Review: Winter in Sokcho by Elisa Shua Dusapin

Winter in Sokcho

Buy here: Open Letter, Bookshop, Amazon

Synopsis:

As if Marguerite Duras wrote Convenience Store Woman – a beautiful, unexpected novel from a debut French Korean author

It’s winter in Sokcho, a tourist town on the border between South and North Korea. The cold slows everything down. Bodies are red and raw, the fish turn venomous, beyond the beach guns point out from the North’s watchtowers. A young French Korean woman works as a receptionist in a tired guesthouse. One evening, an unexpected guest arrives: a French cartoonist determined to find inspiration in this desolate landscape.

The two form an uneasy relationship. When she agrees to accompany him on trips to discover an ‘authentic’ Korea, they visit snowy mountaintops and dramatic waterfalls, and cross into North Korea. But he takes no interest in the Sokcho she knows – the gaudy neon lights, the scars of war, the fish market where her mother works. As she’s pulled into his vision and taken in by his drawings, she strikes upon a way to finally be seen.

An exquisitely-crafted debut, which won the Prix Robert Walser, Winter in Sokcho is a novel about shared identities and divided selves, vision and blindness, intimacy and alienation. Elisa Shua Duspain’s voice is distinctive and unmistakable. 

Sokcho Beach travel guidebook –must visit attractions in Sokcho-si – Sokcho  Beach nearby recommendation – Trip.com

Review:

Sokcho is a resort town with the East Sea on one side and Seoraksan National Park on the other. In the summer people come to vacation. In the winter, the town is quiet and deserted. This is where the stark, quiet, and eerie debut novel by Elisha Shua Disapin takes place. Winter in Sokcho is the story of an unnamed receptionist at a guesthouse who is working and spending time with her mother, a relationship that she rebels against because her mother pokes at her looks and her weight. Her boyfriend is in Seoul, trying to be a model, something that she does not particularly care about, and a town that is slowly moving by. 

A French graphic artist named Kerrand shows up, and she is intrigued by him, mostly to alleviate her boredom, but it eventually turns into intrigue. He asks her to take him places, like the North Korean border, which is a heavily militarized checkpoint, and the Naksan temple.  The narrator does not find these things as interesting as Kerrand, and tries to explain to him. “Winter isn’t very interesting,” I said, beginning to lose patience. “Soon the cherry blossoms will be out and the bamboo will be green, you should see it in spring.” (p.77).

Kerrand seems very content with being in Sokcho and the receptionist does not understand how. There grows a tension between the two, as if she is trying to show him that there are other places much better than Sokcho and South Korea, but Kerrand is satisfied with setting his graphic novel right there. She tries to figure out Kerrand and his motivations, and all of the tension and underlying mystery is not to be solved. 


Winter in Sokcho is hard to talk about without talking about the plot because there is so much lying beneath the surface, as if we are walking on ice. We can see the ice and even a little bit below the surface, but we also know that below that is a dark and rich story to be discovered. The motivations of all of the characters are a mystery, and this is what makes Winter in Sokcho feel very eerie, like we are shown a story that is shut down for winter, waiting for the spring when the cherry blossoms bloom and the bamboo will be green. This is a winter version of a summer story.

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Review: Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon

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Buy Here:

Amazon, Bookshop

Synopsis:

Vern – seven months pregnant and desperate to escape the strict religious compound where she was raised – flees for the shelter of the woods. There, she gives birth to twins, and plans to raise them far from the influence of the outside world.

But even in the forest, Vern is a hunted woman. Forced to fight back against the community that refuses to let her go, she unleashes incredible brutality far beyond what a person should be capable of, her body wracked by inexplicable and uncanny changes.

To understand her metamorphosis and to protect her small family, Vern has to face the past, and more troublingly, the future – outside the woods. Finding the truth will mean uncovering the secrets of the compound she fled but also the violent history in America that produced it.

Review:

review originally published at mysteryandsuspense.com

Rivers Solomon is carving out a unique and exciting corner of the world for their writing and stories. All three of their long works are filled with people who do not follow gender norms, who are marginalized, and for those who do not always have main characters in fiction that represent them. The easy things to talk about are the way Solomon represents the LGBT+ community, the nonbinary community, and the black community, but it is important to not overlook how great Sorrowland is as a great piece of fiction.

