We all know that Cleanliness is next to Godliness, but what’s Godliness next to?
If you answered “bacon,” well, you might want to have a word with the Library of Horror Press, publishers of Baconology: Sizzling Strips of Horror, an anthology of…ah heck, do I really need to spell it out? The point being that you’ll find your fill (and then some) of porcine belly-fat within the pages of Baconology. (If you’re feeling particularly thematic, you can even try sticking a strip–crispy or soft, the choice is yours–between the pages. You know, as a bookmark. The kind that makes librarians really anxious.)
Godliness…well, that’ll be harder to come by, unless you’re willing to settle for the brain-addling Outer Gods variety a la “Beelzebacon!” (a tongue-in-cheek offering–not exactly a rare beast in this anthology–courtesy of Jezzy Wolfe). Actually, while pork is not given USDA quality grades–as the meat is generally more uniform and tender–the spiritual quality of the breakfast meat encountered in Baconology is best summed up by Leonardo Medici, the arch-bacon’s answer to Abraham Van Helsing. What we’re looking at here is not, as it should be, always grayish-pink and well-marbled; it’s “Evil bacon. Bacon so black that the bowels of hell are rays of golden sunshine in comparison.”
Besides the Dark Pork Overlord, you’ll find as many flavors or horror in Baconology as there are of the meat that inspired it…i.e. not a whole lot. I know there are some people who love bacon enough to…um…or even…ehhhh…but for most of us, it goes more like this: the best thing in the world for the first few strips (or as much as it takes to share a sandwich with some watery leaves and bulbous red nightshade), but when we’re done, we’re done. On that note, it’s a crying shame there were no horrific BLT stories in Baconology–although bacon bits made a few appearances, as did an Elvis-friendly peanut butter, banana, and bacon fried sandwich. Even if you really love bacon, you’ve probably reached your limit by, oh, twenty-seven slices. There are twenty-seven stories in Baconology, with a minimum of twelve slices of bacon per story…and that’s the conservative number for a figure that can reach into the hundreds. I’m telling you, there’s a lot of bacon here. And it all tastes pretty much the same.
Which is, in a nutshell, the problem with an anthology of this nature. There’s only so much bacon you can ingest in one sitting, whether it’s through your mouth or your eyes (i.e. reading, although now I’m wondering: were there any stories about people being force-fed bacon through their eye sockets? Have to check). One bacon-themed horror story, or horror-themed bacon story, whatever you want to call it: that’s fantastic. One could argue that it’s necessary for the continued function of the universe. Two, it’s still pretty enjoyable. By the third one, however, the novelty’s already worn thin, and you’re left with the literary equivalent of that bacon bikini linked earlier. I mean, how functional do you think that thing really is after the first few hours?
You can open this book to pretty much any story at random (I suggest p. 85, “Home Cured,” by a remarkably good-natured chap, name of Byron Alexander Campbell), and you’ll definitely get your dollar’s worth. You can even continue doing so, whenever the mood strikes you, until you’ve read them all. Sit with it for any significant period altogether, however, and everything starts to blend into a sort of uniform greyish-pink paste that’s not always as appetizing as it should be.
Oh wait, there was a BLT story in Baconology. The second entry, “BLT Summer,” about a serial killer named for his unusual technique (“Burn.Ligature.Torture.”). I just blocked it out of my mind, because…well, you’d have to read it to find out. I’ll say this: it wasn’t the worst story in the anthology. It wasn’t even the most poorly edited, despite the perplexingly total lack of spacing between sentences. But it wasn’t the best, either.
It renders down to this: how many horror stories can you realistically tell with bacon as the central component? Let’s discard the stories that were clearly already completed (and most likely rejected) before the author got the bright idea to slap the “secret ingredient” over the top and re-submit it to what promised to be a low-volume, high-cholesterol theme anthology–“Elk Stones” by Stephen A. North is the most obvious offender, but even S.A. Kats’ “Baconboy Bob and the Alien Invasion” has me suspicious. You aren’t missing much by gutting these, anyway.
Now, aside from a few flashes of creativity in the form of Sasquatch stories (Don Newberry’s “Everybody Love Bacon”), vampire stories (Jessica Brown’s intriguingly-titled “Porn and the First-Person Shooter”), a weird, not-sure-if-serious entry involving Korean bacon and octopi, and Paul A. Freeman’s brilliantly schlocky/creepy, if racially insensitive, voodoo-tapeworm yarn, “The Smell of Bacon,” every story in the anthology falls in one of two frying pans, thematically: there’s the Sentient/Killer Bacon stories, and there are the Human Bacon stories. Talu Briar’s “This Little Pig,” a weirdly successful amalgamation of the “Three Little Pigs” fairy tale and the popular toe-counting rhyme, has both, when you really stop to think about it. And that’s pretty much it, thematically. I’m convinced that that’s close to all there can be.
