Archive for Book Thoughts

REEL DARK in the Spotlight

Have you ever been afraid of the movies? Not afraid AT the movies–any good horror film should give you chills–but scared that the movies themselves could somehow darken your world?

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Get ready to be shocked out of your seat. After a limited release in 2015, Reel Dark is back in 2016 with this stunning new cover by Aaron Drown Design and two new tales, Michael West’s sojourn into apocalyptic soundscapes “Ave Satani” and Alexander S. Brown’s love-song to late-night horror-hosts “Grotessa.” In all, it’s a collection of twenty authors who in prose and poetry combine elements from across genres–horror, sci-fi, and noir, of course, but also the western, comedy, and others–in order to show us the mayhem the movies might work on the world.

Here’s the lineup:

Russ Bickerstaff, “24 per second: Persistence of Fission”

Hal Bodner, “Whatever Happened to Peggy… Who?”

Alexander S. Brown, “Grotessa”

James Chambers, “The Monster with My Fist for Its Head”

L. Andrew Cooper, “Leer Reel”

James Dorr, “Marcie and Her Sisters”

Sean Eads, “The Dreamist”

JG Faherty, “Things Forgotten”

Amy Grech, “Dead Eye”

Jude-Marie Green, “The Queen of the Death Scenes”

Karen Head, “Amnesia”

Jay Seate, “It’s a Wrap”

Caroline Shriner-Wunn, “Confessions of a Lady of a Certain Age” and more poetry throughout the book!

Rose Streif, “Caligarisme”

Sean Taylor, “And So She Asked Again,”

Pamela Turner, “Rival”

Jason S. Walters, “Low Midnight”

Mike Watt, “Copper Slips Between the Frames”

Michael West, “Ave Satani”

Jay Wilburn, “Cigarette Burns”

Fractured Brain Bogey Boogie

ImpofthePerversePoeMy personal Imp of the Perverse likes to make me a liar when I talk about writing. For instance, in a recent interview, I mentioned that I almost never write about real people, at least not people I’m on good terms with, because my fiction mostly focuses on bad, horrific things. Naturally, within weeks of the interview, a project I was working on decided to include some of the people I care about most. Nothing bad happens to them, I promise! Well, nothing permanent. In fact, the project, The Great Sonnet Plot of Anton Tick, combines nostalgia and good feelings with horror and depression in ways I’ve never explored before… but I think one of the reasons it uses both me and people I know, by name, no less, is because the Imp likes making me a big fat liar. So note: I do write about people I know, and quite directly, and sometimes to express love and praise as well as to spew vitriol. Go figure. The Imp did not ask me first.

A tick. Not Anton Tick, but a tick, all the same

A tick. Not Anton Tick, but a tick, all the same.

 

The Imp also did not ask before landing me in my current predicament. I’ve always been a One-Man-One-Book kind of writer, which is to say, I might have a story or an article on the side, little flings, but I’ve kept myself steady with one major project at a time. That way, when a block of hours for writing presents itself, I always know where my mind is going, be it into fact or into fiction. When I was writing my non-fiction book Dario Argento, I got out my notes on Dario’s wonderful movies and went into analysis mode. When I was writing my novel Descending Lines, I thought about doomed couple Megan and Carter Anderson and charted the next step downward on their descent. Having a stable place for the mind to go keeps the project focused, keeps it going, and keeps me sane, as I can always escape into it when I need something to think about other than whatever annoying thing is present to my consciousness at any given time. Annoyed by tax forms? Think about the zany bugs in Argento’s Phenomena. Annoyed by self-sustaining interpersonal conflicts? Think about the next scene of slaughter that will ruin Megan Anderson’s day. Simple psychological shelters!

Jennifer Connelly isn’t the only one who loves Argento’s zany bugs.

Jennifer Connelly isn’t the only one who loves Argento’s zany bugs.

 

Having a home base for the brain keeps it whole, in a way, which is why—one reason why, at least—right now Writer Me feels like a box of Mini-Wheats, lots of little squares, each with two sides arguing about the virtues of frosting.

