Alright, we are at the last book in the Clash Books trilogy of book reviews. In case you missed it, the first book I talked about was A Confederacy of Hot Dogs by Christoph Paul, a supposed comedy. Then I reviewed The Anarchist Kosher Cookbook by Maxwell Bauman, another comedy, though this one was marked as Jewish comedy. This last book I’m going to review departs from the other two in that it wasn’t meant to be a comedy, instead, it was meant to be weird, bizarre even — which it did successfully, I might add, but I’ll get into that in a minute since I haven’t even introduced the book yet!
I read Cartoons in the Suicide Forest by Leza Cantoral. It’s a collection of short, bizarre stories heavily painted in bleak helplessness–at least that’s my diagnosis and second biggest criticism of the 92-page book.
I can give this book props for being surprising in the concepts of the stories, but the content themselves became very predictable. I love bizarre and horror content specifically because it can go where no other genre can. You can come up with anything, everything, and just roll with it. I also tend to think that horror examines more interesting parts of the human psyche than other genres, but that has to do with personal taste.
Cantoral has an incredibly creative mind, I think, and it comes through in the premises of her stories. The title story, Cartoons in the Suicide Forest would have been more surprising if not for the title basically giving us the biggest surprise in the story. This girl goes into a forest known for suicides and turns into a cartoon after interacting with a pair of cartoon twins. Then later this devolves into a horde of brainwashed girls, a literal queen bee, and an orgy of rubbing queen bee excretions everywhere in and on themselves, in their mouths and vaginas and whatnot. The main character, instead of joining the orgy, kills the queen bee and becomes the new one in the end. Personally, I could have done without the scat-lesbian orgy. It didn’t feel like it added anything to the story.
The second story in the book, Siberian Honeymoon was about a pair of lesbians who got married in Russia and were on the run because homosexuality is illegal. They hide out in a cabin in the woods for a while, one of them befriends some feral cats, while the other one takes care of getting them food and firewood. Eventually, the Russian authorities find them and say they must make a public statement or die. They refuse, the Russian authority kills one of them, then rapes the other against a tree outside and leaves her to freeze to death. The surprising thing here was the couple of feral cats gathering a horde of feral cats to kill the guy.
The third story is called Beast and it’s a bleaker take on the fairytale of Beauty and the Beast where Belle is so miserable she jumps out a window in an attempt to kill herself. The beast saves her and brings her inside. When she wakes up, she’s in so many casts she can’t move. The beast has sex with her until she dies.
His fingers reach between my legs and he inserts two thick Beast fingers into my wet body flower. His claws draw blood and I cry out but I want more and I bite his lip till I draw blood. He growls and bites my neck and moisture floods to me. I crave to be filled by him. He gets on top of me and begins to thrust into me. He is massive and almost too much to take but I can take it and I feel alive for the first time in my enter life and I begin to sob uncontrollably. He kisses me tenderly between growls as he thrusts.
I explode and my head swims. I can die happy, and I do. (pp. 27)
Nothing sexier than uncontrollable crying, amiright?
There are 9 other stories in this book that range from people going to a resort and being turned into flowers someone milks and cuts body parts off of in order to remain youthful, to a version of what felt like Return to Oz, with a woman who had different heads to wear and she wanted this young girl’s cute little head to a story about aliens probing a woman high on acid and then filling her with unicorn blood to one about a living sex doll that turns human after spiders have an orgy inside of her. Then she creates addictive cotton candy from her vagina and feeds it to people to ruin the city. It ends with a reimagined version of the Little Mermaid where the seaman forces oral on the mermaid, is killed by the Mermaid’s babies, and then the mermaid finds a spaceship and flies away from the planet she was on (after becoming human of course).
So at the very least, there’s no shortage in creativity here when it comes to premise, however… the repetition of the themes made me worry about the author. Every story in this collection seemed to have something to do with forced sex one way or another. It’s an obsession, really and I couldn’t help but wonder if Cantoral has had negative situations in the past which aren’t resolved, which might cause her to become obsessed with negative sex. In fact, I don’t think there was a single time in any of these stories where the character wanted it…
I got this feeling after reading the first story but hoped for something better. Every story after the first was bleak and ran along the same lines of weird, but also here’s some rape.
