Happy Transgender Awareness Week, horror fam! To celebrate we’re doing a look back at a book by one of horror’s iconic trans authors, Poppy Z. Brite (Lost Souls, Wormwood, Drawing Blood).
If you’ve ever played a game of exquisite corpse where one artist or writer starts a picture or story and another adds to it to inevitably end up with something that’s both terrifying and surreal, odds are you’ve still probably never wondered what would happen if that artistic method was applied to serial killers. Well, you’re about to find out.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Exquisite Corpse is a no bars tour de force of the physiological depravities, gore, immorality, debauchery, and fatalism of two horrifying serial killers in the early 1990s gay scenes of London and New Orleans. Not only a horrifying portrait of heinous evil, but also a lushly crafted imagining of the serial killer’s victim. Deemed too extreme for publication at first, it got tossed around to different publishing houses before finally getting a release in the UK and the US in 1996.
The book switches between four uniquely intimate points of view.
“My name is Andrew Compton. Between 1977 and 1988 I killed twenty-three boys and young men in London. I was seventeen years old when I began, twenty-eight when they caught me. All the time I was in prison, I knew if they ever let me out I would continue killing boys.”
Andrew Compton should be a name as infamous as Hannibal Lector, only necrophilia isn’t quite as sexy as cannibalism (but more on that later). Compton has already been languishing in jail for 5 years for his crimes when we first meet him. But, rest assured, he’s not there for long. In what may be one of the most tense first chapters of any horror novel ever written, his break out and subsequent flight to America leaves a ghastly trail of blood-soaked victims in its wake. With nothing to lose, and a vow to die before he’d ever go back to prison, he quickly becomes one of the most dangerous men in the world. Compton is disturbingly smart and extremely self-aware, making his tightly controlled manner and homicidal personality that much more frightening to read about. He’s also always on the lookout for his next victim. In New Orleans he’s about to find that, so much more.
“How could he die in the middle of his great adventure?”
A young Vietnamese-American man living in two worlds entirely different worlds in early 1990s New Orleans. In one world Tran is the proper son of his traditional Vietnamese parents; helping at his parents’ café, spending time studying computer programming, and writing in his notebooks. In the other world, his world, he’s a drug dealer in the seedier parts of the French Quarter; going to raves and picking up men in the gay clubs. He’s living life on the edge without wanting to know whether or not he’s living or dying. He’s also got exceedingly bad taste in men, which makes him a perfect target for a particular type of bad man.
“He figured Lush Rimbaud was insane, probably had been for some time. But he was starting to wonder about Luke Ransom, too.”
30 year old writer, ex-lover of Tran, AIDS patient, and nightly shock jock Lush Rimbaud on pirate radio station WHIV broadcasting from the bayou spreading the truth of the Gay Plague; Luke couldn’t be more pissed at the world if he tried, and he does try. Everything he does comes with the caveat of not having enough time left. Not enough time to write his book. Not enough time to get Tran to forgive him. Or to forgive himself for trying to kill him. There’s some things though he’s not willing to let go of yet, and that includes Tran.
“His guests turned into friends after they were dead, but those friends were fathomable: they would always belong to him, because they could never leave.”
The playboy old money creep of the French Quarter. Jay enjoys his hobbies (exotically photographing boys, butchery and math) a little too much. Even though his money and being as careful as possible allows him to indulge his vices to his heart’s content, he knows something is missing. If only there was someone out there who could understand his proclivities the way he does. . . .
When a necrophiliac and a cannibal love each other very much . . . no babies, but lots and lots of bodies.
This book will absolutely be too much for some people. It’s and unforgiving at it is unforgettable. Not the kind of thing you can recommend to other people because that would be admitting you’ve read it yourself. It’s so hard to stomach in part because of the extreme content and brutality, but also because it’s so engrossing with its ability to unnerve you with wholly unsympathetic characters that are terribly flawed, yet understandable. You come to see how every character is fighting for survival in their own way. There’s an overriding theme of loneliness throughout the book that looms over all the actions people attempt in order to elevate it. Perhaps the most interesting part of the book is when Andrew and Jay finally meet and sense, for the first time in their lives, the mortifying ordeal of being known. Then there’s the other silent killer in the book, AIDS, which takes a fair share of victims. It may sound like a clique in 2020 to have a book about gay men dealing with serial killers and AIDS, but it lends a true sense of realism to the book in this case. Imagine a book set in 2020 that didn’t mention COVID. Exactly. This book truly is a snapshot in time.; a time where gay killers stalked gay men on the streets of New Orleans and London along side the looming threat of the AIDS virus.
