4 Stars - Highly Recommended to fans of strange (and sometimes gag-inducing) short stories that focus more on the fucked-up-ness of the characters than it does of the situations the characters find themselves in
Publisher: House of Vlad
Released: February 2015
In blogging terms, Brian Alan Ellis and I, we go way back. All the way back to January of 2014, when he contributed to our Indie Ink series. Since his demonstration of the fat-headed penis cleverly disguised within the body of the girl in his tattoo, I've reviewed two of his books - The Mustache He Always Wanted But Could Never Grow and King Shit. I've seen him half naked in a bathtub filled with books. I've squeeeed with joy when I discovered that he'd blurbed me on the back cover (and inside page) of his novelette, and nearly pissed myself when I realized I'd been included in the acknowledgments for this collection.
That's like a lifetime worth of events right there. And so it's strange to think I've only known about this dude's existence for 15 months. This right here. This is why I crush so hard on the self published and small presses, you guys. The appreciation I have for the work these guys do, the way they interact and connect with their readers, their "fuck it, count me in" attitude for all of the goofy stuff we put them through... this is the shit. This is why I do what I do.
And this is why I continue to push BAE's (heheh, bae, that's cute) stuff to the top of the review pile. Not just because he blurbs me because, hell, I had to like his stuff enough to say what I said about it. And not just because he publicly acknowledged me for supporting his work, because see that last sentence again. I push his stuff to the top because he writes good shit and he's actually really appreciative of the time we spend reading his shit and telling other people about his shit, no matter how we feel about his shit.
It's not like I'm running around 5-starring the hell out of his books, either. Mustache and King Shit both got 3 stars. Because they're not going to be for everyone. And because some of the stories, or vignettes, weren't all that crazy impressive. But BAE's stuff is pretty fucking solid. His stories are always about the underbelly of society and his characters are unlike any you've ever read about before and Ellis doesn't hold anything back. He doesn't cater to his reader. He doesn't worry himself with whether or not a particular story is going to be too much for you. He doesn't dress his characters up. He just lets it all fly. Or at least, that's the impression I get when I read his books.
Take this one for example. Something Good, Something Bad, Something Dirty is a collection of stories that, while they are not interconnected, equally showcase some pretty deranged and maladjusted people. His stories movie between genres. Or maybe he's creating his own. We'll call it Humoristic Bizarro Fiction.
The collection starts out pretty normal enough. We meet Flo and the late night patrons at the Holiday Diner. It's your typical "odd group of people who all get up in each other's business" story in which things go from calm to pull-a-gun-out-to-shut-everyone-up wild. Nothing we haven't seen for ourselves or read in the newspaper.
In Raven's Ladies, Ellis kicks it up a notch when we meet this dude who creates bogus profiles and pen-names to pick up "bitches" on various online dating sites. This partcular time, he lands a chick with multiple personalities and realizes that he has his work cut out for him.
An Object Never Before Put to Use also features a blind date, only this time the dude's a pathetic, suicidal recent divorcee who manages to screw the date up pretty badly.
But the further into the collection we go, the more messed up our characters become. The mother-daughter pair in The Proposal are an absolute bunch of crazies. Both pine over Annie's (the mother) boyfriend Peter and the jealousy drives them to do some psychotic, sadistic things to one another. This one was almost too much for me to take. Wait till you get to the fingernail scene, I cringed while reading it...and I still get the shakes every time I think about it.
Only BAE would create a story about a chick who falls in love with her girlfriend's glorious beard. Or one in which a stalker severs her old flame's dick. And the dick's got teeth. Actual fucking teeth.
Then things start to taper off and we're back in the land of the semi-normal. While I usually dislike infidelity in literature, I got a kick out of Flowers at Full Speed, which features a fabulous bunch of drunk and drugged up rednecks who find themselves in a bit of a love triangle when one dude just can't keep his dick out of the other dude's lady. And the collection wraps up quite quietly with The Floating Mickey Mouse T Shirt, in which two hotel employees sit on the curb, tossing back a bottle of wine, when a floating T Shirt approaches.
With an imagination like his, you never know where his stories are going to go. He's seen the best and worst of us. He knows our darkest, dirtiest thoughts. And he infects his characters with it all. If you don't find a piece of yourself buried within this collection, you have no idea who you are. And I don't trust you.