Book Reviews

Eddie’s Week, By Patrick Dean, 196 pgs.

Eddie is just an everyday, ordinary dude with a not-so-exciting lifestyle that mostly involves him watching werewolf movies and pining over his ex-girlfriend. On his first day of his week-off from work, he is told by some suits that he has involuntarily signed up to have a convicted murderer live in a makeshift jail cell in his living room.

Eddie’s Week is an extremely unpredictable graphic novel that takes place in a mundane yet very surreal universe. As titular Eddie’s titular week progresses, he loses a convict, joins a club where men dress as bears, is spied on by a transient detective, and accidentally kills several people. The story tricks you with all kinds left turns with almost sitcom-like situations going off the rails. You get hints of it early on when Eddie is speaking to a friend and passively mentions that their mayor turned out to be a mythical creature.

It’s a black and white comic with no amounts of grey in-between. The artwork is pretty sketch-like with a lot of dark, ink-filled shading. It’s a bit messy but a good aesthetic. The fact that I can’t compare Dean’s style to anybody should be commended. There is something oddly adorable about Eddies comically big nose and eyebrows.

As the storyline gets stranger and starts to include magic and more murders, it ends with Eddie and his newly acquired pals (one pocket sized) riding off into the unknown. Our ordinary dude has just accepted all the weird shit that’s thrown at him and takes it with stride.

The same could be said about the author Patrick Dean. After this book was completed, he was diagnosed with ALS. His muscles became weak but he kept drawing to his best ability. And when he couldn’t draw with his arms anymore, he started drawing pieces with eye-gaze technology up until his death on May 13, 2021. We should all be thankful this book came out before Dean left this earth. And it’s a bummer that such a creative weirdo is gone before he could make more fine products like Eddie’s Week. –Rick V. (Birdcage Bottom Books, 324-A W. 71st St., NY, NY 10023, birdcagebottombooks.com)

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Enough., By Kurt Morris, 103 pgs.

Kurt Morris is a friend, co-contributor to Razorcake, and a person who I respect quite a bit. This is his second self-published book in the midst of a pandemic, and that deserves hella props. His first one covered Black Flag’s My War track by track, interwoven with Kurt’s personal mental health stories. For this second book, he focuses on his bi-polar II diagnosis, as well as two stints in mental heath institutions.

Taking care of our brains is something that’s become much more normalized even in just the past five years. In this book we meet Kurt as early as 1996 at age sixteen, already asking for reasons not to kill himself. We carry on with him through medication trials which never quite do the job. He includes journal entries from those times as well, which is helpful in painting an authentic picture of one’s self from over a decade ago. He checks himself into a mental hospital for a week in 2011 and has an intense relationship with his girlfriend at the time, who seems to be the only one firmly in his corner during this experience. Up until this point and even a bit further in Enough., I felt like the writing was emotionally distant.

It wasn’t until his second stay at a different institution did I feel like Kurt’s tone was emotionally accessible. During this time he comes across a patient who had a failed hanging attempt. The evidence was visible. This is the point of the book at which I became engaged. I think it turned a corner in a major way that hit my heart. There’s heavy trauma in this true story that is difficult to read, especially when it’s coming from a person with whom I have spent years reading and getting to know. At times it’s uncomfortably intimate, and honestly I think it could have benefitted for more of that intense closeness. Writing this book is trauma in and of itself, and I am grateful that Kurt has come out better as a result of these experiences. I hope this is a book that helps others in similar situations find help. –Kayla Greet ([email protected], kurtmorris.net/enough, $10 U.S.)

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Green and the Gold, The, By Bart Schaneman, 172 pgs.

The back story of The Green and the Gold is intriguing. In the early 2000s, Bart Schaneman sent his manuscript to Grove Press (home of William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, and Henry Miller) even though they didn’t take submissions. Grove actually accepted it, worked on it, and then the person who was championing the book left Grove and disappeared. Schaneman was left to self-publish his work.

