The Unreprinted: Rabid by TK Kenyon

Welcome back to The Unreprinted, the series in which author Ben Arzate explores the finest and/or most fucked up in forgotten and out-of-print fiction. The title of this one may call to mind the classic Canadian body horror of filmmaker David Cronenberg, but don’t let it fool you. TK Kenyon has crafted something entirely different and every bit as mind-boggling with this one. Feast your eyes!

After Beverly Sloan discovers a pair of panties in her husband Conrad’s luggage that isn’t hers, she realizes he’s having an affair. With the help of Dante, the priest recently transferred to her church, she confronts her husband to try to save her marriage. Meanwhile, Conrad, a scientist working with diseases, works overtime on his research and tries to hide his affair with grad student Leila, the second one he’s having.

One thing I found odd was that one of the blurbs on the back refers to the book as a “medical thriller.” Maybe I haven’t read enough in that genre, but this novel seems to barely fit that description.

There is a subplot where Conrad is working on an experiment he’s hiding from his co-workers and the university he’s a professor at, and it turns out to be the with the rabies virus which ends up compromised and infecting people in the lab. However, the subplot is just that and really doesn’t factor in significantly enough to warrant the book being titled Rabid.

I would say this book doesn’t know what it wants to be, but it does. It wants to be a novel of ideas about the conflicts and overlaps between science and religion. It just doesn’t know how it wants to deliver those ideas.

There’s the subplot with the rabies virus, the soap opera-like domestic conflict, the priest Dante who’s a specialist in hunting down pedophile priests so they can be removed to a Vatican retreat for penance, and it becomes a courtroom drama after Beverly accidently kills Conrad.

That final plot point is especially annoying since the argument that resulted in Conrad’s death is told to us and then repeated again and again in the court scenes. There’s a lot of plot here, but it’s very unfocused and the various points seem to be battling for attention.

There are also extended scenes of scientific and philosophical discussion. Some of it is interesting, but several of them suffer from being stiff and unnatural as dialogue. There are discussions of virology here which could have been interesting but are filled with terms that only a virologist would understand. Kenyon herself is a virologist, but here she doesn’t do a good job of conveying information to people outside of her field.

I felt that the best part of the book was towards the end when it’s revealed Leila had been molested by a priest and Dante helps her to cope with it. To me, it seems like there’s a much better book of about 250-300 pages in this 460-page book. The first 150 or so pages are especially grating, as it seems like the story just spins its wheels with Beverly going to see Dante, Conrad working in his lab and going to sleep with Leila, and Beverly and Conrad arguing repeatedly and little else happening.

Other potentially interesting parts, like a young boy dealing with the trauma of abuse from the priest that preceded Dante, barely get any time.

Kenyon released another novel, also out of print, and self-published a few eBooks. Her site also hasn’t updated since 2013, so maybe she’s not even writing anymore. I may give her second novel, Callous, a chance as Rabid seems like a very unpolished first draft with some potential.

As for whether it deserves to come back into print, it doesn’t in its current form, but a heavily revised version certainly would. Kenyon has some interesting ideas and writes prose very well, but she needs a tighter and more focused story to deliver it.

The Story of the Y by Ben Arzate – Book Review

by Zakary McGaha

Up until now, Ben Arzate has only written shorter works of fiction and poetry. Now, his first novella-length work has been unleashed into the wilds of the small press scene. Although still rather short, The Story of the Y is written in a minimalistic, to-the-point way that makes it play out like a full-length, road trip comedy movie.

The Story of the Y will touch the hearts of all those who have ever collected stuff…in particular, rare/obscure stuff. In this book’s case, there is an album by one Y. Bhekhirst. Said album and artist are actually real…and completely unknown/obscure…but the book’s plot is a fictionalized account of a music writer setting out on an adventure in hopes of interviewing the “real” Y. Bhekhirst.

If that brief synopsis doesn’t make you want to read the book, then you’re probably lame.

The “adventure of the open road” aspect is where The Story of the Y shines, because the road in this case is surreal. Literally anything can happen in this bizarro sort of world, so you never know what to expect. Strangeness is thrown at you a mile a minute…yes, that was a road trip pun…but none of it ever feels annoying or tacky.

Instead, the effect makes you think you’re watching one of those trippy ass cartoons from the late 90s or early 2000s. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson also came to mind, and not just because someone mentioned it in one of the books’ blurbs.

The action, comedy, and forward-moving momentum all conspire to make it hard to stop reading The Story of the Y. I, for one, finished in two sittings (which is saying something because I started it late at night while already running on little sleep).

The characters were another strong point for this book. They were just as funny and memorable as the surreal aspects of the plot. There’s a ghost trapped in a record (my favorite character), a lovable conman/small-time drug dealer dude with a lobster claw for a hand, a couple anarchists, etc.