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Don’t get me wrong. I lurve aspects of my fractured brain-home predicament, which began, I dunno, six months ago, when I up and started the strangest book I’ve yet written, Manufacturing Miracles, the novel that picks up where my novel Burning the Middle Ground left off. Faster plotting, more characters, and more settings than my previous work, with the bizarreness quotient ratcheted up considerably—great good fun, but also difficult. Work on that got waylaid, however, when I made the fantastic deal with Seventh Star Press for new editions of Reel Dark and Leaping at Thorns as well as my next collection of short stories, Peritoneum, all of which are slated for release in April/May 2016. Naturally, work on these three books needed (and continues to need) to intrude on Manufacturing Miracles for awhile. NOT complaining—good, lurvable stuff—but factors in the fracturing of my brain home. I should also mention that during all of this action another factor, also exciting and good, in the form of a book called The Blue Jacket Conspiracy—a dark mainstream thriller—has been going through the process of settling in with an agent, going to market, and hunting a home. So instead of one book on home base, that’s… five, at various states from just-started to almost-published.

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Then the Imp gets really crazed and has me start writing poetry, which I haven’t taken seriously, at least not with myself as author, since college. I start counting the syllables in everything and rhyming accidentally. I write a few sonnets, and next thing you know, I’m working on the aforementioned 100-poem cycle The Great Sonnet Plot, followed by “Villanelles of Villainy” and “Rondeaux of Indifference,” as I am a junkie for difficult, exacting forms and, contrary to the dominant fads of the last century, really like meter and rhyme. So as of this month, I have a book of poetry to polish and try to publish.

Manufacturing Miracles, still in the first third of its daunting outline, is jealous.

So today, when sitting down to write, I tinkered with a poem, tinkered with a novel, and was then reminded by Facebook that I haven’t posted on my author page in—gasp!—NINE DAYS. I love you all, I really do, so my Imp, my fractured brain, and I aren’t doing anything about any of the six books I’m worrying about and are instead writing this piece. Of. Reflection on writing.

Lies? Blogs about writing are supposed to contain bulleted advice. Somewhat clueless, I offer the following for when you find your brain facing the bogey of fragmentation:

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  • Drink espresso. After a trip to Italy, I returned to the States still fond of American coffee but somewhat ruined for it. What better way to Power Through than a little high-test, eh? It may not help with that fractured feeling—it may increase it, in fact—but if I need to flit like a mosquito from this to that, molto bene!
  • Triage. I say “triage” rather than “prioritize.” In emergency rooms as on the battlefield, aid workers must assess not only who has the greatest need for care, but who will benefit most from care, as some people are goners, and he who howls the most (Manufacturing Miracles is a howler) is not always in the greatest need. Deadlines (get it? “dead” “lines”) are useful triage guides, but so are supplies. I had a sudden, inexplicable supply of meter and rhyme, so The Great Sonnet Plot was going to benefit most from available care. Others, without immediate deadlines, weren’t going to die from waiting for better supplies to arrive… so they waited.
  • Connect. This one is tricky because it gets really confusing really fast, but all six of the projects I’m working on right now have relationships with and references to one another. Heck, The Great Sonnet Plot even refers to Argento. At times, these connections create an illusion of wholeness—I’m really working on one great big project!—and at other times, I just forget what I’m doing, and I step back, like The Stepfather, and ask, “Who am I here?” Still, an illusion of wholeness can redouble a sense of purpose, and that’s, uh, good.

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  • Visualize. If you learned from The Classics first, think Cicero and Quintilian, or if you’re like me, think Hannibal Lecter: either way, think of the Memory Palace, the idea that your mind is a big ol’ house full of many rooms, and each room contains one of your projects. If you’re stuck on Connect, put all the rooms in the same wing of the house, connected by the same hallway, maybe painted the same color. Anyway, in each room, the project’s characters (or, in the case of something like Dario Argento, I’d say the movies, or in another type of non-fiction, I’d say the major events I was writing about, or whatever) are waiting. They may or may not be patient, but they’re waiting every time you go into the room. Enter, talk to them, get them going, and while you’re there, write. When you’re done, you can leave, and you go to another room that day or any other day, and you can come back whenever you want. This method will help you keep the projects sorted and On Call in your brain, which, thanks to your architectural maneuvering, is more partitioned than fragged.
  • Drink. Face it. The people in all those rooms are not patient. There’s a reason why writers and bottles, historically, get along well. I am not advising you to violate your belief system. But I believe you got to shut those people up somehow, sometime, ’cuz otherwise, that whole damned house is gonna burn, and you ain’t saving none of those patients.

