There's a new gang in town and they call themselves The New Pulp Press
According to head honcho Jon Bassoff, they were founded as:"... an alternative to the often generic world of conglomerate corporate publishing. Dedicated to giving voice to some of today’s most talented and neglected writers, New Pulp Press focuses on off-center crime fiction and neo-pulp. Veering away from the assumption that a protagonist must be a sympathetic character, our books are centered around con-men, losers, and sociopaths. In other words, we represent what's best about America."
Got that? Con-men, losers, and sociopaths are what's best about America? Maybe they should tear down the Statue of Liberty (that French bitch) and put up one of Ted Bundy. Or Robert Ford.
But hey, chest-thumping publisher hyperbole is one thing -- what about the books themselves?
I had the fortune of receiving a copy of one of NPP''s very first books, The Disassembled Man
by Nate Flexer. It came blurbed by a few guys I know and a Bruce Bassoff (no relation) says very nice things on the book's Amazon page. And the publisher himself recommended it highly to me. Not a surprise, perhaps, but he chose this one over the others in his small but growing catalogue.
I had high hopes, then, but it turned out more cartoon than caricature, and what humour there was in it was more of the gross-out/train wreck variety -- a more-than-likely likely candidate for Gun in Cheek III
, if Pronzini ever gets around to it. This is "noir" as understood by fourteen year olds.
Granted, we all like different things. What disappointed me about this book -- what I felt was juvenile and self-conscious -- others may praise as fresh and exciting and the funniest thing they've read in years.
Maybe I'm being too harsh on a first-time (?) novelist, and should save my vitriol for the "big boys" -- those firmly entrenched best-selling writers who are beyond reviews (and the sniping of frustrated wannabes in the peanut gallery). But the author doesn't strike me as the sensitive type. In fact, he goes out of his way to prove he's about as sensitive as a hockey puck.
In trying to establish his tough guy bona-fides
, he crams every sentence, every paragraph, every clunky, self-conscious bit of dialogue with over-boiled similes ("red as a used tampon"), blatantly obvious metaphors, dime store psychobabble and prose so tortured only Dick Cheyney could love it.
So what might have been a tight and effective, albeit obvious, tour through hell ends up just another neo nah
entrant in the schoolyard spitting contest.
Nor is the plot strong enough to pull the reader over the rough spots.
Despite all the huffing and puffing, the story goes pretty much from A to B, with nary a detour along the way: disgruntled slaughterhouse worker and unhappily married man goes psycho nuts about sums it up.
And talk about obvious. The cover itself is so unapologetically amateurish and crude, I just felt it had to be ironic. But no irony was intended -- or even evident. What you see is pretty much what you'll get. The protagonist, a vicious little slug of a specimen, is named -- I kid you not -- Frankie Avicious. Meanwhile, the "twist" ending (and the "surprise" rationale for his crimes) is pretty much blown by its own title. If you've read enough Jim Thompson (or enough Jim Thompson wannabees) you already know what's coming.
Not that anyone would be reading this for the plot, anyway. It's the writing, the publisher and the blurbers and Bruce Bassoff (no relation) assure us, that's supposed to be the real treat here.
One reviewer even called Flexer an explosive writer. I'm not sure about him, but Frankie sure is explosive. Or maybe just gaseous. At the least display of stress or suspense, he vomits. Or pisses his pants. Or craps in them.
A typical sentence construct is "I was so (angry/upset/nervous) I (pissed my pants/threw up/shit myself)."
Repeat ad nauseum
Although Frankie does on rare occasions exert some control over his bodily functions, as in the memorable scene where his car, left sitting in the sun, is so hot he has to piss on the steering wheel before he can touch it.
Yeah, people do that all the time.
But mostly he seems unable to control any part of his digestive system, as when, trying to gain access to a rendering plant, he writes:
"I pulled (the) keys out of my pocket. The first two didn't work. I panicked. The third key did the trick. I farted with relief."
Maybe, in smaller doses, if the excesses weren't run into the ground, this gaseous sort of prose might have worked. Obviously some people think this is very funny stuff.
And, to be fair, there were several times I found myself chuckling despite myself, which is why I said I was disappointed by the book; not just pissed off. The author, despite himself, does show promise. Sometimes, out of the blue, something pops out of his protagonist Frankie's mouth that is so incongruous it's hilarious.
Like, when in the middle of everything, just as he's about to murder someone, he starts spouting off about the Electoral College and universal health care to his potential victim.
It's a head snapping twist. Totally implausible, of course, but very funny, in that context. But Flexer's not content to stop there -- he works it into the ground, riffing on education, government spending and other pet peeves for almost a page, like some junior high student padding out his overdue civics paper. What should have been a quick snappy one-liner becomes a WTF?-like rant that flattens the humour pretty effectively. It's the sort of thing an editor should have reined in.
The whole book is riddled with scenes like that. Unexpected excess can be funny, but when the excess goes way past the funny point, the reader is left with just excess.
A friend suggested I made Flexer seem like G.G. Allin, but I was thinking more along the lines of Robert Leslie Bellem
, whom I like quite a bit in fact, but yeah, that's exactly the type of "alternative" writing I'm talking about. But whereas I think (I hope) Bellem was putting us on, I'm not so sure that's the case here. There was something sort of good-natured and goofy about Dan Turner
, but Frankie Avicious just seems mean-hearted.
To each his own, I guess. But the real irony, of course, might be that for all the flag waving of the publisher and Bruce Bassoff (no relation) and some of his relatively well-known blurbers have done, my more negative view of the book may actually entice some readers just as effectively as they did.
So, all in all, a debut done in by its own enthusiasm, with the editor (if it was edited) showing as little restraint as the author. Yeah, this book is memorable, all right, and definitely "a bit special." Sorta like watching a grown man (the author is supposedly 33 years old) play with his own turds.
Though that might be taken as a compliment and even a selling point in some quarters. Maybe the New Pulp Press will peg me to blurb Flexer's next book.
Labels: neo nah, New Pulp Press, The Disassembled Man