2.5 Stars - Recommended Lightly to fans of bizarro (because it's not quite bizarro enough) but should do nicely for straight up futuristic sci-fi fans.
Publisher: Lazy Fascist Press
Released: Feb 2014
I am huge fan of Lazy Fascist Press and admire the kinds of literature they publish and support. Every book they release looks and sounds amazing. They are one of the few small presses I endlessly solicit review copies from, unable to keep from drooling over the opportunity to be one of the first to read each title.
More often than not, their titles blow me away. Like, grab me by the throat with their words and choke me so hard I see stars (metaphorically, of course. Wouldn't it be cool if there were books out there that could actually make you see stars?!). Every once and a little while, though, I find myself reading one that's just... meh. There's nothing wrong with it exactly; it just seems to be missing that extra something that makes me go WOW.
And maybe that's not fair to the book. It's not the book's fault that I set the bar too high, you know. Maybe, right from the get-go, I set the book up for failure because I had these unrealistic notions of what the book would be, assigning it this totally unattainable goal of being my kind of awesome when it was never meant for me in the first place.
Such is the case with JS Breukelaar's American Monster. It looks all kinds of awesome. It sounds all kinds of awesome. But it's just not my kind of awesome.
Taking place in a futuristic California that has effectively removed itself from the United States, a being known as NORMa (a network operation requiring minimal access) is on the hunt for the ultimate human horn. Finding and tagging the horn is her one and only ticket home.
Norma isn't quite sure what she is - she looks human, and she certainly feels human, though there are parts to her that are otherworldly - and the longer she remains on earth searching for the elusive 'perfect' horn, the more determined she is to understand, and ultimately ignore, her mission. Her "Mommy", a body-less planetary consciousness of sorts, is a source of constant pressure and pain for her, demanding that Norma find an equivalent to the one Mommy let go all those years ago.
There are so many things happening here, on so many levels.
First, we've got a woman (part alien? part robot? part daemon? maybe a bit of all three mixed together? I never did get that part figured out) who can change her sex (she actually started out as a male named NORM when Mommy first created her) and carries some sort of tagging device in her dentata (erm, a curious term for her "vagina like hole") that is meant to be passed on/into the human horn (I'll let you take one guess) of her choosing. So basically, Norma is a horny, otherworldly being who is being driven around California by her semi-insatiable libido.
Aaand, she's got major Mommy issues. Mommy can communicate with her, and keep tabs on her, through all sorts of mangled technology - consoles, cell phones, anything electronic - though she can also, sometimes, squeeze her way into Norma's mind and cause her physical pain when she disobeys or when Mommy fears she is prolonging her hunt for THE horn. At first, Norma wants to make Mommy happy, but she quickly begins to devise ways to shut Mommy out, or at least impede her awareness a bit, as she desperately tries to come up with a Plan B. And this makes Mommy mad.
So yeah, there's some sex, and a whole lot of dentata-and-horn-talk, but there are also some pretty rad characters like her cross dressing BFF Bunny and the young, badass homeless girl Raye and her psychotic father Mac, who dreams of being Michael Jackson. Not to mention Gene, a gigantic bull of a man who falls hard for Norma and manages to keep her somewhat grounded when she feels as though she is spinning wildly out of control. And boy do things get wild and out of control.
I found myself confused pretty early on - as to what was going on and why it was going on - and that feeling of 'not quite knowing' followed me about half way through the book. At the midpoint, things finally seemed to start sliding into place and I found that the pace of the book actually began to pick up. I was more interested in what was going on between the characters and had a better grasp on the overall story. Sure, there were moments here and there in the second half that left me just as confused as I had been in the beginning (if not more so) but I was able to quickly get myself back on track and moving along again with the action.
My final verdict? American Monster was just a tad too weird and otherwordly for me. Though it sounded like it would be right up my alley, it took too many left and right turns and lost me somewhere waaaaay back there. I really had a difficult time letting the story just whisk me away.
This one is on me, you guys. It's totally all on me.