The Last Book on the Left is a book that I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. I’ll say this right away: I love this book. It’s a great book and right in that sweet spot of informative and hilarious. However, one aspect nagged at me as I read and ultimately proved to be a problem for me.
The Last Book on the Left was written by Marcus Parks, Ben Kissel, and Henry Zebrowski. The illustrations in the book are by independent comic artist Tom Neely (The Humans). When I mention three authors, I should clarify that the bulk of the writing is on the shoulders of Marcus Parks; Kissel and Zebrowski are contributors who add a great deal, but this is firmly a project guided by the Texas ghoul.
What Works about The Last Book on the Left
How do you translate the format of the podcast to the written page? By just doing what the podcast is already doing. Marcus Parks writes down a chapter that covers one of the infamous killers while Ben Kissel and Henry Zebrowski pepper in their asides and occasional insights. Repeat this over nine chapters are you have The Last Book on the Left. This sounds a bit laconic, but that’s basically it. Throw in some pictures illustrated by the wonderfully talented Tom Neely and a final jokey item written by the authors (such as a letter from a “concerned neighbor” of Jeffrey Dahmer) and you have the entirety of The Last Book on the Left.
To the credit of the team, this works incredibly well. Marcus Parks’ writing provides the through-line of the chapter, balancing grim irony and shocking depictions of violent, abhorrent crime. Ben Kissel drops the written equivalent of drunk dad jokes and references. Zebrowski alternates between very messed up jokes and some solid insights. All of this is absolutely on-brand for the podcast and it translates to the page with paragraphs of Parksian description with interjections of his co-writers. It makes the book feel a lot like a textbook, only probably one of the most fun textbooks you’ll ever read.
The book covers nine fan-favorite “heavy hitters” from the podcast. This list includes such murderous luminaries as Ted Bundy, Richard Chase, Ed Gein, John Wayne Gacy, Richard Ramirez, David Berkowitz, BTK, Andrei Chikatilo, and Jeffrey Dahmer. Each profile ranges from around 20 to 30 pages and covers a little biography with an emphasis on the development of these figures as literal bogeymen. These are all figures who have been profiled extensively on the podcast and no information here is really brand new. The addition of Tom Neely’s illustrations, ranging from great splash pages, EC Comics style avatars for the podcasts (think Tales from the Crypt) to comic and cartoon parodies are some extra levity to the book.
However, the novelty of the book is to present something a little more refined and edited than the podcast (which is generally fairly thorough). The book works largely in the form of a “best of anthology” regarding content. Some stuff just ultimately feels missing, however. The insertions of jokes and comments by Kissel and Zebrowski are welcome and used an appropriate amount for the 20 to 30 pages per chapter (with the exceptions of BTK and Dahmer, who get the largest chapters). Ultimately, though this leads to a lack of one of the best parts of the podcast: the back and forth between the hosts. It’s not entirely possible here and something feels a little lost because of that. It’s not a complete one-to-one translation of the podcast, but it never could be.
Overall, the book largely succeeds in balancing the needs of appealing to fans and also being general enough for the casual book-buyer into murder. There is one major issue, however.
What Didn’t Work about The Last Book on the Left
As a whole, the book is excellent and mostly balances the tough challenge of being for the fans while also being general enough for anyone to enjoy. The voices of the contributors are quite clear even on the page, and for fans, it’s near impossible to read the book without hearing the voices of the podcasters describing every gold star moment and Bobby Bonilla reference.
The big problem for me with the book comes from me being a fan and having certain expectations. One great thing about the podcast is that the sources of the episodes are given relatively early into the first episode of a series. We are given information on the conducted research and it lends the podcast a certain level of credibility. Unfortunately, cited sources feel relatively few and far between in the different serial killer profiles. Parks does make references to certain texts but there is a lack of a resources section. This ultimately hurts the book for me because it seems like a huge oversight, particularly given the attention to detail on research presented in the podcast.
This leads to a larger issue: The Last Podcast on the Left is not necessarily an academic sort of production in a traditional sense, it’s ultimately a comedy-horror podcast. The same applies to The Last Book on the Left which is a comedy-horror book upfront. Regardless, the team at the Last Podcast Network has put out a lot of content that is generally well-regarded when it comes to research. It’s unfortunate that the podcast’s history of research isn’t so readily apparent in the book.
The Last Book on the Left is a worthy companion to the massively popular comedy-horror podcast and well worth picking up for a casual read on some of the most notorious killers in history. The book, despite the lack of documentation, is well-sourced and provides some very accurate recounting of the origins of these killers in the podcast’s signature comedy style. (4 / 5)
If you would like to buy a copy of The Last Book on the Left be sure to try ordering it through your local independent book store.
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)