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.

Sparky the Spunky Robot by Dani Brown – Book Review


by Ben Arzate

Matthew was once a keytar player for a synthpop band. After he got his girlfriend Karen pregnant, he was forced to marry her, get an office job, and move to Suburban Hell.

He keeps his keytar, as much as Karen wants him to get rid of it, and jerks off over it in his shed, imagining what could have been. To keep from damaging the keytar, he built a small robot called Sparky to dump his cum into. What he doesn’t know is that all the cum he fills Sparky with has brought it alive and Sparky wants nothing more than a voice to be able to speak.

“Sparky wanted her parts. Sparky wanted Papa to view him as something more than a jizz deposit box. If he took the keytar parts to have a voice, Papa would never forgive him.”

Dani Brown aka The Queen of Filth’s Sparky the Spunky Robot is a Bizarro comedy fable. It features plenty of gross-out humor with Sparky leaking cum all over suburbia as he journeys out for a voice. The contempt for modern suburban living is obvious as well.

The main critique here is against the idea that one must put one’s dreams away forever to become a “respectable” member of society and raise a family. It’s a skewering of the American dream (although Dani Brown lives in the UK) that’s been done before, but the take on it here is a lot of fun.

The plot has Sparky visiting the sheds in the houses around Suburban Hell and discovering the dreams and hobbies the people in the town have tucked away. He sees other failed musicians as well as artists, ghost hunters, taxidermists, and even another semen-powered robot named Sandy.

Sandy, however, has much darker ambitions than Sparky. This leads to friction between the two that eventually brings everything to a head when Sandy gets into Matthew and Karen’s house.

The prose reads like that of a book aimed at young readers, simple and direct. The book is even packaged like one with its colorful cover and silly title. It belies the contents full of jokes about Matthew’s giant ballsack, Karen’s numerous dildos, and spiders eating cum off the floor. It reminds me of the “children’s books for adults” that Carlton Mellick III has done.

I do find the way Matthew and Karen develop through the book somewhat lacking. Karen is too simplistically antagonistic to Matthew’s dreams of being a musician and comes across as a one-dimensional nagging wife. Likewise, Matthew’s change from henpecked husband to being able to stand up for himself comes a bit too suddenly. The story would have benefited from fleshing them out more.

Despite that, Sparky the Spunky Robot remains an entertaining Bizarro fairy tale. If you like weird, gross-out humor, this is well worth a read.

Cherry Blossom Eyes by S.T. Cartledge – Book Review

Review by Ben Arzate

The Isle of Flowers is covered with cherry blossom trees, the primary resource of its inhabitants. Every winter, or “the Cold” as they call it, freezing lotus flowers bloom, requiring them to burn the trees for warmth. The trees, however, are starting to thin out. What’s worse, sea creatures called “tourists” with the ability to mimic the look of anything often come on to the island to kill the inhabitants and take their place. When Blanko and Margot begin to suspect that Margot’s mother has been replaced by a tourist, it leads them on a quest to learn the truth and find Margot’s real mother.

The sun came up a cherry blossom and burst its rose gold light into the sky. Its scent was pure and fresh, its petals flickered playfully in the cosmic wind and cast the light dancing down upon the Isle of Flowers.”

If I had to describe Cherry Blossom Eyes in a single sentence, I would say that it reads a lot like what would happen if Richard Brautigan wrote a horror novel. The setting is colorful and fantastic, yet the people who reside in it feel very much like real people. Cartledge creates an atmosphere of paranoia with the story of people being replaced by the tourist sea creatures. The Isle of Flowers is an almost-paradise seemingly ruined by outside malevolent forces.

We quickly see how afraid the residents of the Isle of Flowers are of the tourists. A large part of their society revolves around keeping them off the island and they’re very quick to accuse each other of being tourists when they act off in any way. Cartledge naming the creatures “tourists” is an interesting choice. Most obviously, it’s a reference to the hate and fear of outsiders by the locals of the Isle of Flowers. In regards to their shape-shifting abilities, it makes reference to them being the temporary inhabitants of a form which is not their own. There is also an intense irony in the creatures being called tourists when their true nature is revealed.

The most impressive thing about Cherry Blossom Eyes to me is how it combines its colorful prose with a gripping, page-turning story. I often found myself conflicted between wanting to read slowly to absorb the descriptions of the island and wanting to read through it fast to find out what happens next. The opening drew me in with a beautiful description of the island, its inhabitants, and their rituals—a misleadingly tranquil scene that sets things in motion very well.

I called this a horror novel, but I wouldn’t say that’s entirely accurate. Paranoia is a heavy theme in the book and the transforming tourist monsters come across as horrifying initially, but there is much more going on here. Besides the obvious surrealist setting, there’s a heavy coming-of-age aspect as Blanko reflects on his past growing up on the island and learning things he never knew about before. As with most “bizarro” books, this one does not fit neatly into any one genre.

Cherry Blossom Eyes is a beautifully written, gripping book. S.T Cartledge creates a unique setting and uses it to an excellent effect. This is easily one of the best bizarro books I’ve read recently and I highly recommend it.

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