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Sparsity in Eugene Marten’s “Waste” creates a chillingly bleak atmosphere. In only 116 pages, Marten strings the reader through the daily life of a janitor, Sloper. His removal of others’ waste and his observations of the employees around the office are enthralling. Almost nothing happens in this novella, but the internal workings of the main character keep the reader mesmerized. Threads of story twirl around each other into a braid: Sloper cleans up after the businessmen at work, he finds the dead body of a woman and takes her to his home, he visits his neighbors – a woman in a wheelchair and her caregiver. All the moving parts of this narrative intertwine in ways that are unique and compelling. The palpable loneliness is in every word of this text.

Marten writes in such a minimalistic way that leaves emotion off the page and deep into the physicality of the text. The exclusion of emotion is what makes the novella so emotionally charged. Sloper is unphased by emotion and the responsibility to feel something is placed on the reader. This is unsettling and creates an atmosphere of worry and unease, paired with the subject matter of a huge thread of the story: the removal of a deceased female body from work to Sloper’s home. What ensues in this plotline is not for the weak-hearted. There are extremely intimate scenes between the Sloper and the dead woman. However, it is hardly ever explicit. These scenes build Sloper’s character and his need for companionship in whichever way possible. This is displayed also by his lack of mother figure and proposed marriage to the neighbor woman in the wheelchair later in the text. Palpable loneliness and desire for human connection are so deeply thematic in this text and it pains the reader. I felt bad for this character even through his dirty deeds.

Fiction. A spare and chilling account of the day-to-day experience of Sloper, a janitor in a big-city office building, WASTE explores the import of the discarded–for those who generate it, those who dispose of it, and those who are themselves discarded. From the humble prospect of his station, Sloper uncovers ominous possibility in lives he barely brushes. Brian Evenson says, “Only Eugene Marten can keep a reader enthralled with the minutiae of a janitorial existence…. Precisely and exquisitely detailed, WASTE is a stark little masterpiece.” And Dawn Raffel writes, “[P]itch-perfect. WASTE wastes nothing–not a syllable, a beat, a ragged breath.” And Sam Lipsyte writes, “There is nothing quite like the controlled burn of Eugene Marten’s prose.”

Goodsreads description

The multilayers of Sloper and his psyche are displayed in such interesting scenes that reveal certain characteristics. One of my favorites is his interaction with the neighbor woman in the wheelchair and her caregiver. Sloper meets both of them for the first time and fixates on the speech pattern of the caregiver. The woman in the wheelchair cannot speak, so the caregiver and Sloper are the only characters in the scene who can produce vocal sound. Sloper fixates on the fact that the caregiver speaks and answers his questions in four words or less. It becomes a game to Sloper. He tries to ask her questions that couldn’t possibly be answered in such few words and each time, she still does. The scene ends with Sloper giving up on his little game, only to have to last line be the caregiver saying “So, neighbor, do you come here often?” (35). Sloper had begun to realize the merits of the caregiver’s speech choices only for the scene to end with her bursting his bubble. Marten never has to say anything explicitly, but character is built heavily in these types of scenes.

This is a text that I could read many times and glean something new from it every time: a new underlying concept or emotion in the characters, a new minimalistic writing technique, a new dynamic to the main character. This is truly a horrifying, minimalistic masterpiece. Ultimately, Sloper is a necrophiliac sociopath who observes others in a cold manner. This is the story of a disturbed being that is nuanced and brilliant. This was a strong five star read for me. Plot, writing, character – all done perfectly.

Sarah Moon is a stone-cold sorceress from Tennessee whose interests include serial killers, horror fiction, and the newest dystopian blockbuster. Sarah holds an M.A. in English Literature and an M.F.A. in Fiction Writing. She works as an English professor as well as a cemeterian. Sarah is most likely to cover horror in print including prose, poetry, and graphic forms. You can find her on Instagram @wellreadredhead18.

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Book Reviews

“The Writing Retreat” Gone Bad: Julia Bartz’s Debut

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Keeping it all in the family, Julia Bartz’s The Writing Retreat is the debut novel of the sister of Andrea Bartz, author of We Were Never Here, which I reviewed here.

I was much more impressed with The Writing Retreat than I was We Were Never Here.

The Plot

Five up and coming female writers under 30 are invited to a writing retreat hosted by the reclusive and acclaimed horror writer Rosa Vallo. Rosa reveals the details of the retreat: each writer must complete a full length novel from scratch over the next month. The best novel wins a multi-million dollar publishing deal with Rosa.

Suddenly, the retreat turns into a nightmare when one writer goes missing in the snowy terrain outside.

The novel hinges on friendships in turmoil and has a focus on LGBT+ representation as well as interpersonal female relationships. The novel explores the dark publishing world and the search for fame and the Great American Novel.

The Verdict

This novel is atmospheric and intellectual, page turning, and the English major’s required reading. I absorbed this novel and found Julia Bartz’s writing and conceptual chops to be leagues above her sister’s.

Ths novel releases on February 21, 2023 and it should be in your cart right now.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Buy it here!

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Book Reviews

A Murder in Reverse: “Wrong Place Wrong Time”

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The Plot

“A brilliantly genre-bending, mind-twisting answer to the question How far would you go to save your child?”  — Ruth Ware, #1 New York Times bestselling author

Jen watches her son murder a stranger. Stab him to death. She and her husband, Kelly, watch as their son Todd is taken into custody.

The next morning, Jen wakes up and it’s yesterday. Jen knows that at the end of the night, her son kills someone. She is determined to stop it.

Jen goes further and further back in time trying to discover why Todd murdered a stranger and how to stop it.

The Verdict

This book is twisty. Right when you think you know the ending, something else is there to prove that the story is more multifaceted than that. While the premise of the novel is simple, Gillian McAllister elevates a simple concept with deep, dark twists.

It is best that you don’t know too much going into this one. For fans of Blake Crouch, this is such a good thriller with time travelling vibes.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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Book Reviews

Woom: An Extreme Horror Novel

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“That doesn’t invalidate it,” Angel said. “There’s no statute of limitations on pain.”

The Plot

Angel is a man who knows pain: physical, mental, sexual. The story begins with Angel visiting Room 6 at the Lonely Motel and ordering a plus-size sex worker to his room. What comes next is Angel’s retellings of painful stories while performing sexual acts on the sex worker, Shyla.

The novel reads as a book of short stories, as Angel relays stories to Shyla and she tells him stories back. This is a novel of pain and disgust. Angel’s stories are so dark and traumatic that Shyla can’t believe they are true. As Angel bares his soul, we see a side of him that is melancholy and unable to process hurt in a natural way.

The Verdict

This novel is full of disgusting visuals and isn’t afraid to get dirty. This truly is an extreme horror novel. As a warning, there is discussion of feces, blood, rape, sex, and body horror. This novel is not for the faint of heart. You’ll close this short novel feeling dirty. Angel is a character that begs for sympathy while his stories narrate that he may not be as innocent as he perceives.

When the subtitle says this novel is extreme horror, believe it. Only the strong will survive Duncan Ralston’s Woom. It is more splatterpunk than anything, but true literary quality lies beneath the filth.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Read it yourself by clicking below!

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