The Green and the Gold centers around nineteen-year-old Carrick, who lives just outside the Western Nebraska town of Scottsbluff. The story begins with him recently having returned from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, but his experiences there remain a mystery, as does why it is he returned home. With pressure from his parents he begins to work on a farm and slowly gets out and is social. He meets a woman, falls for her, but is still plagued by whatever it is that set him off in Lincoln. I won’t give away what happens to that relationship, but after Carrick is asked by his psychologist what happened in Lincoln, the book shifts to that locale.

The second part of the book is rather identifiable to anyone who has ever gone off to college far from home. It’s jarring to be away from the place where one grew up. Being around so many people you don’t know, learning your way around campus, figuring out what is expected of you as a student, and understanding how to negotiate the emotions that come from all of this is a difficult burden. To put it succinctly, Carrick doesn’t handle his move to Lincoln well. Lots of misadventures occur, including a random purchase of a kayak, conversations with people who live on the street, and that desperate attempt to meet someone—anyone—who might connect with him.

The last portion of the book returns to Scottsbluff. Carrick moves forward in his life. He tries to figure out what is next for him in this small, rural Nebraska town. The story culminates with a revelation about his earlier relationship with the woman he dated. It’s nothing grandiose or life altering, but it’s a way for Carrick to culminate the tempest he found himself in at that moment. It’s enough to get him through. And when you’re losing your shit, you need to hold on to each and every thing that will keep you alive no matter how minor it may seem.

As I made my way through these 172 pages, I found another reference point for Schaneman’s work: Catcher in the Rye. It’s the story of a teenager trying to find their way as they go through changes in their life and explore a city that’s bigger than themselves. But whereas Holden Caulfield is a dick, Carrick is a sympathetic protagonist who still tries to do right even amidst his mind derailing. So fuck Catcher in the Rye. I’d rather read The Green and the Gold any day. –Kurt Morris (tridentcafe.com/trident-press-titles)

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Hotel Man, By Matt Mauldin, 30 pgs.

This is the second book of poems by Matt Mauldin, formerly of Car Vs. Driver. Matt’s style is hard to pin down because he does everything well—“Wax Casting” is a straightforward narrative, in direct contrast to “Summer Camp,” which appears at first to be linear but seamlessly moves around in time. I think the through-line here is ultimately the denseness of imagery that Mauldin incorporates: lines and phrases pack emotional punch in their duality and rattle around in my head for days after I’m finished reading. –Michael T. Fournier (Four Feathers Press, fourfeathers.blogspot.com)

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Puppy Dog Ice Cream: The Story of Japanther, By Ian A. Vanek, 133 pgs.

When I first picked this up and got a couple of chapters in I was pretty annoyed and confused. One would think a book called “The Story of Japanther” by a member of Japanther would give a play-by-play detail of the formation, career, and end of the wild art punk band that lasted nearly thirteen years. It’s not that.

Puppy Dog Ice Cream is a non-linear recollection of Vanek’s memories of his time during the band. Sure, it does start with an art college kid moving to New York and getting excited about the music scene in the early ’00s. But then it takes you all over the place—late night bike rides, spray painting, odd-sounding gallery events, giant puppets, meet ups with Penny Rimbaud, simple vegan food, and lots of trips in the van.

After my initial annoyance and confusion, I got real deep in this book. Once you get past the time jumps and the lack of trivial facts about the band, it’s a solid read. You’ve probably seen Japanther play in your city but had no idea what crazy-sounding events they had going on in New York. Some were shows decorated with razor wire and the aforementioned giant puppets. You get to read about the art freaks they rolled with, including a large section dedicated to the late Beau Velasco, the primary songwriter for the Death Set. It’s a nice document of that whole wave of art-synth-electronic acts that were popping up in the early ’00s.

The book is also sprinkled with little tidbits of wisdom. I especially like a bit that reads, “Making money and having success doesn’t always equate to happiness; happiness is something you have to strive for in addition to success. A childish spirit is the best armor against life’s trials.”

Vanek doesn’t claim to be a writer. Some stories are written in great detail while some are glazed over and sometimes repeated. He states that this isn’t supposed to be a history lesson, it’s a mostly selfish act to preserve his fading memories. If you want to read a boring, rock-solid history of Japanther, read the Wikipedia page. If you want to read a book that reads like the intensity of the way a Japanther album sounds, pick this up. –Rick V. (Outlandish Press, outlandish.press)

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Rough Realism Complete, By Bread Rohl, 254 pgs.

