Kindle Crack: Thomas Bernhard, László Krasznahorkai, Richard Brautigan, and More!

Thomas Bernhard is easily one of my top twenty favorite novelists. The Loser was magnificent, and I’m quick to snatch up anything else by him as soon as it goes on sale (yes, I’m forever the penny-pincher, even when it comes to my favorite authors). I’m pretty sure you won’t be disappointed with Bernhard’s darkly introspective narrative.

Richard Brautigan is one of those highly individual yet sadly overlooked voices in American fiction. He was once considered the literary voice of the sixties; now, you’ll hardly ever hear him mentioned. Trout Fishing in America is an electrifyingly weird romp that absolutely deserves a read. Get this sharp, unsettling, and goddamned hilarious book while it’s going for practically nothing!

László Krasznahorkai is a god. Seriously. I haven’t read anything by him that isn’t absolutely stunning. This twisted and suffocating tale of strange happenings in a small town is certainly worth your time, as long as you want to spend it on an insidiously frightening and wildly imaginative read. For the price, you simply can’t afford to pass this up.

I haven’t read this, but it sounds fantastic. Here’s a description on Amazon: “Set during the advent of perestroika, a surreal, satirical novella by a critically acclaimed young Russian writer traces the fate of the passengers on The Yellow Arrow, a long-distance Russian train headed for a ruined bridge, a train without an end or a beginning–and it makes no stops. Andrei, the mystic passenger, less and less lulled by the never-ending sound of the wheels, has begun to look for a way to get off.” Interesting, huh? This book simply promises to be amazing.

Yes, I realize that Courses in English Literature doesn’t count as “weird fiction,” but a little variety in your Kindle library certainly won’t hurt. Besides, this isn’t just a book about literature; it’s a book on literature by George Luis Borges, one of the greatest and weirdest writers of all time. Even better, it costs almost nothing right now. There’s really no excuse to pass this up.

Speaking of “not being weird fiction,” this one isn’t either. But Kindle Crack will remain steadfastly dedicated to promoting the work of Clarice Lispector, so just deal with it. Lispector didn’t only write fiction, as you may know. Selected Cronicas is a collection of her journalistic work, and it’s every bit as delightful as her fiction. This is definitely a must-have for fans of Lispector’s work.

And lastly, we return to one of our usual suspects. If you keep up with Kindle Crack at all, I’m pretty sure you already have this. If you don’t own this book and call yourself a weird fiction lover, here’s a perfect chance to quietly sneak in and add it to your library before anyone notices it’s missing. It’ll hardly even put a dent in your bank statement. Seriously. You should own this already.

Justin A. Burnett

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Zebra Summer Item #2—Deadly Nature by V.M. Thompson

Book Review by Zakary McGaha

In Zebra Summer, Zakary McGaha (author of Locker Arms and Soothing the Savage Swamp Beast), chronicles a very specific portion of his summer reading schedule: horror novels published by Zebra Books.

For my second installment of Zebra Summer, I’m going to be discussing a book that, for the most part, I’ve already forgotten.

That’s not to say that it was a bad novel…there was just too much meaningless stuff thrown around the story. For me to say that is weird, however. I love flowery writing; I love detail; I HATE minimalism, except in rare cases.

I’m a Faulkner type of dude, as opposed to a Hemingway one.

Anyway, Deadly Nature by V.M. Thompson, who wrote a total of four books for Zebra (with the last two under the pseudonym T.J. Kirby) is a novel that has a lot of great things going for it, but it’s simply too long.

Once, in high school, I attempted to read this sucker, but ended up trading it in before finishing it. Flash forward to now, and I managed to get…and I’m ninety-nine percent sure of this…the SAME copy back from the same bookstore.

I couldn’t stay away from it. The qualities in it that are good drew me back.

Upon finishing it, I was actually satisfied. It’s flawed in many ways, but it’s fits the so-bad-it’s-good cliché to a tee…except for the fact that it takes a lot of time to get through.

I found myself not wanting to read it while I was reading it, and that’s because so much time is spent on Leave it to Beaver shit: this novel has sentimentality oozing from every page (even the ones where mutant animals are attacking people).

Small-town horror isn’t for everyone, because, in a lot of ways, it isn’t realistic. But, in another way, that draws people to it. The quaintness of the lives of the simple, small-town characters that populate these types of novels make for either: a). a cozy reading experience, or b). a fucking boring one. I’ve experienced both within this subgenre, and, as you’ve probably guessed, I’d say Deadly Nature falls into the latter category, although it has some shining moments.

Without spoiling anything, I will say that the “quaintness” of these characters’ lives definitely doesn’t prepare them for the horror that awaits them, but to say V.M. Thompson overdid it would be an understatement. You could easily excise every quaint passage from this book, and you’d have a whole novel, albeit a boring one, with the rest left over as a short story.