Some of the prose was a little deadpan (and, as mentioned before, minimalistic) in terms of dialogue, action, etc., but that isn’t necessarily a complaint considering it was a stylistic choice on Arzate’s part.

Overall, the book was a fun, short read that had the same effect on me that most of Arzate’s stories have: they make me want to stay in the universe longer. This one, in particular, could lay the groundwork for a surreal universe of books; we’ll have to wait and see. The characters and situations are interesting and unique enough to easily offer up more material.

Another thing I feel I should note is that Arzate walks the line between seriousness and silliness. Everything going on is insane, yet it’s all believable, compelling, and entertaining. In other words, he’s not writing for gags despite the silly aspects (I, of course, don’t use the word “silly” in a derogatory sense).

I give The Story of the Y 4/5 stars. I’m eager to read more of Arzate’s lengthier work.

Not So Worthless, Not So Reclusive: On Jandek

by Ben Arzate

In 1978, a mysterious album called Ready for the House, credited to The Units, was released by a new record label calling itself Corwood Industries. The front cover was a poorly lit picture of a brightly decorated room with no text on the front. Despite the name implying a band, the album was clearly done by one guy with a guitar.

Everything about the album was strange and off-putting; from its oddly mundane cover, to its lo-fi sound, to the seemingly out-of-tune guitar playing, to the strained singing of abstract lyrics. Even its final song, the most conventional sounding one on the album, cuts off in the middle of a verse.

The music could probably be best described as about what The Residents doing their own version of Nick Drake’s Pink Moon album would sound like. All the songs are a simple acoustic guitar and voice arrangement, except for the last song “European Jewel,” which uses an electric guitar.

It’s little wonder the album only sold two copies between the years 1978 to 1980 according to a representative from Corwood Industries. It did, however, catch the attention of another band called The Units who sent Corwood a cease and desist. After that, the first album was reissued with a new band name. It and all subsequent albums from Corwood are now credited to Jandek.

Eventually, radio DJ, music journalist, and outsider music connoisseur Irwin Chusid discovered the album. He wrote to Corwood Industries and received a phone call from the representative, Sterling Smith, shortly after. Smith was reluctant to talk about his personal life or even to refer to himself as Jandek. The advice and encouragement Smith received from Chusid was apparently enough to continue the Jandek project. Corwood released the second album, Six and Six, in 1981 and has been regularly putting out albums since.

Sterling Smith has continued to be very protective of his privacy and little is known about his personal life. For the longest time, he avoided interviews, though a few “off the record” ones ended up being made public. In some of these he revealed things like that his guitar tunings were intentional and it was tuned specifically for each song, contrary to the rumor that he didn’t know how to tune a guitar. He also revealed that name “Jandek” came from having a phone conversation with someone named Decker while he looked at a calendar in the month of January.

The music of Jandek has evolved over the many releases, adding drums and bass and sometimes going in radically different directions. Given how radically different the music already is, that’s really saying something. One example of this is his trilogy of a capella/spoken word albums, Put My Dream on This Planet, This Narrow Road, and Worthless Recluse, released between 2000 and 2001. I won’t lie, I haven’t been able to get through any of these albums despite some of the very poetic turns of phrase. Another example is The Song of Morgan released in 2013. This is a nine CD set with over nine hours of solo piano music.

However, not all Jandek’s work is difficult or inaccessible. For example, 2012’s Maze of the Phantom is a soothing, vaguely Eastern inspired album that fans of ambient music will certainly enjoy. 1982’s Chair Beside a Window, while still pretty erratic, is like a more lo-fi version of an early Velvet Underground album from the gentle and beautiful song “Nancy Sings” (one of the few times a guest artist is credited) to the pounding, angry version of “European Jewel,” which starts off where the incomplete version from Ready for the House cut off.

Jandek has become less reclusive over the years as well. While they still keep to themselves in regard to their personal life, they began making live appearances, the first being at a music festival in Glasglow, Scotland in 2004. Since then, they’ve done regular live performances as well as recorded live albums and DVDs. In fact, since 2014, all Jandek’s releases have been live albums and DVDs. They even starred in a short film which aired on PBS in 2014, credited as The Representative.

Jandek really is in a class of their own. Even as weird as many of their releases are, there’s an obvious passion and care put into all of it, they’ve gone through many creative phases, and there’s nearly nothing else that sounds like them. They’ve been putting out music for over 40 years and they don’t show any sign of stopping anytime soon. I eagerly anticipate seeing the direction Corwood Industries will take after the current live performance phase.

Watch Out for the Hallway by Tonya and Joey Madia – Book Review

by Zakary McGaha

[Note: I need to start this review by touching on the frequent reference of my own paranormal encounters. I am, in no way, laying my experiences down as trump cards for those who don’t believe. I don’t distrust myself…what happened to me happened…but I’m open to the possibility that my age played a part in some of my early experiences. Logic leads me to believe that the house I lived in as a young’un was haunted since the experiences, which were quite intense and terrifying, stopped after my family moved (ironically, to a house where someone actually died). I’ve had subsequent encounters, some of them while ghost hunting, but none of them have been as horrifying. I’m not going to list them or anything, since this is a damn book review; I figured I would simply touch on my frequent allusions, since my own experiences influence my reading of the book.]