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Peter Welmerink’s Transport, Hunt for the Fallen: Taking Zombie Fantasy to the Next Level

Book Synopsis for Hunt for the Fallen:

Captain Jacob Billet

Journal Entry – Sunday April 5, 2026

It’s raining, it’s pouring, the undead are roaring…

Amassed at the UCRA east end enclosure, the dead strain the fence line while soldiers keep watchful eyes, the survivors on the opposite side of the rising river about to lose their minds.

It’s a crazy time: nonstop precipitation; everyone’s up in arms; paranoid city council members with an asshat City Treasurer. Water, water everywhere. Zees dropping into the churning drink. Troops afraid of being stitched up and thrown back into the fray as Zombie Troopers. Tank commanders getting itchy to head out on their own after drug-laden shamblers. Reganshire insurgents trying to extract our west side civvies for some unknown reason, possibly pushing the city into taking heavy-handed action against them.

Then there’s some black-haired dead dude staring at me through the fence, grinning like he’s off his meds.

And I thought Lettner was a headache.

All this sh*t might give me a heart attack.

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I reviewed Welmerink’s Transport in June 2014, so when offered a review copy of the follow-up, Transport: Hunt for the Fallen, I happily accepted. Welmerink’s world gives the zombie subgenre a much-needed facelift, keeping the fundamental edges of violence and desperation but refreshing the conditions for storytelling. In brief, the Transport series takes place near Grand Rapids, Michigan, a city re-established years after a zombie plague has brought on an apocalypse, and charts the adventures of people trying to navigate a newly emerging world (dis)order in the city and outlying areas.

By skipping over the familiar—the initial horror of figuring out what’s going on, of watching the population’s rapid decline, and especially of figuring out the relationship between the living and the dead (they’re us!)—Welmerink creates an opportunity to use the “Zees” and human survivors in unfamiliar scenarios, adventuring in a world rebuilding itself rather than a world falling apart. Without acknowledging the existence of other zombie fictions, the writing admits that you might know them and benefits from the admission: the existence of zombies in the fictional world of Captain Jacob Billet and the crew of his transport vehicle the Huron is just as quotidian as the existence of zombies on TV and in the movies. Welmerink doesn’t need the monsters to be novel and in fact benefits from their familiarity. The more you know about typical zombies, the more you can pay attention to Welmerink’s innovations (so plentiful that Book 2, like its predecessor, has a glossary).

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One of Welmerink’s innovations, present in the first volume but more crucial in the second, is the role the undead have assumed in the post-apocalyptic society. In what reads to me as pervasive satire on extremes of political correctness, even “zombie” seems like a bad word in the polite society that has preserved and domesticated hordes of the walking dead. The zombies are “undead civilians” kept in Urban Civilian Retention Areas (UCRAs), retained and even revered as the loved ones of survivors who just had the misfortune of rising from death with a hunger for human flesh. Nevermind that if a UCRA has a problem, and these civilians get loose, they readily dismember and devour the same people who maintain them on diets of doped gore rations. The more disgusting the creatures, the more defense they get from the government and civilians, much to the chagrin of Billet and his military crew, who find their hands tied again and again because saving the living by shooting the dead courts political blowback that’s more of a headache than the Zees themselves. The city’s inhabitants, relatively safe in their enclosed environment with the apocalypse a fading memory, don’t see the monsters as a threat. They hardly see them at all, but instead see their own wishful thinking projected on ambulatory decay. This satire might be problematic if the zombie masses had—as they do in many other stories—a close association with a particular type of person or group, but they don’t. The satire works because without attacking any specific political class or viewpoint, it shows that, like cockroaches, hypocritical denial and refusal to face unpleasant physical circumstances will likely survive the fall of civilization and be with us as long as there’s an “us” to be with.