If you’re a fan of the show Hannibal, if torture porn is your favorite genre of horror, if you would love a truly fascinating yet horrifying look into the minds of gay serial killers and their victims, or if you just love some messed up shit, then this might be a book for you. 4.5 out of 5 Cthulhu. Exquisite Corpse won’t be one you forget any time soon. (4.5 / 5)
The Roots Grow Into The Earth
Launching next month The Roots Grow Into The Earth was a delightful read. It’s the premiere novel by horror author Bert S. Lechner. And after reading it, I hope it’s not his last.
The Roots Grow Into The Earth is a collection of nine short stories and novellas, including three previously published stories. The tales are all part of one larger story. A story of darkness, and madness. A story of a creature released that should never have been. That begins then to sink its roots into the Earth and infect innocent people far and wide.
One such example is The Wall. This is the story of a man named Sam and his wife Nat. They have a lovely normal life full of morning coffee and weekend pizza nights. Until Sam notices something on the wall of their home. While it appears to be nothing, a vision starts taking shape. With Sam’s help.
Another story that really moved me was The Orchestra.
Let me first stay that this was not a particularly fleshed out story. We do not see The Conductor before she’s infected. We don’t see the fallout. No real picture is painted for us, it’s more like a sketch.
In the case of The Orchestra, though, this is exactly the right choice. We don’t need to see the whole picture in gruesome technicolor to get what’s happening in this ill fated concert. We understand perhaps too well what’s occurring. And I thought that was brilliant.
I just want to start by gushing over this storytelling style. Short story collections always have a soft spot in my heart. In the case of The Roots Grow, all of the short stories come together to create one truly dark tale.
I also loved the clear Lovecraftian influence of this story. It’s clear that this was something that the author was going for, from interviews and social media comments. But I could tell before I saw any of that.
The story in The Roots Grow is one of madness. But more than that, it’s one of madness and destruction that the victims could not have avoided. There was no being clever enough to avoid these dark roots that touched them. There was no being strong enough, or selfless and good enough. If the roots reach out and touch you, you’ve already lost.
Finally, I want to extend some praise to my favorite character, Joanne. She is dealing with her own madness, her own demons. But she still finds kindness and strength to help others when they need her. Even against some truly dark odds.
What didn’t work
All that being said, I will say that some of the short stories felt incomplete. One prime example is What Lies In The Icy Soil. This appears to be nothing more than the tale of a person possessed by the need to dig. He digs up something that for sure shouldn’t be dug up. But there’s nothing more to the story. We don’t know who this person is. We don’t know who might be missing him, or what might come of this thing he dug up. As a part of the whole story, it fits. But if we are to consider every tale by its own merit, this one doesn’t have much of anything going for it.
That being said, this is one story in a round ten that wasn’t much of anything. The rest of the stories were wonderfully eerie, both on their own and as part of a whole.
The Roots Grow Into The Earth comes out on October 7th. And I think it would be a perfect addition to your Halloween reading list. (4 / 5)
Strange Eons Review: Cornfields and Eldritch Gods
“The elder gods arrived in the sky in early September, like an unholy aurora borealis stretching across a midnight sky. Their vastness blocked the sun, an unending eclipse, a liminal state, a breath that was inhaled but never let go. Lovecraft got it wrong, I think. It was not the sight of the gods that made humanity go mad. It’s what they destroy that hurts us. Somehow, these elder gods, these aliens, had killed time itself.” – Strange Eons by Keria Perkins
Strange Eons is a short story published in Bourbon Penn Issue 30 by Keira Perkins. Perkins, is an Indiana writer of short fiction and poetry that has also appeared in Non-Stalgia and The Heartland Society of Women Writers. Bourbon Penn is an online and print journal that specializes in speculative, odd, and surreal fiction. All issues are available to be read online for free or can be purchased as a paperback from Bookshop.org.