The “scary” parts of this novel are pretty good, although for a long time they’re underplayed, but this didn’t necessarily bother me. I love extreme horror, but I also love quiet horror. I’ve read novels with a lot less “action” than Deadly Nature and have loved them, because their other, more cognitive qualities superseded anything that mere “action” could have achieved. The problem, then, with Deadly Nature, is that there simply isn’t anything else to sink your canines into.

Deadly Nature is a novel full of fluff, in other words. Too much of nothing is going on. The small themes that do exist (Them sceintists better not mess with nature, because they might create somethin’ that they don’t want and that’s evil) would have been fine, had the story been fun, but it’s too bogged down with, as mentioned, nothing.

That’s not to say that the novel is unreadable, though. It simply takes patience. When things do get going, they get going pretty heavily. The good stuff that is there makes me want to read this author’s other stuff. This is the first novel V.M. Thompson published, so I’m sure there’s some improvement to be seen.

2.5/5 stars.

Be sure to check back for the next installment. You can’t talk about Zebra without discussing Ruby Jean Jensen! Stay tuned…

Zebra Summer—Item #1: Runaway by Stephen Gresham

In Zebra Summer, Zakary McGaha (author of Locker Arms and Soothing the Savage Swamp Beast) chronicles a very specific portion of his summer reading schedule: horror novels published by Zebra Books.

Most people don’t need to be introduced to Zebra Books as they’ve already been familiarized with them through Paperbacks From Hell, Will Erickson’s blog, etc. Zebra is the publisher with all the skeletons on their covers; Zebra is the 80s horror boom all rolled up into one publisher: a ton of so-so books with GREAT covers, mixed in with a few literary treasures. If you’re looking to be dazzled by importance, don’t read Zebra novels. Only read them if you want: a) a trashy horror fix, b) an authentic 80s or early 90s fix, and/or c) both.

I’ve been collecting Zebra novels since high school, so it was slightly before everyone jumped on the nostalgia bandwagon. Therefore, I bought most of them before they became expensive collector’s items.

Without a doubt, I have more Zebra-specific books in my library than books from any other publisher, however I haven’t read most of them. The fact of the matter is, I can’t read too many at one time. They just aren’t good: they’re uniformly written at a level that can only be described as in between adult and YA. My theory is that most Zebra authors were either pressured to write for kids just as much as adults, or Zebra’s editors had multiple field days.

Despite what I just said, Zebra novels are very charming when they’re read in the right light…preferably a soft orange or yellow (none of that harsh, white fluorescent shit). They’re also charming if you read them while in a sentimental frame of mind. Cozy small towns? Check. Old cars? Check. Antiques? On more than one occasion. Think of the Thorn trilogy in the Halloween franchise. That’s what Zebra books mean to me.

This summer, I happen to be in a very sentimental frame of mind, so I’m gonna read a ton of these forgotten, oftentimes bastardized (written for moolah) books.

First up is Runaway by Stephen Gresham.

Gresham is an author I’ve always enjoyed; I also think he’s been unfairly shat on, although, like every writer, some of his books are better than others. Runaway, to my delight, was one of his better ones.

This one centers on a young, rich lad who runs away from his upscale, beach town life because his parents are career-obsessed, money-grubbing scoundrels…which is how most people in the 80s were, if I’m to believe everything I’ve read.

In ‘Texas Chainsaw’ fashion, he winds up with a family…of sorts…that is comprised entirely of whackos, save for all the other runaways like him.

Said family is actually a shelter for homeless kids, and it’s run by religious nutjobs who are somewhat, and this isn’t a spoiler, manipulated by dark, supernatural forces as well as the usual human vice of power-lust.

Pretty much every character in this book was compelling; I wanted to keep reading about all of them…especially the runaways who are put in some pretty dire situations.

Runaway takes your typical “child in peril” Zebra plot and amps it up quite a bit. Usually, Ruby Jean Jensen is the one putting kids through the wringer, but damn! Gresham gives her a run for her money with this ‘un.

In most cases, I finish Zebra novels at a sluggish pace, because that’s how they’re written. But I finished this one in good time, despite its above average length for a Zebra book.

Do yourself a favor and pick this novel up. Sadly, there’s never a knife-wielding skeleton emerging for a gingerbread house between the covers of Runaway, but that hardly matters because what is between the covers is pretty awesome.

I would also like to take a second to recommend my favorite book by Stephen Gresham, Rockabye Baby. It, along with several of Gresham’s novels, has been re-released in ebook form.

For my next installment of Zebra Summer, I will review Deadly Nature by V.M. Thompson.