Monday, March 5, 2018

Brief Thoughts 25

The Summer Is Ended And We Are Not Yet Saved by Joey Comeau

While his mom is doing special effects work on a movie in another city, Martin is spending the summer at a Bible camp. While he's not religious, it seems like he's going to have a fun time. He makes new friends and even has his first kiss. What he doesn't know is that the Reverend who runs the camp is completely insane.

Comeau is probably most well-known as the writer of the now ended webcomic, A Softer World. He's also written several books, his first of which, The Complete Lockpick Pornography, I've reviewed on this blog before. The Summer Is Ended And We Are Not Yet Saved is a tribute to B-grade horror films, slasher films especially.

While it's not fair to this book, I couldn't help but compare it to another horror novel of Comeau's, One Bloody Thing After Another. That novel, like this one, also concentrated heavily on the characters and spent a lot of time developing the relationships between them. However, it was also much more abstract in its horror and more original. The biggest problem with The Summer Is Ended... is that it doesn't really balance out the relationships with Martin and his mother and his friends at the camp with the over-the-top, bloody plot. It feels like it can't tell if it wants to be a campy (ha!), blood-splattered romp, or a heartbreaking story. Given how well Comeau usually does heartbreak, that's a bit of a disappointment.

Despite that, I still really enjoyed the book. It's easy to tell that Comeau has a deep love for the slasher genre and it kept me reading in spite of its flaws. Not to mention that his simple but impactful prose makes anything he's written worth reading.

While it's not Comeau's best work, I still recommend it.

Buy The Summer Is Ended And We Are Not Yet Saved by Joey Comeau here. 

Psychosomatic by Anthony Neil Smith

Lydia is the ex-wife of a rich drug dealer who lost all her limbs in a car crash, Alan is a small-time criminal doing odd jobs to get by, Terry and Lancaster are a pair of fratty extortionists and car thieves, Norm is a drug dealer looking to muscle his partner out of the picture, and Megan is a thief who disguises herself as a nurse to steal drugs from a hospital. Their various schemes bring them crashing together in a way that leaves a lot of bodies and destruction behind.

Psychosomatic was Anthony Neil Smith's first novel, but it certainly doesn't feel like it. It's masterfully plotted, keeps moving at a fast pace, and never feels bogged down despite the number of characters. The characters are also repellent and yet compelling enough that I didn't want to put the book down.

I had previously read and reviewed one of Smith's later novels, XXX Shamus, which he wrote under the pen name of Red Hammond. I'm curious why he felt that one needed to be under a pen name when this is what he writes under his real name. I found many parts of Psychosomatic much darker and more fucked up than XXX Shamus, the ending especially.

If you like dark neo-noir stories, this is a must-read.

Buy Psychosomatic by Anthony Neil Smith here. 

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

New Review of the sky is black and blue like a battered child + An Annoucement

Brandon Adamson, author of the poetry books SideQuests and Beatnik Fascism, gave a very kind review of my chapbook, the sky is black and blue like a battered child, at

"the sky is black and blue like a battered child very much reminds me of 90s zine poetry, both in tone and style. It has a pre-internet quality to it that’s difficult to put into words, but one which someone my age will instantly pick up on. Even though Ben Arzate appears to be about ten years younger than me and firmly within the millennial demographic, this strikes me as a precociously Generation X book. Arzate’s refreshingly not trying to save the world, fight social injustice or do much of anything here. Still, the sky is black and blue like a battered child succeeds in punching above its slim weight.

You can read the full review here.

I've also been sitting on this for a little bit, but I figured I may as well make it known as I've told a few others individually.

My first novel, Story of the Y, will be coming out this year from Thicke and Vaney Books. We're currently working on putting together the final book, but, unfortunately, we don't have a set release date yet. It will be sometime this year, though. I'll keep you all posted.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Strange Behaviors: An Anthology of Absolute Luridity OUT NOW

Last year, I sat down late one night after I'd been drinking. I banged out a piece that was dark, surreal, and violent. To top it off, it was a one act play. I filed it away as something I figured would remain unpublished. Then a small, relatively new press named NihilismRevised put out a call for an anthology. They were looking just for the kind of thing like that play. I sent them the piece, and they accepted.

I'm sharing this anthology with some other great authors like Jordan Krall and Michael Faun, and I'm very excited for it.

There's a limited edition of only 100 and a regular edition. Links to them both are below.

If you pick it up, I hope you enjoy reading it!

I'll have another big announcement coming soon, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Brief Thoughts 24

A Fan's Notes by Frederick Exley

This "fictional memoir" follows Frederick Exley through his various jobs, his struggles with alcoholism, his romances, and his flailing attempts at becoming a writer.