A less gleeful dimension of this commentary appears in the division between military and civilian, with the civilian getting far more respect, a respect painfully ironic because the word “civilian” is the most common and proper term for undead flesh-eater. Jake Billet, considering that the government expects soldiers to keep soldiering even after death, “doesn’t like what he sees and doesn’t like the implications… For the military, if a soldier isn’t blown to little red bits, it is experimentation and the life of a ZT, zombie trooper… [whereas] undead neighbor[s] find themselves protected and fed until they fall to the elements or rot to nothing and dissolve to a gooey paste” (68). That rotting corpses rank higher in the social schema than self-sacrificing soldiers is a fact of daily life about which Billet can only brood. Soldiers are tools, dehumanized, used as much as their bodies will tolerate (and more); civilians, even when they are inhuman, receive the best possible human comforts—so what if they can’t enjoy the advantages? Read against the backdrop of a real-life American culture that has waged constant wars in the twenty-first century while the ruling elite have gotten richer and richer, this hierarchy resonates powerfully, implicitly calling not just for a rethinking of the new society in Transport’s pages but of the society it has replaced.

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This rethinking, though, is almost all implied, as Welmerink is too busy delivering a fast-paced action yarn to get bogged down in political rumination. A continuation of the adventure begun in Transport, Transport: Hunt for the Fallen is also episodic, hurling Billet and crew into a series of conflicts that, as before, ultimately end up on the road, this time hunting for and retrieving various types of “fallen” folk, including escaped undead civilians for whom the living military must risk life and limb (and limbs and other bits do fly). A lot of the book’s fun, for me at least, lies in not knowing where the story will go next—the serial, episodic structure of events and the unfamiliarity of the world Welmerink is building keeps at least one eye blind to what’s ahead—so I won’t say more about the plot. I will say, though, that each episode escalates, and the best part of the book is the final third, in which the storytelling concentrates on hard-hitting battle sequences. A spoiler-free sample:

“A gurgling snarl brings the gunner back to the forefront as the big zomb swipes at him with a tree trunk thick arm. Necrotic flesh flaps like loose strips of dead bark” (122).

Vivid present-tense narration and unabashedly visceral description make these scenes intense and enjoyable. The ending has chilling surprises, too, and the final image includes some of the best writing in the series so far.

I have some quibbles, of course. Like the first book, the second could use more editing, but more important, I might like to see the glossary expanded further to include key characters and locations as well as more of Welmerink’s cool terminology—with more than a year between my readings of books one and two, I needed some cross-referencing. And while I like the unpredictability of the story’s structure, which builds up to the thrilling fight scenes toward the end, I might like to see more heavy artillery fighting and a little less build (mostly because the action scenes are the book’s best).

Quibbles aside, I recommend Hunt for the Fallen to anyone who has started the series and the series to anyone who enjoys zombie stories or just stories rich in imagination that pack a hard-action punch. Transport’s gritty characters, visceral description, and fresh vision of the post-apocalypse are worth taking for a ride.

 

About the author: Peter Welmerink was born and raised on the west side of pre-apocalyptic Grand Rapids, Michigan. He writes Fantasy, Military SciFi, and other wanderings into action-adventure. His work has been published in ye olde wood pulp print and electronic-online publications. He is the co-author of the Viking berserker novel, BEDLAM UNLEASHED, written with Steven Shrewsbury. TRANSPORT is his first solo novel venture. He is married with a small barbarian tribe of three boys. Find out more about his works and upcoming projects at: www.peterwelmerink.com

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150 Years of Monstrosity (Coming for You Now)

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Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Richard Marsh’s The Beetle. Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Parasite. Marie Corelli’s Ziska. Arthur Machen’s The Great God Pan. Ishiro Honda’s Matango. William Hope Hodgson’s “The Voice in the Night.” Angela Carter’s “The Lady of the House of Love.” Richard Laymon’s The Traveling Vampire Show. Cormac McCarthy’s Child of God and Blood Merdian. Brett Easton Ellis’s American Psycho. Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. Helen Oyeyemi’s White is for Witching. H.P. Lovecraft in Comics. Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man. Srdjan Spasojevic’s A Serbian Film.

