.

Angel Meat (2016) is as thematically varied a book of short stories as a Harlan Ellison collection. It (weirdly) opens with a thought-provoking parable of positivity, and travels through horror, crime, science fiction, a traditional story of a young-ish person who’s hit the wall of life and has to figure out his next move, and a moving, presumably autobiographical first-person story (essay?) about traveling to a family reunion. With that last story, it’s like she’s coming out from the forbidden castle and introducing herself.

I have to direct particular attention to Angel Meat’s two science fiction stories, “Blackout in Upper Moosejaw” and “The Cause”—they both seem to take place in the same future where people have to adjust to the priority of automation—a theme, of course, that science fiction has been exploring since its beginnings, and Bahr’s takes on it holds their own with the genre’s best. –Jim Woster (Fungasm Press, fungasmpress.com)

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