The title is an interesting one. In the beginning of the book, Exley has what he believes to be a heart attack while watching a football game in a bar. In reality, it was simply an anxiety attack brought on by his excitement at watching the game. Football is a major part of Exley's life. He recounts how his father could have been a football star and his relationship with a couple players who went on to become professionals. Exley, of course, had no hope of becoming a football star himself.

Later in the book, as Exley is struggling to write a book, he gets drunk and picks a fight that leaves him bruised up. After this fight, he comes to realize that' he's lashing out in ways like this because he feels he'll never be a great writer and knows he'll never be a great football player. He feels that he'll be nothing more than a fan.

Now, in spite of that depressing arc, this is actually a very funny book. Much of the book involves Exely's misadventures with various strange characters. Of the most notable is when he meets Mr. Blue, an eccentric old salesman obsessed with cunnilingus, and Paddy the Duke, a fellow mental hospital patient who pisses off everyone in the ward by beating them all at table tennis.

I think it's safe to say Exley became more than just a fan with this book and created a great piece of literature himself. Highly recommended.

Buy A Fan's Notes by Frederick Exely here. 

A Man for the Asking by Catherine Breillat

Catherine Breillat is most known as a French director of controversial and provocative films, but she's also a novelist and many of her books have been made into films, most directed by herself. A Man for the Asking was her first book, written she was only 16 and published when she was 17. Despite that, its graphic content made the French government restrict sales to anyone under the age of 18.

The story is pretty simple, a promiscuous man called D.P. tries to seduce a woman called L., but L. is (possibly) a virgin and doesn't want to have sex with D.P. unless he devotes himself entirely to her. The book isn't really driven by its story, its written in a very stream-of-consciousness manner and as is driven more by poetry, mood, and imagery.

There are several times where I could certainly tell a 16 year old wrote this. There are many attempts at being poetic that just come across as goofy. Using the phrase "gold in them thar hills" in reference to L.'s thighs strikes me as the most egregious. Then there's the fact that ending has D.P. committing seppuku with his own penis, pulling out his heart, and stuffing it in L.'s vagina. It's clearly trying to say something about sacrificing oneself for love but it just comes across as pretentious and silly.

There are also moments of wordplay which probably worked better in French, such as "cuntdown," "Penix rises from the ashes," and "pussy willyous." I want to blame a big part of why the book reads so ridiculously on the translation, but based on some French reviews I found, it isn't a well-remembered book in the original language either.

There are moments of brilliance here and some indications of Breillat's talent. A moment where D.P. envisions L. as a creature with several teats that he suckles from was actually striking instead of goofy. It's a shame this Oedipal image isn't fully explored. It's clear some humor was intended in many parts, like when D.P. trades double entendres with a mistress. I also found it entertaining enough that I got through it relatively quickly despite the dense style. But while this book is aspiring to be Story of the Eye, the aura of juvenilia still surrounds it. Breillat would go on to explore the themes of love and sex much better in her later work.

There was also apparently a film made based on the book. However, it was buried when the producer when bankrupt. That's a bit of a shame. I'm actually curious to what route was gone to translate this to the screen. 

I only really recommend this if you're already a huge fan of Catherine Breillat, or if you're really into weird French literature.

Buy A Man for the Asking by Catherine Breillat here.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Top Five Reviewed and Non-Reviewed Reads of 2017

Normally, I do a top ten of the books I read at the end of each year. This year, however, I read far more books than I have in past years. Because of that, I've decided to do two top fives instead, one of the books I didn't do a full review of and one of the ones I did. Keep in mind, "full" reviews, if I did a Brief Thoughts on it or discussed it in my 31 Horror Book Challenge, I'm counting it as a non-reviewed one.

That may seem like an odd distinction, however, I go into books I plan on doing reviews on with a different mindset than books I read just for pleasure. So the division makes perfect sense in my mind.

Let's get into the books.


5. The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Part campus novel, part noir story. It took me some time to really get into this book, but once I did, I absolutely loved it.

4. Angel Dust Apocalypse by Jeremy Robert Johnson

A mix of bizarro, crime, and experimental fiction that moves through each genre flawlessly. This is easily one of the best short story collections I've ever read.

3. Songs in the Key of Z: The Curious Universe of Outsider Music by Irwin Chusid 

An entertaining encyclopedia of some of the weirdest music and the people who make it. 

2. Savage Night by Jim Thompson

Like Thompson's The Killer Inside Me, this book deals with repression in mid-20th century America in the guise of a pulp crime story. This has one of the most baffling, but beautifully terrifying endings I've read in a novel. 

1. No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai

This book is up there with Camus's The Stranger and Houellebecq's Whatever as one of the best existential works I've ever read. An incredible and painful work of genius.