Strange Eons follows a young woman struggling to adjust to a life post-Lovecraftian apocalypse. This is a cozy story, the majority of which takes place as the woman lays in a cornfield and hides from well-meaning but unhelpful family members. While cozy, the piece is ominous, tackling the terror associated with pregnancy. Specifically, the terror that comes from living in a Red State and finding a significant lack of resources or options.
As a Hoosier capable of becoming pregnant, Strange Eons resonated with me. The imagery of cornfields and cicadas were very Indiana. However, so is a young woman covertly asking her sister to drive her to Illinois to receive healthcare. I loved how Perkins merged cosmic horror with the horror of receiving reproductive healthcare in Indiana but also the United States as a whole. All that was missing were predatory billboards advertising fake pregnancy centers! Talk about maddening and terrifying! Throughout the short story, the most horrific part of the young woman’s ordeal is not the eldritch gods appearing but her rather typical, hellish circumstances.
Aside from content, Strange Eons is well-written. It keeps you guessing where the story will go next. If you like a non-tropey cozy take on Lovecraftian horror or have struggled to receive reproductive healthcare, I highly recommend checking out Strange Eons! You can also check out the other stories in this issue of Bourbon Penn here. Or you can see what else Perkins is up to on her website.(5 / 5)
Walking Practice – A Book Review
Walking Practice is Dolki Min’s debut novella about an alien named Mumu, who must learn what it is like to perform as a human. Victoria Caudle, the translator of this unique Korean story, experiments with the English language to properly convey Min’s style. This, complimented with Min’s various drawings of the story’s protagonist, creates a poetic, outlandish reading experience that keeps you hooked from beginning to end.
Walking Practice: Never Enough Practice
After the destruction of their home planet, Mumu crash lands their spaceship in a desolate forest far from human life. They survive by having sex with humans then, with graphic violence and great diligence, eats them.
Mumu has a strict schedule and regimen for this process; they must shapeshift their body to the specific gender and personality their date is attracted to. While this process of gender conformation is a difficult one (as the alien will often tell us), it is nowhere near as hard as the ridiculous habit humans have of walking on two legs. This is one of the many obstacles Mumu must struggle with while playing the game of life.
Mumu is a rich, self-aware character who seems to trust only one human: the reader. They address us directly, asking questions and indulging us with their theories on what it is to live on Earth. They are knowledgeable about the complexities of personhood, and aware that a person’s gender and sex are complex and not one-size-fits-all. After years of experience in multiple genders, the alien theorizes that humans are treated as people as soon as they have a sex and gender assigned to them. However, depending on the sex and gender, that treatment is never equal.
While Mumu performs various genders and personalities to match the sexual desires of their future prey, they do not identify as human. At the end of the day, they go home, stock their human leftovers in the fridge and freezer, and unleash their natural form. Their only priority is their own survival and pleasure (which, arguably, is their most humanlike quality).
“I’ve learned that my face arouses homicidal impulses”
Walking Practice uses horror, science fiction and satire to create a passionate queer narrative. While Mumu is a serial killer who prides themselves on their murderous skills, it is hard not to feel for them when karma strikes back and they are hurt. The poetic elements of Min’s story and Caudle’s translation support our empathy for such a vicious character
Min’s artwork, depicting Mumu’s alien forms, complements Caudle’s stylistic choices. There is enjambment in several paragraphs, (which can be interpreted as the alien either having a flair for the dramatic or genuinely pausing to find the right words), thus enhancing their internal dialogue. There are moments when the Mumu’s stream of consciousness confuses reality from imagination. They will also lose all learned human skills and revert to their mother tongue; words either run together or are spaced apart, and sometimes there are unintelligible symbols. At the surface, it looks like a linguistic nightmare. Once immersed in Mumu’s narrative, it is a work of art.
Walking Practice‘s balance of ambiguity and transparency keeps the reader close while also allowing an array of interpretations. It is an eccentric piece of fiction that plays with the literary status quo, resulting in an entertaining affair with an unforgettable alien. (5 / 5)