The book opens with Vern, an albino pregnant with twins, escaping a cult (The Cainites on the Blessed Acres of Cain), to raise them the way she wants to raise them. Vern runs with her twins, Howling and Feral, even though the cult is following her, tracking her because they need her back. The Cainites are physically changing through experiments sponsored by the government, and Vern is the most successful of the group. They need her to survive. Vern does not want to return so she uses her cunning and some help to try to stay hidden.

As the novel unfolds, the tension and anxiety continues to increase. We know that Vern is not going to be able to stay hidden forever, that they are going to find her, and that even though the sympathetic response of fleeing eventually has to turn to fighting, we do not know what the outcome is going to be. By the end of the book, Vern has changed, become stronger, but with this strength comes pain and hurt. The physical metamorphosis of Vern changes with the mental metamorphosis, that she needs to have a final standoff with the cult instead of running. Of course the “final standoff” is not what she expects at all. 

Solomon writes Sorrowland in a way that all of it feels very real. One aspect is the way they use the impact of the cult to influence some of Vern’s decisions. Vern is attracted to women and this is against the teachings of the Cainites. Even after she is away from the cult for years, she feels the oppression and guilt from her upbringing. The guilt that she expresses feels very real, and it all makes sense to the way that she was raised and the things that she was admonished for while still living on the Acres of Cain. 

The entire novel, particularly Vern, the physical transformation that she endures and the visions that get stronger and stronger throughout Sorrowland, feels very real. It is one of those novels that you want to talk about because there are so many layers that can be explored. From the history of the way the government has experimented on people of color in this country, to the way that the visions and haunts are used to fill the gaps in the story, but in such a subtle way that it is acceptable, to the end, this needs to be read by everyone so that it can be discussed at length. All of River Solomon’s works beg to be discussed at length, and they should not be overlooked.

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Review: The Ones Who Don’t Say They Love You by Maurice Carlos Ruffin

The Ones Who Don't Say They Love You: Stories

Buy Here: Amazon, Bookshop

Synopsis:

A collection of raucous stories that offer a panoramic view of New Orleans from the author of the “stunning and audacious” (NPR) debut novel We Cast a Shadow.

Maurice Carlos Ruffin has an uncanny ability to reveal the hidden corners of a place we thought we knew. These perspectival, character-driven stories center on the margins and are deeply rooted in New Orleanian culture.

In “Beg Borrow Steal,” a boy relishes time spent helping his father find work after just coming home from prison; in “Ghetto University,” a couple struggling financially turns to crime after hitting rock bottom; in “Before I Let You Go,” a woman who’s been in NOLA for generations fights to keep her home; in “Fast Hands, Fast Feet,” an Army vet and a runaway teen find companionship while sleeping under a bridge; in “Mercury Forges,” a flash fiction piece among several in the collection, a group of men hurriedly make their way to a home where an elderly gentleman lives, trying to reach him before the water from Hurricane Katrina does; and in the title story, a young man works the street corners of the French Quarter, trying to achieve a freedom not meant for him.

These stories are intimate invitations to hear, witness, and imagine lives at once regional but largely universal, and undeniably New Orleanian.

Review:

I reviewed Maurice Carlos Ruffin’s debut novel We Cast A Shadow, so I was interested in reading his follow-up collection of short stories, The Ones Who Don’t Say They Love You. I remember really enjoying We Cast a Shadow, and there were a great deal of feelings and thoughts about the meanings and messages in this novel.  This collection of short stories has a different message than We Cast A Shadow. The story lengths vary from standard short story length to stories less than a page long, but each of them have a great deal to say. 

The backdrop of this collection is New Orleans. When I think about this city, there are many things that make it unique. The way that tourists treat it like Las Vegas (coming in to party and not much else), and how there is a definitive split in New Orleans. Post-Katrina New Orleans will never be the same as Pre-Katrina New Orleans. Most of these stories show a city that is years later still trying to recover and rebuild. This city as a setting for this collection really brings another dimension to the decisions and motivations of the characters. Many of the characters are showing the same drive to recover and rebuild, even when the means to do so no longer exist. The struggle of people of color and people without money to impact their lives and make better for themselves is a universal story, and does not need a particular setting, but having the backdrop of New Orleans give these characters another layer, as if it does not need to be told that most of these characters have lived through losing absolutely everything.