If that has you thinking that Baconology is nothing but ends and pieces, however, you’re wrong. OK, so the quality of writing, on the whole, is about what you’d expect from an anthology that promises “meat-filled salty strips of bacony stories that will feed your mind with gut filling horror.” Yeah, so the editing is essentially nonexistent, with some stories bursting out of their casings with errors so blatant, so consistent, and so idiosyncratic that bacon asphyxiation might start to sound like a good way out. But still, in a weird way, the anthology works at least as often as it doesn’t. By about the midpoint (which is also where most of the best-written stories are located), the endless sheets of pink pork-meat start to pull away, to reveal something not often associated with meat-fixated B-grade horror: characters. It’s as though the writers realized that they didn’t have a lot of leeway in the plot apartment, so they had to search deep in their writerly bag of tricks for something, anything else to make their story stand out. That’s how something as quiet and classically Modern as Dave McEachern’s “Makin’ Bacon,” about a young boy equally eager and apprehensive to pick up the tricks of the butchering trade from his father, ended up being one of the creepiest stories in the collection, despite being slightly spoiled by its placement in a bacon horror anthology. Teresa Bergen’s “The Quitter,” though it is yet another evil killer bacon story, succeeds on similar merits: Bergen’s protagonist is just slightly more interesting than the competition. Even the less inspired entries are just varied enough to make you think there might be more to bacon beneath its marbled exterior.
Also, and perhaps a first for bacon: the packaging looks really, really good. There’s even a clever set of “nutrition facts” on the back. Trans Frights? 100%, baby!
Oh, and there is a story about a person being smothered to death by bacon. If that doesn’t show up in Saw VIII, I’ll be sorely disappointed.
yeah, sure, we understand
loss, but what about
You’ve just read the most traditionally lucid page of text to be found in Andrew Choate’s (Langquage Makes Plastic of the Body) latest book, Stingray Clapping, forthcoming–and I mean really fucking soon–from Insert Blanc Press.
Yeah, you heard me–that’s a whole page. The book has something like fifty of them. Many are shorter than the one cited above. I’d share more, but that would be spoiling a dangerously high percentage of the book entire–and this is a book that I want you to read.
Okay, one more. But this is the L A S T O N E.
karate dinner dance
If you know me–which you probably don’t, I mean c’mon, this is the Internet here–that small excerpt should be sufficient to explain why I’m already in love with this book. If you don’t know me (see above), this description from the author might help:
I’m trying to give the reader an opportunity. … I mean actually generating (imagining/writing) phrases that can be read the way one listens to a favorite record: at different times of day and with different desires actively in play.
The words in Stingray Clapping are simply words without any kind of justification: not conceptual, narrative or otherwise. I imagined them and arranged them and was pleased and surprised by them.
Now, I like narrative. Some might say I like it a little too much. My bookshelves are full of them. Hell, I have bookshelves, that should tell you all you need to know. I love a good 2000-page epic novel as much as the next lad. And anybody who’s read my reviews knows I’m a stickler for narrative integrity in the unlikeliest places: video games, horror films.
But I also know that “narrative” doesn’t always mean a three-act structure or a hero’s journey. It could be that the “narrative,” traditionally defined, is entirely ancillary to what I’m getting out of these big strapping books. Stingray Clapping does something–as yet an ill-defined something, but something–that I’ve been waiting for literature to do for a good long time. It’s something similar to what Ferdinand L’Apogee’s Aphelion does, but where Aphelion does it slowly, by accumulating non-specific but weighted meaning around its repeated ciphers (a bit like Siren with its Hanuda Cross), Stingray Clapping does it all at once–with “karate dinner dance.”
A while back, I started (and subsequently abandoned) a blog post titled “Why I Don’t Regret Watching Immortals” (in 3D!). I won’t give you the full treatment here (who knows, I might go back and finish it one day), but I believe that something in what I get out of Tarsem’s films (despite the abhorrent script and lack of all but the most basic emotional attachment) is mirrored in Stingray Clapping‘s “exact and polyvalent” (to borrow the author’s description) employment of language. I asked of Immortals: if J.R. Jones, of the Chicago Reader, is correct that “Singh is a talented and eccentric visual artist with no creative future in the movie business,” how many Hollywood-ready flops do we have to endure before we can conceive of another model of film, one that might better accommodate Tarsem and his imagery–so often situated in dreams, myth, and the imaginaries of children? While their projects and their means are clearly different, I believe Choate may have done exactly as I never got around to suggesting. Unsatisfied with a literary model in which the demands of the narrative squash or make invisible any other potential pleasures of the text (note the emphasis), rather than attempting to shoehorn his delightfully ambiguous phrases into a traditional narrative or even traditional(ly narrative) poetry, he made a new model.
Or maybe we have to go back a while farther: my call, at the end of my two-part analysis of Minecraft, for texts–good old bound-paper texts–that made room for the types of emergent narratives that make experiences like Minecraft so satisfying for so many people.
Is Stingray Clapping language in a state of emergency? Well slap my stingray and call me Irwin…it just might be, at that.