Sharla Hutchison and Rebecca A. Brown edited MONSTERS AND MONSTROSITY FROM THE FIN DE SIECLE TO THE MILLENNIUM, a collection of essays that discusses all of these works, essential if you want to be in the know about modern horror.

I wrote the essay on A Serbian Film, generally considered by people in the know to be among the ugliest films ever made.

Go on. Feed your head. Get the book from the publisher, McFarland, or from Amazon. Give it as a gift. Insist on getting it as a gift.

All of the above. You can never have too many monsters.

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Table of Contents

Introduction (Sharla Hutchison and Rebecca A. Brown) 1

Part I: Forgotten Monsters and Social Unrest

  • “She has a parasite soul!” The Pathologization of the Gothic Monster as Parasitic Hybrid in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Richard Marsh’s The Beetle and Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Parasite (Emilie ­Taylor-Brown ) 12
  • Marie Corelli’s Ziska: A Gothic Egyptian Ghost Story (Sharla Hutchison) 29
  • The Queer God Pan: Terror and Apocalypse, Reimagined (Mark De Cicco) 49
  • Attack of the Mushroom People: Ishiro Honda’s Matango and William Hope Hodgson’s “The Voice in the Night” (Anthony Camara) 69

Part II: Monstrous Violations of Private Life

  • Through the Eyes of the Monster: Angela Carter’s “The Lady of the House of Love” (Jameela F. Dallis) 92
  • Re-Vamping the Early 1960s: Freakish Vampires and Monstrous Teens in Richard Laymon’s The Traveling Vampire Show (Rebecca A. Brown) 111
  • Gothic Commodification of the Body and the Modern Literary Serial Killer in Child of God and American Psycho (Christopher Coughlin) 129
  • Rocking and Reeling through the Doors of Miscreation: Disequilibrium in Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House (Susan Poznar) 144

Part III: Millennial Monsters

  • “I think I am a monster”: Helen Oyeyemi’s White Is for Witching and the Postmodern Gothic (Bianca Tredennick) 168
  • “Madness and monstrosity”: Notions of the Gothic and Sublime in Comics Adaptations of H. P. Lovecraft (Rebecca Janicker) 187
  • The Monster of Massification: A Serbian Film (L. Andrew Cooper) 206
  • “Bears that dance, bears that don’t”: Aggression, Civilization and the Gothic Bear (Julie Wilhelm and Steven J. Zani) 228

Nicole Cushing’s MR. SUICIDE: Extremes of Horror, Thought, and Talent

MrSuicide_Cover_smallMr. Suicide is the best new horror novel I have read in years, and Nicole Cushing accomplishes the coup through immersion in the perspective of a psychopathic child on a quest to erase existences, maybe those of family members, maybe his own. The book is not for readers who are easily offended or who don’t like their world-views challenged by sickening, disturbing thoughts and images, but if you like literature that turns the world upside-down, shakes out the bad parts, and puts them on display for all to examine, you must read Mr. Suicide NOW.

For an asynchronous interview with Cushing (which features more of her great writing), visit the Spotlights page. For an explanation of why I love this novel, keep reading. As always, nobody bribed me to do this work, and though I’ve met Cushing, we only know one another through the writer-convention circuit.

When I first saw the novel’s second-person prose, I scoffed. I’ve read many books that try sustained second-person narrative, and they almost all fail, but Cushing succeeds because she does not hesitate to give her “you,” the novel’s perspective character, both universal appeal and cringe-inducing repugnance. In solitary moments, he meets Mr. Suicide, who goads him to off himself, and sharing the character’s perspective, you aren’t “sure if Mr. Suicide [is] just in your head” (9). At least initially, the second-person writing processes the wilder experiences of the character in a familiar-enough manner to keep reader and character intimate: his thoughts might really be your thoughts, if you confronted the same things he did. His seemingly rational reactions to what seem like irrational circumstances could make others of “your” feelings familiar, too, especially if you’ve had your own dark moments, contemplating suicide but soldiering on: “You lived on, mostly out of spite” (25). These more common feelings help less common feelings slide by, such as the early admission, “The first person you wanted to kill was your mother” (2). Well, if you were the type of person who wanted to kill, the first person you knew was probably your mother, so she’d be a candidate, right? So if you accept at the outset that you’re a psychopath, all of these thoughts make sense, right? Cushing creates psychopathic intimacy that pushes thought beyond limits of traditional rationality.