In the final story of the collection, “Before I Let Go”, the main character, Gailya, is trying to save her house in a neighborhood that is going through gentrification due to the abandonment of a great deal of the neighborhood post-Katrina. She states that the changing of her neighborhood is not just a white and black issue but a money and power issue as well. I can see the money and power theme in all of these stories, how those without are trying to get enough to get some of the power back in their lives that they lost when they lost everything in the hurricane. Some of the characters rob, some of them sell their bodies, some of them just hustle harder to try to save a little to get ahead, but the main thing all of them are doing is trying to get back some of the power that they lost when the storms came. 

Maurice Carlos Ruffin’s story collection using New Orleans as a backdrop has great impact. All of these characters are desperate in a way that you feel for them and want them to turn the corner, find their luck or their power and get back to where they deserve to be. You cannot read through these stories without hoping for a good outcome for all of them, but you can also respect that Ruffin writes the stories in a way that lets you know that not everyone is successful because that is the way the true world works. 

I received this as an ARC from the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

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Review: Coffin Shadow by Glen Krisch and Mark Steensland

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Buy Here: Amazon, Bookshop

Synopsis:

12 YEARS AGO

Janet Martlee’s infant son died under mysterious circumstances.
Consumed with grief and anger, she ran away to start again…

YESTERDAY

A 12-year old boy with dead eyes appeared in her classroom,
begging for help. But Janet doesn’t believe in ghosts…

TODAY

Her psychiatrist tells her she must return home to confront
her past and uncover the mystery of what happened…

Only some questions don’t want to be answered.

And some answers hide in the shadows…

In the

COFFIN SHADOWS

Review:

Coffin Shadows is one of those books that prove that good horror can come in a small package. The official page count is 126, but that seems a little generous. The truth is that this novella can be read comfortably in one sitting, preferably on a rainy afternoon, but the story feels like it will be in my mind for a long time. Coffin Shadows starts with Janet, pregnant with her boyfriend, Brian’s, baby, working at a private school. She starts seeing a dead boy in a red jacket, asking for her help. The writing is so good, the tension and reactions that Janet feels so real that the book pulls the reader deep into the story within a few pages. 

Janet’s therapist thinks that this boy is the manifestation of the son that she had when she was a teenager, a son that died in a car wreck with Janet at the wheel, an accident she really does not remember. Her therapist thinks it is best to go back to the town she fled, to patch things up with her family and clarify her memories of what happened to her son. We learn quickly that the small town has many secrets that Janet needs to be uncovered. 


There are so many elements that make this a great horror story. From the apparition begging for help, to the old burned out mansion she finds on her parent’s old property, to the secrets and lies that her town feeds her, there are so many classic horror plots wrapped into one great story. And it moves so fast that it does not bog itself down. I can see this being written by someone else as a 600 or 700 page book, a long saga that would take weeks to read. As it is, the speed of this book is really a bonus. It allows the story to really pack a punch. The only thing that I wish could have been done a little differently is that the kid in the red jacket does not appear again when she goes back to the town of her youth. I would have liked him to continue to be part of the story, since he was the catalyst that made her pursue the truth in the first place. Other than this small piece, Coffin Shadows is a perfect story.  To be able to do so many things without slacking on the character development and the storytelling really makes this novella a treasure.

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Review: Slewfoot: A Tale of Bewitchery by Brom

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Buy Here: Amazon, Bookshop

Synopsis:

A spirited young Englishwoman, Abitha, arrives at a Puritan colony betrothed to a stranger – only to become quickly widowed when her husband dies under mysterious circumstances. All alone in this pious and patriarchal society, Abitha fights for what little freedom she can grasp onto, while trying to stay true to herself and her past.

Enter Slewfoot, a powerful spirit of antiquity newly woken… and trying to find his own role in the world. Healer or destroyer? Protector or predator? But as the shadows walk and villagers start dying, a new rumor is whispered: Witch.

Both Abitha and Slewfoot must swiftly decide who they are, and what they must do to survive in a world intent on hanging any who meddle in the dark arts.

Review:

The old adage of “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover,” has been proven time and time again to be true. Sometimes the cover makes the book more attractive. Sometimes it makes it less attractive, and sometimes, like in the case of Slewfoot, it can be misleading. This cover is a woman hovering in front of the moon on a broom, holding a skull. Her feet and legs are cloven and furry, but the drawing looks peaceful and somewhat charming. This means I started this book thinking it was going to be whimsical, like most tales about witches. I was totally wrong. 

