Saturday, 31 March 2012

My Month in Books, Part Two (Mar)

11. Robert Coover — Gerald’s Party

This is the sort of book people write drooling dribbling cock-tugging theses about—the multifariousness of its structure and tropes and voices is denser than a chocolate-and-toffee car park cake (a cake the size of an actual car park). I toggled between three and four stars because I was with then not-with then with then not-with the novel about nine times per page, lapsing from amusement into rage, from rage into arousal, from arousal into boredom, from boredom into amazement, from amazement into suicidal thoughts . . . and on and on. The US edition has a cover showing a Roman bacchanalia—this is more apposite a whetter than “dinner party from hell” (unless taken literally), or nihilistic postmodern romp, though both those elements are dominant. Basically, Ros is a slutty actress who is found dead at a dinner party which is happening in a house somewhere, and some characters respond normally (wailing and such), while others behave like psychotics, perverts, unhinged nutballs, and bad comedians, and abuse her corpse with emphasis on the crotch. Gerald spends his time wiping arses, placating his ill-placed son, and trying to screw Alison while a range of drunken voices twit around him and pull the narrative over here, over here, over here, and over here, then back here, then over here, then oh look someone’s been shot in the head oh well better have sex with this teenage whore and get stuck in her vagina, then over here, then over here into a marsh of tagless dialogue running for twenty pages or so, then into another farcical sex scene of questionable morality. I think I started out trying to praise this novel. Well, don’t read it unless you’re familiar with plotless formless hardcore PoMo antinovels that demand dissection. Otherwise, the comedic set-pieces and exhausting pace, the blurred distinction between theatre and reality, truth and exaggeration . . . all interesting nooks of interest for the avant-garde bookman.

12. Review of Contemporary Fiction: Fall 2011: Flann O’Brien: Centenary Essays

A little disappointed with this issue—thirteen academic papers on Flann O’Brien’s output, with emphasis on The Third Policeman. If you’re an O’Brien scholar this collection is a wet-dream of diverse analysis and competent theorising about the complexities of O’Brien’s dreamworlds. For me, these pieces sap some of the fun out of reading Flann. In particular, some of the multiple readings of TTP verge on the ridiculous—TTP as science-fiction or as a Thomist vision of Hell or as a pataphysical fiction. These are all plausible, but come on! Do we need all these rather dry, scholarly papers on Flann to appreciate his hilariously convoluted headaches, his wild and brain-fuddling columns, or his drink-sodden last few attempts at the novel? This lad says no, not really. The Sorrentino issue balanced the scholarly papers with biographical detail and more engaging discourse on his novel Mulligan Stew—this one misses a similar trick, despite the rambling speech from Aidan Higgins that opens the collection. Meh.

13. Rikki Ducornet — The Stain

The novel is Ducornet’s perfect form. She started out as an illustrator and artist, branching into writing children’s books and short stories in the seventies. All these are grist to her magical mill, but the novel pulls her talent for visually descriptive, poetic language and postmodern fables together, and the awards have been flowing ever since. This is her debut novel, lauded by her spiritual mother Angela Carter, and tells a typically manic tale of punitive spinsters, perverse exorcists, religious and mythical lore, seedy sexuality, and hare-shaped birthmarks. All set in early 20thC France, but equally at home in the Middle Ages. As a debut it bursts with a loopy energy, entangling itself in its many imaginative digressions, but the plot is held together by Charlotte, the abused girl at the heart of the piece. Her quest is never really obvious other than to escape her bitchhead auntie, but that seems as good a catalyst as any. Manipulative, manic, mental. This is a fitting read for my 100th Dalkey Archive book!

14. Hubert Selby Jr. — Requiem For a Dream

Selby’s novels are transgressive masterpieces with a bigness of heart and a strange, spiritual tenderness. The epigraph to this book alludes to Selby’s faith (in God) and I can see him writing about these doomed dope fiends with the compassion of a pastor tending to his flock. This heartbreaking novel follows the decline of four distinct Americans—young working-class white male Jew, young middle-class white female Jew, young working-class black non-Jew, and elderly widow. All four are addicts through their emotional disconnectedness, or more likely, failure with their parents and sons, though more likely because heroin is sweeeeet. Selby’s style is a rush of exacting S-o-C sentences, staccato pops and blips, and more elegant art-patches whenever Marion is the focus. I would argue the descent happens a little briskly, especially Sara’s commitment to a psycho ward, and the subsequent brutality of doctors and police and nurses is a little quirk of Selby’s (the world outside his personnel’s bubble is a horrid brutalising place—maybe!), but it’s all good. This is a goddamn American classic. Now we live in an age where people will review your Kindle novel for five pounds. No wonder poppers are popular again.