Beyond rationality, the boundaries of conventional ideas and behaviors blur, which Cushing acknowledges by making a major destination in her psychopath’s quest a fetish club called The Border Crossing. While most readers will find the club and the in-novel magazine it echoes, Perfect Monsters, plenty shocking, the most shocking border crossing Mr. Suicide displays might be the ease and seeming naturalness with which the central character conflates sex and murder, how as you move through the story, you feel “the urge to kill infuse itself into your urge to fuck” (129). The aim of sex becomes destruction, preferably the destruction of someone vulnerable, regardless of the someone’s genitals (orifices can always be created). Having superficially consensual but still predatory sex with a girl who suffers from significant disabilities, the perspective character reflects, “Fucking her was like fucking disease, itself” (82). Fucking, itself, becomes disease: the psychopath taints everything you with pathology.

The diseased mind you inhabit in Mr. Suicide inhabits, in turn, a diseased world. While the degree of his psychopathy is difficult to place in proportion to anything, it is literally and figuratively at home with his mother, whose abusive attitude has roots in “some bizarre twist… Christian dogma [that] managed to coexist with all the vulgarity in her head” (3). Cushing puts social hypocrisy on display throughout the novel, especially when she turns to the topic of mental illness, which many characters in the novel perceive as the problem with her central character but about which no one responds with compassion or even appropriate containment. When a cop comes to the kid’s house after he commits an early act of violence, the cop berates him and asks him to explain his behavior. “‘And do not tell me you have a chemical imbalance,’” the cop says, “‘Jesus Christ, if I hear another teenager say they’re bipolar-schizophrenic this week, I’m going to go bipolar-schizophrenic, myself’” (53). The cop’s attitude allows the psychopath, rightly, to dismiss him as one of many “bullies,” and it also shows how the common misuse of terms such as “bipolar” and “schizophrenic,” two different conditions with strong genetic components into which people do not simply “go” as a result of common stress, leads people to ignore serious problems. The simultaneous scapegoating and ignoring of mental illness enables violence. The novel does not blame or preach; it shows ugliness through searing prose.

Exposing ugliness through riveting, dark passages becomes Mr. Suicide’s main business, a business that makes the book almost impossible to put down (I read most of it in a single sitting). Why?

“If you opened your eyes to the best parts of ugliness, then you had answers” (127).

Some of those answers appear in the ugliness the main character finds on the streets of Louisville, Kentucky:

“There was a certain psychological refreshment you found in abundance. There were other people walking around, too. A good dozen of them, treading the sidewalk either alone or in pairs or in trios. You’d never met any of these people before, but just by looking at them you felt a strong kinship… Like you, they were people who lingered in the dark…

Many also had backpacks. Many, also, had escaped the chains of hygiene. Some of the women looked like whores. Some of the men looked like sleepwalkers. Occasionally you saw an infant among their number and felt jealous that it would, from its earliest days, get to revel in the sort of life you’d had to wait eighteen long years to participate in.” (100)

Opening your eyes to these details of street life—people who are disaffected, dispossessed, and otherwise at the bottom of the social hierarchy—might reveal appeal in disassociation from the hypocrites and bullies whose dogmas and misinformation foster the very violence that shatters boundaries. Tune in, turn on, drop out.

In a world full of ugliness, escape into darkness is appealing sometimes, and that is the lure of Mr. Suicide, as well as Mr. Suicide, “a Novel of the Great Dark Mouth,” as its subtitle proclaims. The novel is about, and is, a cage of unwanting. You may want to dissociate from the character whose mind you’re in, but you can’t escape having one thing in common with him: you do not want to be there. Dissociation is an unbreakable line of empathy to a psychopath, and Cushing uses it to tether you to horrors that swallow you, digest you, and, if you keep your mind open to the answers that ugliness offers, make you want the Great Dark Mouth to open again.

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