The story takes place in 1666, where the puritans are punishing women for talking out of turn and anyone who does not obey the town’s reverends and the Word of God. One half of the story is about Abitha, a widow who has to repay the debts of her missing (presumed dead) husband. Her husband’s brother is a real villain, and he is only trying to save his farm by taking hers. The other half is about Slewfoot, who wakes from a deep sleep and is trying to figure out his place in the world. A few people from the village see him and call him what they think he is, Satan. All of these worlds collide, and the fallout is swift and severe.

I did not have a great amount of motivation to read coming into this novel. I had not read Brom before, and I expected something like my misconceived notions about stories involving witches, that it is going to be fun and light. The truth is that this is a horror novel. There are no arguments against it. This is dark and muddy. This is bloody and gory. This is a revenge story. This is a slasher. This is Slewfoot doing what Slewfoot needs to do to protect Mother Earth and his friends.. And it could not have had a better setting, a better main character, a better villain, and a better ending. Brom writes in a way that is cinematic and emotionally captivating. The feelings that I have for these characters, the attachment I have for the plot, and the love I have for the story really transcends more than just the page. I had not read Brom before, but I have now poked around his website some, and I realize that he is the one that drew the cover, that he has been writing novels and creating art for a long time. I will be reading some of his back catalog based on the strength of Slewfoot.

I received this as an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

Hausfrau

Buy here: Amazon, Bookshop

Synopsis:

For readers of Claire Messud and Mary Gaitskill comes a striking debut novel of marriage, fidelity, sex, and morality, featuring a fascinating heroine who struggles to live a life with meaning.

Hausfrau
haus·frau \haus-frau\ n 1: Origin: German.
Housewife, homemaker. 2: A married woman. 3: A novel by Jill Alexander Essbaum

Anna was a good wife, mostly.

Anna Benz, an American in her late thirties, lives with her Swiss husband, Bruno—a banker—and their three young children in a postcard-perfect suburb of Zürich. Though she leads a comfortable, well-appointed life, Anna is falling apart inside. Adrift and increasingly unable to connect with the emotionally unavailable Bruno or even with her own thoughts and feelings, Anna tries to rouse herself with new experiences: German language classes, Jungian analysis, and a series of sexual affairs she enters with an ease that surprises even her.

But Anna can’t easily extract herself from these affairs. When she wants to end them, she finds it’s difficult. Tensions escalate, and her lies start to spin out of control. Having crossed a moral threshold, Anna will discover where a woman goes when there is no going back.

Intimate, intense, and written with the precision of a Swiss Army knife, Jill Alexander Essbaum’s debut novel is an unforgettable story of marriage, fidelity, sex, morality, and most especially self. Navigating the lines between lust and love, guilt and shame, excuses and reasons, Anna Benz is an electrifying heroine whose passions and choices readers will debate with recognition and fury. Her story reveals, with honesty and great beauty, how we create ourselves and how we lose ourselves and the sometimes disastrous choices we make to find ourselves.

Review:

Literary works about marriages and infidelity are pretty much the most boring books that you can possibly read. You have to bring something different or unique to the tired plot if you are going to write an adultery book that is worth reading. Hausfrau is just different enough for it to be interesting. Most of this is from the writing and from the character of Anna. 

The writing is very powerful in places, one of those books where you want to bring a pen and underline sentences and paragraphs. There are thoughts that are written in a very quotable manner. Like I could see memes floating around Instagram that says, “An obsession is a defense against feeling out of control. A compulsion is the failure of that defense.” or “There’s always a correspondence between one’s dreams and one’s wounds.” There are also interesting patterns that Jill Alexander Essbaum uses to tell this story. Like there are short breaks where she describes German vocabulary and grammar. These pieces have a metaphorical meaning but more it is a pause in the action that is going on, one that is needed at some points, to give us a second to process the things that happened before. There also seems to be patterns with the way certain lovers come up, like most of the time she is travelling when she is thinking about her history with Stephen and the language breaks are a large part of telling her time with Archie. The correlations between lovers and events is very well established, and an interesting way to tell the story. 

Anna is an expat from America who is living with her husband and children in Switzerland. She does belong, does not know the language, does not have many friends. There is so much existential dread and depression in her that she is trying to fulfill her life with something that can help her cope with not feeling like she belongs. Her choice is the comfort of other men, which is a pretty easy way to deal with the loneliness and sadness of feeling like you do not belong in the life you have created. The story, like all infidelity stories, is a cautionary tale and we know from the beginning that it is not going to end well. 


