Review: The Mud Ballad by Jo Quenell

Buy it here: Weird Punk Books


In a dying railroad town, a conjoined twin wallows in purgatory for the murder of his brother. A disgraced surgeon goes to desperate ends to reconnect with his lost love. When redemption comes with a dash of black magic, the two enter a world of talking corpses, flesh-eating hogs, rude mimes, and ritualistic violence.


I am shocked that Mud Ballad by Jo Quenell has not taken off like wildfire. Sometimes you read a book that will always be underappreciated regardless of how much praise and readership that it gets, and Mud Ballad will be this book for a long period of time. The novella is not very long, but you are taken on a journey by Jo Quenell while they write one of the most brutal, bloody, muddy, horrible books about horrible people. The novella takes place in Spudville, a town that has seen better days with citizens who have never seen any of them. A sideshow comes through and while in the town, Daniel Crabb decides to kill his conjoined twin, Jonathan, to gain his own freedom. This causes him to get banished from the sideshow and Spudville is where he stays, wallowing in grief and torment.

There is so much in this book, so much story and plot that it has something for everyone. Whether you are looking for a story of loss, a story of redemption, a story about sideshow people, a story about the devil, a story about fighting pigs, a story about fighting kids, a story about suicidal thoughts, a story about alcoholism, a story about love, a story about violence or a story about brotherhood, this has it all (plus a few more themes that I am purposefully omitting because every reader needs some surprises.) This novella has so much packed into 130 pages that it is overwhelming to even try to discuss. It reminds me of the movies of Larry Cohen where there is so much plot and subplot and sub-subplot that the readers feel like they have been on a journey by the time they get to the end. This is not to say that this plotting subtracts from the character development. We get a good feeling about the sorrow that Daniel Crabb and Dawes, the sideshow doctor that separated the twins after one of them were dead, expresses really makes them compelling. Also make no mistake. This novella is brutal and violent. There is not a single sentence of this book that is wasted. Quenell really expresses their talent in writing this novella, and I will be following their work. All I can say right now is that everyone needs to read this one.

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