Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the forthcoming novel Here Is How It Happens (Ampersand Books, 2012). A regular reviewer for Rain Taxi Review of Books, Dew is the author of Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, 2010), and the critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2011). His Web site is spencerdew.com.
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Kelly’s book is patterned off Tales from the Crypt and the various horror comic titles that preceded it, right down to the host appearing in humorous interludes between stories, or, in this case, a series of competing hosts, a talking skeleton, a sexy zombie, a werewolf who howls his way through sentences. It’s a funny book, funniest at its most nightmarish: the last man alive, in a world of women, becomes an object of ridicule and then medical experimentation; in a world where the passing of bodily wastes has been eliminated as a physical need, people attend art galleries where they experience the simulation of the passing of feces in an installation designed to look and smell like the bathrooms that no longer exist; having applied too much of a love potion to his body, a man in search of sex witnesses, before he fades away, a woman holding his intestines and “flossing her vagina with them, getting blood all over her jeans. And in spite of myself I’m kind of flattered she’s climaxing with my intestines.”
But as swift and comic as Kelly’s writing can be—a stalker of a superhero soliloquizes, “I want to protect her from harm. I want to fuck her blind. I want to just sit on a porch swing with her, the sound of cicadas, we’re splitting a bottle of Spanish red wine. I want to just kiss her eyelids and talk all night, enjoying her company and my own frustrated erection. I want to come on her back. I want to pick up her dry cleaning,” etc.—he’s at his strongest when he’s playing it straight and particularly moving when he uses the conceits of science fiction and fantasy to allow for a mournful nostalgic reflection on small aspects of the day-to-day world. If, for instance, all bodily elimination were eliminated, wouldn’t people miss it? “To just pull out my dick for a moment of intimate nudity in the middle of the day? A quick spread of the ass cheeks on the porcelain for old times’ sakes, a bit of hairy animal rawness tucked away from the outer office beige banality? A place to grunt instead of discuss P13 reports? Some brief escape?” These are the thoughts of one narrator, just as another, living in a world of virtual reality entertainment, looks back on the entertainments of generations past—movies are “as dead as vaudeville. It reminded me of reading how, before the advent of fast photography, there was a profession called sports illustrator—people who would illustrate key moments of a sports event for newspapers. (Ah, newspapers.)”—and, moreover, of the simply titillations lost to the ubiquity of new technology:
Another memory: calling a girl you liked and then hanging up in mortal fear. This was before caller ID, e-mail, vid chat, psychic telesonar message. You would just do it to hear her hello, and hang up, and then you would fall into the sound of her voice for a while, and just that hello would be enough, enough running around room for your heart to play in for a while, with its hopes and anticipations.
This is a beautiful moment in a cartoony whirlwind of a book, a tender strand amidst all the hyperbolic catastrophe. A plane full of cheerleaders crashes, a cop get knocked into a volcano, a skeleton man explodes out of the book you are reading and offers commentary on why short story collections are so emotionally unsatisfying, but, contrary to that argument and, perhaps, to all expectations based on the subject of these stories or the title of the book, there is, in fact, some real emotion here, a human pathos which undergirds the grotesque carnival. It’s as if the Crypt Keeper were to reach out, through the screen, and tell you one true thing, then crack a joke and segue back to the next segment, on something like slicing and splicing, via a worn but still witty pun.
Official Casper Kelly Web Site
Official Fried Society Press Web Site