If this was not a well written and quotable as it is, Hausfrau would be just another boring marriage book, but Jill Alexander Essbaum writes the story in such a way that it is well worth the time and effort to consume it all, write down some of the quotable sentences and ideas, and mull over them.

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Review: Absolute Unit by Nick Kolakowski

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Buy here: Crystal Lake Publishing, Amazon

Synopsis:

Bill is a nobody, a health inspector who’s not above taking a few dollars to overlook a restaurant’s mouse problem, and hated by nearly everyone except his long-suffering girlfriend. His nephew, Trent, isn’t much better: sexually and morally confused, he’s probably the worst teenage con artist on the East Coast. But today, these two losers are going to become the most important people in the world.

That’s because Bill and Trent harbor a sentient parasite with a sarcastic sense of humor and a ravenous appetite. As the parasite figures out how to control its new human hosts, the focus of its desires grows from delicious cheeseburgers and beer to something much darker and more dangerous.

Absolute Unit is a dark carnival ride through the underside of the American Dream, where hustlers and parasites fight to survive against gun-toting furries, sarcastic drug kingpins, old ladies who are startlingly good with knives, and angry ex-girlfriends. It’s a hardboiled slice of modern American horror that asks the deepest question of all: Is the human race worth saving?

Review:

Nick Kolakowski’s new novella, Absolute Unit, starts with a bang. Bill is a corrupt health inspector who likes to drink, do drugs, have sex with his coworker in the office closet, and accept bribes from restaurants. He is also inhabited by a parasite, and what sucks you into the story immediately is the parasite inside Bill is the one telling the story. On a day when Bill is taking his nephew, Trent, with him to work, showing him how he makes his extra money by shaking down restaurants for better inspection ratings, the novella turns into a crime caper. Bill meets his corrupt cop friend, and of course things do not go as planned.

Part pulp crime story, part kaiju horror novella, Absolute Unit really has a lot of different elements. I love the beginning of this story. I love Bill and his wildness. I think the opening of this book is one of my favorites, to the point where I bought a few copies for my friends so that they could read it with me. The first half really is something amazing. The second half did not do it for me. The story switches directions so many times that the end does not even resemble the beginning. And I know that this is how books usually are, but the story seemed to lose steam and the special things that sucked me right into the story were long gone by the end. 

I enjoyed the first half of this so much that I still highly recommend it. With Bill’s character moving from a major to a minor character in the story is what changed things for me. I know that many people might not see him as a good person, because he is not, but he is definitely a good character, and it feels like the parasite inside of him is having a great time. We are given a treat with Kolakowski’s new novella, and even though I did not like the second half, it is still a fun novella and a good time. It makes me wish that I had parasites like these. 

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Review: Razorblade Tears by S.A. Cosby

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Buy at: Amazon, Bookshop

Synopsis:

A Black father. A white father. Two murdered sons. A quest for vengeance.

Ike Randolph has been out of jail for fifteen years, with not so much as a speeding ticket in all that time. But a Black man with cops at the door knows to be afraid.

The last thing he expects to hear is that his son Isiah has been murdered, along with Isiah’s white husband, Derek. Ike had never fully accepted his son but is devastated by his loss.

Derek’s father Buddy Lee was almost as ashamed of Derek for being gay as Derek was ashamed his father was a criminal. Buddy Lee still has contacts in the underworld, though, and he wants to know who killed his boy.

Ike and Buddy Lee, two ex-cons with little else in common other than a criminal past and a love for their dead sons, band together in their desperate desire for revenge. In their quest to do better for their sons in death than they did in life, hardened men Ike and Buddy Lee will confront their own prejudices about their sons and each other, as they rain down vengeance upon those who hurt their boys.

Provocative and fast-paced, S. A. Cosby’s Razorblade Tears is a story of bloody retribution, heartfelt change – and maybe even redemption.

Review:

After the success of Blacktop Wasteland, S.A. Cosby could have played it safe. He could have written another heist book that would have been fun and entertaining. He could have used the success to keep writing the same book, and we would have loved it. S.A. Cosby did not do this. 

