Summer’s here! Or almost here. Being trapped inside during this quarantine has allowed me to read oodles of great bizarro and bizarro-adjacent fiction. I had trouble limiting the list to only five books, so here are the top seven.
NOTE: These are books I’ve read in spring of 2020, not necessarily ones that were released in that time.
1. Lake of Urine: A Love Story by Guillermo Stitch
If you follow my blog, I made a big hubbub about this book and rightly so. I called it “my favorite modern bizarre book” and I stand by that. It tells the loony saga of the Wakeling family, set in a world of brilliant contradictions. Creativity oozes from this book like pus from a swollen carbuncle. As I said in my review, this is the type of book that I adore: intelligent, whimsically hilarious, and unapologetically bizarre. Read. This. Book.
You can find my review of Lake of Urine here.
2. Villa Incognito by Tom Robbins
This is the second book by Robbins I’ve read and it will certainly not be the last. This beautifully weird novel, set mainly in Laos, tells the story of three MIAs in hiding since the Vietnam War. When one gets caught for smuggling heroin, their incognito existence threatens to fall apart. Intertwined in all this is the legend of the Japanese spirit animal Tanuki and the legacy of his half-human offspring. It is hard to do this book justice in a short synopsis. It is complex yet readable, intelligent yet fun. Robbins’s greatest gift, however, is his figurative language, including some of my favorite metaphors and similes I’ve found in literature, bizarre or not.
3. Cherry Blossom Eyes by S.T. Cartledge
There is no better way to describe the work of Cartledge than “dreamscapes,” surreal worlds crafted with poetic prose that seem to float. His latest installment is a young adult bizarro novel set on the Isle of Flowers. The inhabitants of this peaceful island have grown paranoid about “tourists”—the shapeshifters that haunt its shores. It is a story of friendship and identity, and though not the type of book I normally go for, Cartledge’s incredible talent earned it the number 3 spot on this list.
You can find my review of Cherry Blossom Eyes here.
4. Cyberpunk Zombie Jihad by Mark Zirbel
Though I prefer long fiction to short stories, Zirbel’s transgressive-bizarro-noir-dystopian-cyberpunk collection was one of my favorite reading experiences of the year. All set in the same twisted future, it feels like a novel from many points-of-view. Here we find Frankenstein’s monster wandering a post-fallout desert, teenage Nazi cannibals, and a plethora of mutants. These bizarre elements are fused with genuine high-tech/low-life sci-fi, not far from the work of William Gibson. And through all the insanity, I never once said, “I don’t believe it.”
You can find my review of Cyberpunk Zombie Jihad here.
5. Terror Mannequin by Douglas Hackle
You can describe Douglas Hackle’s latest novel with the hyphenate bizarro-absurdist-horror-comedy, filled to the brim with his trademark “silliness.” This is a book I enjoyed at the beginning, adored in the middle, and was disappointed by the ending. Still, it easily makes this list as that middle part is just that good. It is the story of Glont Lamont and his two pariah “nephews” Tom Two and the Membrane as they reverse trick-or-treat through a town that hates them. It is the only book where I’ve laughed as someone was being eviscerated. That should give you a hint of what this zany novel is like.
You can find my review of Terror Mannequin here.
6. Jimbo Yojimbo by David W. Barbee
No one writes like David Barbee—truly a genre of his own. He goes all out in this tale of redneck samurai, fast food gods, mutants, and lots and lots of frogs. It combines his Southern influence with Japanese culture and a whole lot of post-apocalyptic craziness. Like his past work, it is the perfect marriage of the silly and the cerebral, a page-turner that immerses you in his bizarre world from cover to cover. If you want to be entertained and crave the exciting, the weird, and absolute fun, this novella is for you.
7. Boy With the Chainsaw Heart by Carlton Mellick III
If you read my blog post three weeks ago, you know I am on a mission to read every Carlton Mellick book out there. This novella has only encouraged me to keep going. Though I find stories set in Hell to be overdone, Mellick breathes new life into this trite trope. He depicts the afterlife as a battleground, one that Heaven dominates. Our protagonist Mark—recently arrived in Hell—must pilot a living demonic mech and fight off the legions of mechanical angels. While not the most erudite book on this list, it is easily the most thrilling. Even as someone who is turned off by “fight scenes,” I found myself glued to the page from cover to cover.