One-panel comics with a simple drawing of a little kid from the chest up and a caption where they naively repeat something shitty their dad said. For example, “When my mom said she had some exciting news, my dad guessed that she was starting a new diet. She said she got a promotion at work.”

Sometimes the mom gets a burn in on the dad, but beyond that, nothing changes. Parenting is stressful and can bring out the worst, but these comics give no insight into the dad’s abusive behavior. It makes for a tedious, one-note read that had me exhausted and dispirited by the time I got halfway through. –Chris Terry (Rough Realism Books, PO Box 292455, Columbia, SC 29229, $8)

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Selftitled, By Nicole Morning, 95 pgs.

Nicole Morning’s debut book is a combination of poetry and short vignettes in pocket-size. To be frank, I don’t understand most poetry. However, Morning’s words are straight-forward free verse that border on stream of consciousness with occasionally repeated words and phrases. It makes this poetry much easier to swallow. Still, I would’ve preferred seeing this book be all prose or poetry and not a mixture of both.

Prose is where the author shines. Selftitled is a quick and easy read as far as the time commitment goes, but it’s anything but unassuming when it comes to the content. Take some time to digest this one. It’s more than simply tales of hooking up via Tinder and smoking crack. These pages show the intense desire that can be found behind all of these acts. What centers the majority of this book is the desire to find connection, written by someone who seemingly has never been able to do so. The honesty is there, as is the yearning for wholeness.

Morning’s writing is smooth and easy to read. Yet her tales hurt like a motherfucker, probably because for a lot of my life I’ve also searched for connections with others, whether romantically or otherwise. Even if the means by which Morning and I seek to fill the gaping hole in ourselves differs, it’s reassuring to know I’m not the only one who wishes for something we rarely speak of. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this tiny book, but am so glad I gave it a chance. It’s a pleasant, welcome surprise. –Kurt Morris (tridentcafe.com/trident-press-titles)

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Sluts and Whores, By C.E. Hoffman, 197 pgs.

There was no sleight of hand in titling this collection of short stories and poetry by C.E. Hoffman. All forty-two of these pieces deal with sex work and sex positivity at various levels of comfort and eroticism. Sometimes it’s merely transactional, sometimes it’s the sort of soul-to-soul connection that we’re all striving for, but it’s always done well, a rarity for a writer this young who’s compiling pieces over a decade of their life.

The aspects of this collection I found the most engaging, and which kept the pieces distinct despite the subject similarity, were the elements of magical realism and science fiction that Hoffman employs to great effect in some of their stories. Characters weave in and out of each others’ tales, set against the backdrop of the ominously titled Big City in a dystopian future where the demarcations between rich and poor are set in stone and there’s literally no way to cross that line. There is an indication in one story that this could be late 22nd century, but that could also be hyperbole in the dialogue.

Hoffman’s writing style reminds one of Burroughs at his most straightforward or Irvine Welsh at his strangest, but with a presentation dominated primarily by women and queer characters, a refreshing change in this particular milieu. This style is most effective in a triptych of stories that appear later in the collection (Bitches/Bass Lines/And Suicide). The reader is presented with a series of increasingly horrible events from the changing perspectives of the three characters involved. It careens between Cronenbergian body horror to street romance effortlessly, without feeling jarring or off-putting.

Hoffman is definitely a writer to watch for, and I look forward to what they give us next. My hope would be that they use some of these recurring characters as a springboard to a long form piece. I put this book down really wanting to know more about Ez, Eden, Jude, and V as they navigate increasingly impossible lives in the unforgiving Big City. –Justin Bookworm (Thurston Howl Publications, thurstonhowlpublications.com)

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This Hidden City, By Adel Souto, 223 pgs.

Adel Souto’s This Hidden City is described as “a tour of New York City’s esoteric side.” As someone who is into weird, non-touristy stuff when I travel, that sounds right up my alley. In addition, I lead walking tours around Boston for my job where I like to highlight such random odds and ends. So I went into reading this book with some high expectations.

