Apr. 28th, 2013

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Chick Bassist is Ross Lockhart's debut as a writer of fiction, after establishing himself as a fantasy and horror editor best known for two successful Lovecraftian "Book of Cthulhu" anthologies. Despite Lockhart's genre editing background, the only fantasy in Chick Bassist is of the rock-and-roll variety.

Chick Bassist

This book is crazy fun, often funny, but it also has a serious feel, as troubling and difficult as real life. It tracks the passions and conflicts of an enjoyably grungy cast of dysfunctional characters, every one of them f**ked up in a charmingly rock-and-roll sort of way. Lockhart realistically captures the fun and filth of the garage music scene, the transitory existences of bands, the passionate creativity and train-wreck lifestyles. The characters and their scene are clearly personally known to the author, and will seem familiar to anyone who has played in bands or at least been part of that milieu.

Told from multiple viewpoints, the story not only switching character perspectives, but also juggling first, second and third person points of view. The title refers to Erin Locke, "the Queen of Rock," who leads the band Heroes for Goats until things implode, and she takes off to play bass for a more successful band. Other points of view follow Robbie Snow, the bassist kicked out of Heroes for Goats for acting all mental after Erin had sex with him, and Christian, who ends up getting a severe beating by Robbie after Erin makes Christian kick him out of the band.

At its best, rock and roll is about ambition and failure, about lessons learned too late, about love, and also death. Chick Bassist is crammed full of these things. If you think you might enjoy a punk/grunge flavored book about underground bands and musicians, you'll love this Chick Bassist. I browsed the first pages of this book when I was already in the middle of reading something else, and this one immediately sucked me in.

As for the "Would you read a sequel?" test, Chick Bassist easily passes. I'd gladly read the further adventures of Lockhart's rock and roll characters. Bring it on!

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Die, You Donut Bastards is the latest collection of short fiction and prose poetry by Cameron Pierce. The whimsical title and cover art may suggest a mostly humorous approach to Bizarro, a genre which can range from arty surrealism to shock-focused extremity, and also at times encompassing more conventional storytelling with a subtler twinge of the surreal. While many authors focus on a single approach, Pierce here shows himself capable of covering all the bases.

Die You Doughnut Bastards

Most of the pieces are just a page or two, and focus on wild invention and playful absurdity. I detect in these shorter works the influence of Russell Edson, the master of surrealist prose poetry, though Pierce is less oblique, less blatantly symbolic, and more confrontational. Readers approaching this book from outside the Bizarro realm can expect a lot of zany humor and intentional absurdity, but will also discover a great degree of subtlety and sensitivity. In fact, those seeking a full-on Bizarro blast may be surprised by the restraint and emotional honesty present in the longer stories.

The lengthiest of these, "Lantern Jaws," is a lovely tale of wonder and emotion, both subtle and graceful, reminiscent of something Kelly Link might create. In it, a teenage boy falls in love with a girl schoolmate who carries a vaguely Lovecraftian doom or curse. It's a gentle, touching story, characteristics which may seem at odds with some of the extremes on display elsewhere in the book, yet it's also quite dreamlike and surreal.

Another longer story, "Death Card" shows a couple, Tristan and Emily, shifting from youthful, carefree obsessions, such as Tristan's comics and his collection of vinyl figures, to more adult concerns now that Emily is pregnant. Tristan goes along, half-reluctantly boxing up his collection to make a room for the baby. The story focuses the feelings of impending loss and disconnection from self, arising from Tristan's recognition that life's simple freedoms and youthful pleasures are soon to change.

In "Pablo Riviera, Depressed, Overweight, Age 31, Goes to the Mall," an odd outsider catalogs an endless stream of pleasures, mostly fast food, during a trip to a shopping mall. This litany of cheeseburgers, taco corn dogs, and other excessive treats could be seen as Pablo's attempt to numb the pain of his solitude and isolation, or perhaps simply exhibits the weirdly alienating effect of our obsession on grotesque, commercialized pleasures.

"Disappear" is the weird story of a pregnant woman's baby disappearing right out of her belly. It turns out the fetus was stolen by horror author Stephen King, who apparently steals unborn babies and installs them into his typewriter as fuel or grist for new stories.

In "Mitchell Farnsworth," one of the more transgressive pieces, Katie recollects once having sex with her boyfriend, the Mitchell Farnsworth of the title, while watching the movie Alien. After Mitchell moves on, the story recounts Katie's long string of boyfriends, forming a detailed catalog of explicit sex acts, foods and drinks consumed, and the movies she watched with each -- often Alien, sometimes The Exorcist or other horror films. Katie is increasingly stuck, unable to stop and reflect on this pattern, until she hears news about Mitchell Farnsworth.

In Die, You Donut Bastards, the shorter, weirder stories are greatest in number, and seem more geared toward a Bizarro audience. The longer stories, comprising about half the collection's page count, exhibit greater emotional realism and even a bit more seriousness mixed in with the strange pop surrealism. I enjoyed the provocative range of styles, moods and approaches on display in Die, You Donut Bastards. It makes me eager to check out more Pierce's work.

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