A squirmy, oozing green horror story about a wayward porker with dark, eldritch powers is a story right in my wheelhouse. As it turns out, my dad was a professor of veterinary pathobiology and as a kid my tender brain meat was forever scorched with the image of a one-eyed pig head that used to sit in a jar of cloudy sick-green fluid on a shelf in his office. So I’m right at home in the realm of demented swine nightmares.
I am also a big fan of Pigasus, the hog that the Yippies ran for President in 1968, so I’m very comfortable with the notion of porcine apotheosis.
It should be pointed out from the outset that this particular novella was written by MP Johnson, a brethren of the Razorcake cabal, and that makes a review like this potentially tricky; one misstep and I could be accused of Razorcake nepotism and my sterling reputation as a journalist possessed of the finest cut of jib could be brought into question. The other potentially tricky aspect of my reviewing The After-Life Story of Pork Knuckles Malone is that there is a very real danger of cobbling together a review that’s almost as long as the book itself.
Succinctly put, this story is a sort of an unwholesome twist on the beloved “a boy and his dog” tale, the classic oft-told storyline that has, at its heart, the bond between man and pet. Something along the lines of Old Yeller. But in this particular case, the pet is a pig named “Pork Knuckles” and, for the bristly bulk of the story, it’s a postmortem pig in the commodified form of a honey-cured ham, with a certain consciousness and enflamed willpower still inexplicably intact. But the unpleasant transformation from happy, healthy pig to rancid ham seems to have left our hero in a multi-dimensionally foul mood that would rival the crankiest tantrums of Humwawa, the Lord of Abominations and All That Decays, whose breath is the stench of dung, and who is known as the most ill-tempered of all the dark denizens of the netherworlds. And so Pork Knuckles is propelled along on a Rambo-like path of destruction, taking down all those who did or would do him wrong.
The wretched truth of the axiom “hell hath no fury like a swine scorned” is then depicted in gut-wrenching detail as the vindictive ham zombie—wearing Rev. Nørb style deer antlers—metes out heaping pork-stinking helpings of ultra-violence on a cast of ne’er-do-wells and social upchucks ranging from rabid roid-rage drag queens to avuncular crust punks and white trashers.
And that’s just a thumbnail sketch, at best.
With the rapidly and surrealistically shifting storyline and the even more rapidly transmogrifying characters, one can easily picture author MP Johnson as a young buck weaned on harrowing amounts of sucrose-painted marshmallow sweety bits cereal and countless seizure-inducing episodes of He-Man: Master of the Universe. And maybe a little Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, to boot.
With a pig-tail twisted book like this, the list of potential influences that one can imagine straddles both the mainstream and the transgressive.
Along with a high sugar diet and strange children’s TV shows, there are possible contemporary forbears from the world of literature as well. Picture the jarring imagery of people like Chuck Palahniuk, Bret Easton Ellis and/or Kathy Acker, combined with the colloquial ham-and-eggs tone of authors like Jim Thompson and Jack Black (author of You Can’t Win.) The combination creates a strange brew indeed, one almost Alfred Jarry-like in its absinthe absurdism.
But enough guessing about MP’s possible influences. That kind of conjecture is symptomatic of critic’s disease. Just like how a symptom of GG Allin’s lyme disease was his proclivity for hurling his own bowel custard at audience members.
You could even say, I suppose, that Pork Knuckles Malone is the red-headed, oinkish grandkid of literary offerings along the lines of Bataille’s Story of the Eye or William Burroughs’s “talking asshole” bit from Naked Lunch. Just toss in some over-the top, bath salts-fueled, Rob Zombie-esque movie violence and you’re approaching a realm where avenging oozing-green hams can take possession of people, travel through deep space and eventually become a Hamgawd on a planet called “Porknuckas.”
And happily, this is the same realm where there exist things like misanthropic flies named Zzz who turn out to be Adolf Hitler transmigrated. (One of my favorite parts of the story.)
On the other hand, this might just be a cautionary tale about the potential dangers of the pet/pet-owner relationship, a near sacrosanct institution in this country and one swaddled in thoughts of cuddliness and the warm fuzzies. But as any eyeless, cheekless former chimp owner can attest to, it’s a relationship that can viciously turn on you in two shakes of a primate’s pituitary gland. Just ask Michael Jackson’s original nose.
Anyone looking for morality lessons or deep philosophical insights in this book might be left “pig-biting mad,” as Weekly World News columnist Ed Anger used to say. But people comfortable in the weird waters of things like Adult Swim will feel right at home, and will probably heartily enjoy the twisted tale that is The After-Life of Pork Knuckles Malone.
Personally, I found it to be a refreshing change of pace; having just finished reading Jack Grisham’s paean to gluttonous sadism entitled An American Douchebag, wherein the reader is treated to a glorification of the Malignant Narcissist personality disorder, Pork Knuckles provided me with something more light-hearted and, by far, less postured.
While both fables can be said to be about hams and while G-ham’s book wasn’t without its interesting moments, if I’m going to invest my time in following the sadistic travails of a meathead bent on terrorizing every poor sap who crosses his path, I’ll take the honey-cured ham over the malignant narcissist every time. –Aphid Peewit (Bizarro Pulp Press, bizarropulppress.com)