Razorblade Tears is the story of two dads, Ike, a ex-con who is running a very successful landscaping business and has a great marriage, and Buddy Lee, a hard drinking, single, trailer park redneck. Their sons are husbands, and when they are murdered, Ike and Buddy Lee reluctantly team up to figure out who killed them. In the process, they explore the grief and regrets of the way that they treated their sons as gay men. Ike and Buddy Lee both have a rocky relationship with their sons, and this adds to the mourning and regret they experience. Them finding out who killed them is something of a redemption song for the two men.

What makes Cosby’s telling of this story different from that of Blacktop Wasteland was that the motivation in Blacktop Wasteland is money whereas the motivation for Razorblade Tears is not only love and family but a search for understanding. And this is where Cosby changes the game. He knows that he is going to have a great deal of readers for the follow-up to his breakthrough novel so instead of playing it safe, he has two conversations that America is struggling to have: understanding between an older generation and the LGBT+ community and an understanding of race relations. When Buddy Lee and Ike start to go on this mission, Buddy Lee has a completely different outlook on Ike than at the end. Buddy Lee struggles with his “white privilege” when he is drinking all day in a trailer and Ike has a successful business. As the novel progresses, Buddy Lee learns that privilege is not the things he has but the color of his skin. The fact that Buddy Lee is written as a perfect character in this novel. He does not have much going for him, is unemployed, drinks and smokes his days away, and he thinks that white privilege does not exist because look at him versus Ike. The truths unfold in two ways: Buddy Lee learning about how race relations in this country affects Ike every day regardless of how successful he is, and how both of them learn about how the acceptance of their sons is really the biggest regret that they will face, so they face it together.


This might strike a few wrong cords for people, and this is fine. S.A. Cosby did not write this in a way that will make it comfortable for everyone to read. The characters are not refined. The language is rough. The action might be a little questionable at times, but sometimes the over the top fighting and violence is heightened due to the trials the two dads are going through. They want to get to the bottom of the story, so that maybe they can feel better about themselves, and this does cause them to lash out on people inexplicably at times. The truth is the men Razorblade Tears are motivated by grief and regret more than common sense.

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Review: Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica

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Buy here: Amazon, Bookshop

Review originally appeared at mysteryandsuspsense.com

Synopsis:

His wife has left him, his father is sinking into dementia, and Marcos tries not to think too hard about how he makes a living. After all, it happened so quickly. First, it was reported that an infectious virus has made all animal meat poisonous to humans. Then governments initiated the “Transition.” Now, eating human meat—“special meat”—is legal. Marcos tries to stick to numbers, consignments, processing.

Then one day he’s given a gift: a live specimen of the finest quality. Though he’s aware that any form of personal contact is forbidden on pain of death, little by little he starts to treat her like a human being. And soon, he becomes tortured by what has been lost—and what might still be saved.

Review:

There are certain horror stories that grip you from the beginning simply due to the premise. In Tender is the Flesh, we learn a virus has made all animals inedible. With a lack of meat, people turn on each other, and eventually it becomes normal to go to the supermarket and pick up human meat to feed your family. This basic concept is horrifying, and by the time Tender is the Flesh begins, the entire world finds this practice acceptable.

Marcos works in the meat industry, a buyer for his dying father’s slaughterhouse, and estranged from his wife. He inspects his family’s slaughterhouse, buys meat from farmers, and makes sure all the customer orders are fulfilled and the customers are happy. This is actually pretty normal business if the business is not buying, selling, and killing humans.

Society has rules. For example, it is still illegal to eat someone with a first and last name, and there should be no personal contact between humans and the herd. All of the herd humans are to be registered and inspected. When Marcos receives a woman as a gift from one of the farmers, he does not know what to do with her, so he keeps her in his barn and goes about his life. This solution feels like the entirety of this novel, how everything is so terrible that the characters do not even see that it is terrible anymore. Instead they go about their business and their lives with just this little change to the culture.

There are many aspects of this novel that can be picked apart and examined, like how people can turn other people into food as long as there are rules and regulations and how those who cannot afford the meat in the store spend time at the slaughterhouse fence to get some of the leftovers, like how animals are treated during the outbreak and now that society has moved forward from eating them, or like how the virus affected animals but not humans, as if there was a barrier between the two. One of the small undercurrents that I could discuss all day is did the virus even exist or was it made by the government to control the population? Marcos’s sister always has an umbrella outside because she is afraid that she will get infected by birds flying over and her getting hit with their droppings, but that brings up the question of how birds exist? It makes me believe that the story before this story is just as important and a great thing to speculate. Even though this is a short novel, there is so much depth to explore that  Tender is the Flesh is a novel that will be valuable to reread often.