Non-Reviewed Honorable Mentions 

- White Jazz by James Ellroy
I Am Suicide by Philip LoPresti
The Impossible by Georges Bataille


5. What We Build Upon the Ruins by Giano Cromley

Another short story collection up there with the best I've ever read. Sad stories about building upon a past that can never be revived. (Full review)

4. In the Woods of Memory by Shun Medoruma 

The first English translation of the Okinawan author. It's an amazing examination of how tragedy lingers with the people it directly affects and those around it. (Full review)

3. Paperbacks from Hell by Grady Hendrix 

An excellent and informative look at the books from the horror fiction boom from the 70s and the 80s. This book is a horror fan's dream. (Full review)

2. Hell Hound by Ken Greenhall

Existential horror from the 1970s that I'm thankful is back in print. (Full review in print

1. ANSWER Me! All Four Issues, edited by Jim and Debbie Goad

All four issues of the most offensive zine ever created in one volume. An absolutely essential read. (Full review)

Reviewed Honorable Mentions 

- Cartoons in the Suicide Forest by Leza Cantoral (Full review)
- Liquid Status by Bradley Sands (Full review)
- Sorry, Wrong Country by Konstantine Paradias (Full review)

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Book Review: Diary of an Oxygen Thief by Anonymous

Diary of an Oxygen Thief by Anonymous 

The unnamed Oxygen Thief is a recovering alcoholic who enjoyed emotionally hurting women when he was drinking. Five years sober, he moves from London to take a job in Minnesota. On a business trip to New York, he falls head over heels for a woman who ends up hurting him as bad as he hurt others. I was intrigued enough to pick this up despite the embarrassing synopsis that the book is like "an alcoholic Holden Caulfield dating Lolita in Bright Lights, Big City." Which makes even less sense, after having read it.

While nothing groundbreaking, it's still an enjoyable read. When the O2 Thief verbally abuses one of his girlfriends at the beginning and then gets humiliated by the woman he's in love with at the end, both are appropriately cringe-inducing. Some of the observations about winter in the Midwest and corporate America are also entertaining, though not exactly saying anything new.

Despite the book seeming to be very "love it or hate it" given the mixed reviews, I can't say I felt particularly strongly about it. I can't see what it is about the book that made it a cult hit when it was first self-published to the point that it was eventually picked up by Simon & Schuster.

I might pick up the sequel, Chameleon in a Kaleidoscope (the anonymous author comes up with great titles, I'll give them that), at some point. I'm not in a hurry to do so though. 

Buy Diary of an Oxygen Thief by Anonymous here.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Book Review: Hate From The Sky by Sean M. Thompson

The Sky hates Kyle and Kyle has no idea why. It keeps tormenting him, sending winds, rocks, and
rain to ruin his home, his job, and relationships. With nothing else left for him, he sets off on a journey to either make peace with the Sky or escape it altogether.

There wasn’t a time of the day or night when Kyle was safe from the atmospheric onslaught. Heavy wind rattled the house, sending tree branches and stones through the glass, through the walls, no matter how late.”

The story here is very picaresque. There's not really a strong plot here. Kyle wanders from place to place getting fucked over by the Sky, emissaries of the Sky, or just most of the people that Kyle runs into. Despite the lack of a strong plot, Thompson keeps it moving in a fun and engaging manner.

The strongest point of this novella is just how funny it is. This is a bizarro book, so one can expect goofy weirdness. While this one isn't as “off the wall” as some other bizarro books, he uses the weird moments to great effect. One of the funniest moments is when Kyle allows himself to get raped by a living bathroom in exchange for information on how to stop the Sky's wrath. The description of it is something to behold.

The bathroom moaned, and Kyle felt the cold of a metal faucet stretch him, and he cried out. The pain was intense,and he yelled at the phantom to stop, to slow down, to fucking grab some lube or something, but it didn’t stop.”

My favorite moment is where Kyle is arrested by a police officer who's more interested in telling him terrible jokes than with anything else. This part had me laughing hard.

'Can you hand me your sidearm? That was fucking awful.'

'Are you threatening a police officer, son.'

'No, I am hoping that maybe I can shoot a hole in my head and hit my memory of hearing that terrible fucking joke as the bullet comes out the other side.'

As funny as this book is, it makes no secret of the fact that Kyle is profoundly affected by how the Sky is treating him. He grows more and more desperate, hurting and humiliating himself and eventually others in his attempts to appease the sky. It eventually drives him to an extremely dark place.

If I had one complaint about this book, it's the ending. I'm avoiding spoilers so I won't go into specifics, but it felt very much like a deus ex machina. It seemed very forced and rushed. Thompson is a competent enough writer that the way he goes about this doesn't ruin the book, but it still feels very much like a cop out, especially given what happens right before the ending.

Despite the weak ending, Hate from the Sky is one of the funniest bizarro books I've read in a while. It's a short read, but a highly entertaining one. If you like absurd comedy, pick this one up.

Buy Hate From The Sky by Sean M. Thompson here.