Reading Charles Austin Muir’s collection is like watching ten movies at the same time yet understanding every word spoken. His writing abounds in film references. These are his secret, his genius, though a little shocking at first. Once you acclimate, they can be more vivid than any metaphor.
He possesses a unique voice. Read a passage and you know it’s him. He is not limited, however, to one style. With a flip of a switch, he can become a bombastic cult leader or an overblown belletrist. At times, it feels like an anthology of different writers, held together by the thread that is Muir.
In many stories, he serves as his own protagonist (or at least a character), mixing the autobiographical with the preposterous. He grounds these stories in the real world before letting them go batshit crazy, making you say, “That didn’t really happen, did it? No, it can’t be. Right? There were no gigantic rabbits plaguing Portland, right?”
He has honed his craft since his first collection Bodybuilding Spider Rangers. Comparing the two books, Muir’s prose has become tighter, crisper, his plots more focused. What the previous book lacked, This is a Horror Book has in spades.
In the titular story, Muir (the character) finds an ancient book outside a convenience store. Along with his drunken friend Jay, they summon creatures of horror throughout cinema. This is another of his stories that seem so real until the Scream villain leaps out of the aquarium.
The collection continues with my favorite: “Skype Me at the Public Library,” a ridiculously fun story about misbehavior at the library. As an added Easter egg, he uses the names of fellow bizarro authors for characters and places.
“Catch You on the Flip Side” and “O Mother Goddess” depart from his usual style, only to make a full circuit back to “Raekwonomicon.” This latter story is beyond ridiculous, and though I wasn’t entirely sure what was happening, I knew I liked it.
“The Haddonfield Hit Squad” taps into the greatest source of the surreal: dreams. Unfortunately, it read with the same chaos of a dream, the references piled on so heavily that it could not fully be enjoyed.
It concludes with “Chaos Magick for Scumbags,” a second person narrative, which pulls you in until you become the same insecure, dark-magic-wielding, chip-on-the-shoulder celebrity writer as the main character.
Muir isn’t for the faint of heart. His writing can be jarring to the uninitiated. But once that hurdle has been crossed, it is a wealth of humor, emotion, horror, and above all, fun.
You can find This is a Horror Book here.