Ghost stories and supernatural discussions are simply entertaining. But they’re not simple. In fact, the topic can get very complex; philosophy plays a heavy part. For those of us who have been graced with genuine, unexplainable encounters, the topic plays out on a human-to-human basis: it’s a topic you discuss with REAL people who aren’t afraid of having their academic integrity shattered.

Ours in an age in which materialism and industrialization go hand in hand. Religion and spiritual topics seem to be fading into the past. It’s no surprise, though, that paranormal happenings have become enormously popular topics in entertainment. Since spirituality is draining out of our lives like blood from a machine-fucked factory worker, it makes since that the population would try to stop the leak by following the path of least resistance: watching TV!

Ghost-hunting “reality” shows have always attracted me. The main reason for this is that I’m both naturally curious and naturally drawn to dark, spooky things, but the fact that I’ve had frightening, paranormal experiences since an early age probably influences my fascination as well.

While I like the entertainment these shows provide, I can’t help but feel saddened by the fact that our society HAS to attach “science” to the topic. Like, seriously: if there are ghosts and spirits running (floating?) around the world, what makes anyone think “science” is going to help them understand the fuckers? By definition, they exist outside of science: it’s a case of “consciousness” surviving the death of the body.

But I digress. Luckily for me, Joey and Tonya Madia digress as well. One of the first topics they discuss in Watch Out for the Hallway is the world of ghost shows. They discuss the two types: ghost-hunting shows like Ghost Adventures and story-driven, eyewitness-interview fests like My Ghost Story…(which just so happens to be my favorite television program ever, after SpongeBob SquarePants). Although they come to a similar conclusion I do…Joey discusses his love of using story arcs to attack the philosophy of the paranormal, considering the fact that our very lives are stories we tell and re-tell ourselves in our minds…they realize that physical manifestations can be recorded, and can even act as modes of communication.

HOWEVER, they agree that relying on “science” and “technology” in this respect is sure to lead to disappointment: who says ghosts are going to perform for your finicky little gadgets? If I was a ghost, I sure wouldn’t: I’d be a dick. However, if some investigator flattered me and brought me some roses, I might be willing to give ‘em something.

It’s this approach that Joey and Tonya use in their investigations. They’re not strutting around like frat boys trying to punk out ghosts who may or may not be there. Instead, they’re using intuition, psychic abilities, and genuine, normal attempts at communication to elicit responses. And boy, does it provide some interesting material in the way of EVPs.

Although the main topic of discussion in Watch Out for the Hallway is the couple’s two-year long investigation of the Webb Memorial Library in Morehead City, North Carolina, a subtext running throughout is how deeply paranormal happenings can impact your outlook on life. In fact, my favorite parts of the book involved stories that weren’t related to the main topic. Some people, it seems, have a tendency to experience this sort of thing more than your average joe…or, perhaps your average joe is simply prone to shrug off said experiences.

Nevertheless, documenting experiences…the couple obviously keeps a record of the stuff that happens to them while ghost hunting and not…provides for some highly engrossing reading material that, when added together, shows you that life is a lot more magical and meaningful than your boss at the local office compound would lead you to believe.

Now, as for the meat of this book: it’s more than intriguing. Two years’ worth of serious paranormal investigating at the same place can add up to a lot of material. Everything from EVPs (ghost voices caught on tape, for the few out there who don’t know that) to guest testimonials are compiled for your reading pleasure.

There’s a profoundly human aspect the ghosts at the Webb had that I found to be both chilling and beautiful. Many of them displayed the moods we all go through on a day-to-day basis…some days, we’re happy and jovial, other days we’re don’t-look-at-me bastards…and others appeared to be consistent jokesters. Many of the ghosts were referred to by the authors as “characters,” which is an interesting take: the spirits aren’t mere attractions or pawns that are supposed to provide chills and thrills to dull-minded hucksters; instead, they’re complex…albeit mysterious…beings that deserve respect.

Other entities were mentioned in this book, such as “interdimensionals” and “men in black.” One of the greatest paranormal books ever written…The Mothman Prophecies by John Keel, which deals with the possibility that a lot of paranormal entities, from ghosts to mothmen to aliens, may be things that are trying to trick us into believing they’re something they’re not…is referenced a couple times, which only deepens the mystery of the Webb and the paranormal world in general.

All in all, if you’re a paranormal enthusiast, you can’t go wrong with this book. It’s got everything you’d want. However, you don’t have to be “in the know” on anything to thoroughly enjoy it. It’s a well-written, entertaining read that’s sure to keep you up at night. Plus, it got a fucking blurb from Nick Redfern.