Tender is the Flesh (or Cadáver exquisito) is one of those books that it will be difficult to forget. There are no stories like it, but elements of it did remind me of the detachment of Patrick Bateman in Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, the government anxiety of Orwell’s 1984, and of course the description of meat packing plants like in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. Even though the feelings are comparable, the books are not. Tender is the Flesh stands as a unique work that really shows that horror is created by society just as much (if not more) than by individuals.

I received this as an ARC from the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: Pretty Hate Machine by Daphne Carr

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Buy it here: Amazon, Bookshop

Synopsis:

What is the world that Nine Inch Nails made, and what was the world that made Nine Inch Nails? These are the questions at the heart of this study of the band’s 1989 debut, Pretty Hate Machine. The album began as after-hours demos by mercenary new wave keyboardist Trent Reznor, and was disciplined into sparse industrial dance by a handful of the UK’s best industrial producers. Carr traces how the album became beloved in the underground, found its mass at Lollapalooza, and its market at the newly opened mall store Hot Topic. For fans, Nine Inch Nails was a vehicle for questioning God, society, the family, sex, and the body. In ten raw, heartbreaking oral histories woven through the book, fans living in the post-industrial Midwest discuss the successes and failures of the American dream as they are articulated in Nine Inch Nails’ music. Daphne Carr illuminates Pretty Hate Machine as at once singular and as representative of how popular music can impact history and change lives.

Review:

I thoroughly enjoy every 33 ⅓ book I have read, and how they don’t have a consistent angle. There are some that talk about the recording of the album, some are about the history that influenced the album, and some are about the impact and importance of the album. The entry of Pretty Hate Machine written by Daphne Carr leans heavily on the last of these formulas, spending most of her time talking about Pretty Hate Machine and Nine Inch Nails through interviews with the fans, and the histories of the towns that influenced Trent Reznor and his upbringing.

 I like all of it because Carr is using Pretty Hate Machine as more of a metaphor than a solid thing. She writes that the pretty hate machine is not an album but a physical place, a time, and a mindset. The towns surrounding Reznor’s childhood, (Mercer, Pennsylvania, Youngstown, Ohio, and Cleveland, Ohio) are the places that are where the industrial machines are the influence of the economy (through steel mills and factories), and that if you are not a factory worker, there is not a place for you. Add this to the 80s, while Reznor was a teenager, when the towns were starting to fall apart, the factories were shutting down, and poverty and drug use were rising, you have a landscape for the soundscape. 

This is mixed with Carr interviewing Nine Inch Nails fans about their attachment to the band and the songs. An interesting part of this is how many of them did not site Pretty Hate Machine as their favorite, but the songs are important to them and got them through some tough times, whether a terrible childhood, an addiction, or a sense of desperation in their lives. I liked these stories, even though they do not always have much to do with the actual album. It is almost like Carr is showing that this album is one that people use to hold onto when they need something to hold onto and the motion of the machine helps them get through. 

My history with Pretty Hate Machine is extensive. I have been listening to Nine Inch Nails since early high school. My friend had a cassette tape of Pretty Hate Machine and the Broken e.p. I talked him into letting me borrow them while I went on a family trip, ten hours in the car through the mountains listening to Nine Inch Nails. I listened to Broken a few times, but it was inconvenient, because the cassette tape was all on one side, with “Physical (You’re So)”  on side B, smack in the middle of the side so it was difficult to cue up properly. I listened to Pretty Hate Machine more for convenience. It was the perfect soundtrack, a mixture of irritation, frustration, but also hope and longing for a world that was bigger than the one that I knew. 

Of course I loved all of it. I listened to it over and over for hours, and I loved that I caught the little bits, like the Jane’s Addiction sample in “Ringfinger”, but I really loved the emotion of “Something I Can Never Have.” This is a song that I really don’t listen to anymore, even when it’s on, but I used to get my feelings wrapped up in the lyrics and think about the girls I had crushes on, knowing that they were not even looking at me. 


I bought The Downward Spiral the day that it came out, and I do have a stronger connection to it, but I was driving through the mountains this summer, going the same route I went when I was a teenager in the backseat of the family car, and I still have those feelings from when I was a teenager, that the world is bigger than I ever imagined, and I will do better things in my life. The irritation, frustration, hope, and longing are still there, and will always be there.

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