One of the other things that bothered me about this book was the writing style — so this comes down to personal taste, but in a lot of ways it felt like a teenage girl trying to be edgy. Super edgy. Too edgy:
I’m just rolling and rolling and rolling. I’m dancing and I feel like I will never be tired or need to eat or sleep again. Everything seems beautiful for one eternal sunshine moment. Waves of pleasure rolling over each other and over me. I am an ocean fuckpile. This moment is my soul. I am empty and full of this love juice. I don’t need to fuck to feel the fuck inside. I am the fuck. I am the fuckness. (pp. 43-44)
The moon is a hollowed out alien base. There is no magic, only fear.
The unicorn is dead and the aliens are filling me with its blood.
I’m a bloody rainbow.
I can feel the blood of the unicorn inside of me.
I feel electrified.
My blood is a glittery, fiery mess and my heart is going to explode.
I feel orgasmic.
I feel suicidal.
I feel like my brain is going to spill into the universe.
The unicorn is the death of my soul.
I am the death of the universe. (pp. 46)
I am sinking into a rainbow pool.
I wipe my eyes and I see rainbow smears on my graying hands.
I am bleeding rainbow. Shattered. Cracked. (pp. 2)
Red tears, like stone saint in a miracle sign. The red of desire, of pain at its purest and rawest. Meat read. My meat cut up with surgical instruments. My heart, my tongue, uterus chopped sushi. Fuck me harder red. Hit me red. I hate you red. Die for me red. I cut red. Abortion red. Guilty red. I am meat red. They nibble on my pain like emo vampires. These pain sluts. These vampire whores. I am the birthday cake at their Pity Party. Carve me up. They all want to be the girls with the most cake. (pp. 2)
This all just makes me think of Hot Topic… and girls who go shopping at hot topic (or even Spencers) cause they think it makes them edgy. It’s like when Hot Topic carried Twilight and now they carry My Little Pony and because it’s from Hot Topic, I’m obviously an edgelord, emo gangster.
I mean, I don’t doubt some people are into this, but it’s not high writing and it wasn’t impressive to me. In fact, it ejected me from the stories to make me go, “Really??”
Additionally, Cantoral had some of the same story writing errors as her colleagues. She head hopped, there was lazy writing, there was a lot of telling with “feel” and “wanting.” The stories were predictable in that I knew there would be at least one rape in each of them… and that was obvious from the feelings in the first story. Those things are common errors in early writing and often take mentorship and/or lots of editing practice to see and remove those weak writing problems.
For the most part, I think I was just disappointed by the repetitiveness and the bleakness. Bizarre can definitely be bleak and depressing, but it can be fun too. I think 12 stories that involve rape of some kind are … not that enjoyable, though they have interesting ideas. That mixed with the overly poetic teenage girl angst just sort of made me want to step back. I knew what was coming before it happened and that’s hard to do win a bizarro book., but somehow…
After watching this video on Top 30 Disturbing Moments in Kids Shows, I started to think that maybe I look for strange and funny because it’s surprising, entertaining, and somewhat nostalgic. All sorts of cartoons from my childhood were surprising, whether it was KABLAM!, Hey Arnold, Rugrats, Powerpuff Girls, Ed, Edd, and Eddy, CatDog, or any number of programs featured on Cartoon Network, Nick, and Kids WB. With a lot of shows, you never knew what was coming. This also shows how in order to surprise or be strange, you don’t have to involve adult themes. Kids cartoons are one of the best examples of bizarro content, actually, because kids are willing to take in a lot and not really question the craziness.
It was also disappointing because we did talk about another bizarro writer and though his covers are often sexual, the collection I read of his actually wasn’t. I think I would have enjoyed this book a lot more if it had shown range.
Unrelated, the stories, in general, didn’t feel like they had a climactic moment or if they did, they were very soft, like the girl smashing the mirror in the Oz story. Some of the stories were interesting enough to have me read them, but as I got further through the book, I did start skimming them. I skimmed the mermaid story and a couple of them before that because I was just tired of the sex and the bleakness.
But if that’s what you’re looking for, this book just might be for you.