Overall I wasn’t let down. The book is based off of a blog of the same name that Souto started in 2013. In the book he goes through each borough and covers the oddities that a lot of locals aren’t even aware of. With each site, he begins with directions of where to find the site. He also gives a history of the site or people connected to it. The info can be quite extensive—it’s clear Souto really did his research. (The academic in me would’ve liked to see some citations in case the reader wanted to do further reading.) There’s no rhyme or reason for choosing a site; they’re just places Souto heard about and found interesting. Throughout This Hidden City he’s included dozens of black and white photographs that are clean and clear. These very much add to the value of the book.

Most of the material is related to Manhattan although the other boroughs and a couple islands are included. There are old forts, abandoned spaces, parks, memorials, statues, and more. I appreciated that Souto included the 1920 bombing of Wall Street, a fascinating historical attack by anarchists. He also schooled me on some preconceived notions I had, including the final resting place (the Bronx, not Long Island) of colonial religious reformer, Anne Hutchinson. There is so much cool, random material here that it outweighs some of my concerns.

My primary issue is the lack of guidance within the content. There are no page numbers or a table of contents. There’s not an index, either. If you’re looking for a particular site or type of place to visit, you’ll have to scan the entire book. There is a small map of each borough with number locations for sites before each borough’s section, but it would’ve been more helpful to have a street map before each location showing the surrounding streets.

That all being said, this book is pretty badass and one that I will keep, in the hope that I can get to New York City and check out some of these amazing, unique sites. If you live in the city or are planning a visit, you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of This Hidden City and get a different view of the Big Apple. –Kurt Morris (adelsouto.com)

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Why Marianne Faithful Matters, By Tanya Pearson, 180 pgs.

I know almost nothing about Marianne Faithful—which, Tanya Pearson explains in her stunner of an entry to the University of Texas’s “Matters” series—is typical. Pearson says that “gender continues to be used as a tool to build a revisionist history that excludes women.” And she doesn’t just say this, she demonstrates it, she illustrates it, shouts it, bringing example after example both from Faithfull’s long career and Pearson’s own time in academia to help support her thesis. Pearson, who directs the Women of Rock Oral History Project, states that she has noticed in the course of conducting interviews, that successes happen due to “a willingness to take chances and accept opportunities.” Despite following a similar organic path to where she is today, the conversation around Marianne Faithfull continues to be in the context of men or through the male gaze: Faithfull, if discussed at all, is usually mentioned only as being pretty or in the context of dating Mick Jagger, not for her willingness to take chances as an artist or for her catalogue of albums. I’ve read a bunch of these Matters books, but this one, more than any other, made me reconsider not only Marianne Faithful, but the whole infrastructure of the star system and rock criticism—seismic stuff. A great read. –Michael T. Fournier (University of Texas Press, utpress.utexas.edu)

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Enough., By Kurt Morris. 103 pgs.

One of the big rules of writing is show, don’t tell: use sensory details to make the reader feel part of a scene. In Enough, the second book by fellow RZC homie Kurt Morris, there’s precious little in the way of this kind of showing. Instead, Kurt tells the harrowing story of wrestling with depression from 2001 to 2011.

I think the directness of Kurt’s tale is one of Enough’s biggest strengths: through a lack of embellishment, he makes his story more visceral and impactful throughout, ultimately forging a connection with readers by going out on a limb and being honest. Talking so frankly about his depression and suicide attempts takes self-confidence and bravery. Kurt mixes blunt discussion of events with journal entries from his past, with the stated goal of “help(ing) others who may believe no one can understand” what depression and hospitalization are like. The lack of sensory details, too, emphasize the mental space Kurt was in during the incidents he describes, adding another layer to the narrative. –Michael T. Fournier (kurtmorris.net/enough)

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Ghostly Demarcations: Stories, By Joe Taylor. 215 pgs.

Taut, weird tales told first-person style, all linked—perhaps supernatural, perhaps just manifestations of the narrator’s overhormonal mind. The doubt compels. –Michael T. Fournier (Sagging Meniscus Press, saggingmeniscus.com)

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