15. John Updike Bech: A Book

Bech is an old-school American writer (i.e. sexist and racist) whose books have secured him a place in the pantheon of the greats. Ah, the days when we had pantheons! When writers had stature and respect and tabloid headlines, when adoring fans tore their knickers off over a potent metaphor or sly Greek allusion. Gone are the days! He travels the world being droll and patronising the locals for not speaking English, and looks at ladies’ ankles, thighs and calves a great deal before he sleeps with them. Oh, the writer’s life! Such toil and torment! Attached to these thin travelogues and anecdotal scenes are the usual lyrical gushings that made Updike such a honey in the New York scene—those long descriptive sentences that make critics say “master of the language” a great deal, but that in themselves don’t really say very much in particular. Still, Updike could have written a better sentence than the one I wrote there. And there. So he wins. Except I’m not dead. So maybe I win?

16. David Eagleman Sum: Forty Tales From the Afterlives

My favourite video game of all time is a homemade 2D platformer on the little-known Yaroze—a black, programmable Playstation—called Time Slip. In this game you are a snail with a one-minute lifespan who has to use his time on screen to stand on buttons that open doors to other parts of the level. Once the minute is up, the snail is reincarnated as another snail at the beginning of the level, or at the latest checkpoint. The ghost of your previous snail remains on the map, reliving its movements after its time is up, with more and more fresh snails coming until the map gets clogged up with past selves. If you come into contact with any of your previous snail-selves, it’s game over. This raises quite a profound metaphysical conundrum for a cheapo game coded by two nerds. Imagine if we had the chance to live our lives over, in the same circumstances, with knowledge of our previous selves altering how we moved through the world, but relying on certain foundations having been laid in these previous lives for advancement in our then-present lives. Like concentric Russian dolls whose contact would spell extinction.

Knowing we had freedom to live multiple, or endless lifetimes, with the only caveat no touching our previous selves, how would this effect how we try to solve the frustrations and problems in our present lives, knowing contact with people in our previous lives would be limited to the few moments our past selves weren’t in contact with these people? For example, can you imagine how tiring it must be for someone married to seven reincarnations of the same person, having to tend to all their needs like a revolving-door of husbands/wives? How could we stay away from people, knowing our presence there would increase the chance of our own death? How could we order our lives so that our legacies built up over two hundred or so years? What if we peaked in our first lives, and the subsequent reincarnations are simply failures and frustrations?

Not bad for a Yaroze game—normally it’s variations on Tetris or Space Invaders. These clever short fictions posit such conundrums about the afterlife, from ‘Sum,’ where all the aspects of our lives are arranged in order, i.e. ten years of pain, two weeks writing reviews on Goodreads, or ‘Reversal’ where we live our lives backwards upon death, realising we have misremembered our lives, and are unable to identify ourselves in the rewind. These two tales open and close the collection. Using his background in neuroscience, Eagleman pens delightful hypothetical fables, largely whimsical and ingenious. Daintily packaged and teasingly slim, so almost impossible to resist. I heard about this book via this Intelligence Squared talk with Will Self.

17. Henri Alain-Fournier The Lost Estate

Le Grand Meaulnes is supposed to be untranslatable, and this translation by French classics legend Robin Buss doesn’t convince me otherwise. The novel hinges upon the titular Meaulnes being such a charming force of character in a lower-class school, his name echoes down the ages and his antics and adventures make him a much-beloved geezer in the province. Doesn’t quite work. But the narrator François is certainly smitten and describes Meaulnes’s first love in fits of florid descriptive prose worthy of Huysmans. Alain-Fournier (who died in the First War after this was published) seeks to capture the end of adolescence in a wistful and romantic way, and many passages in this short-chapter novel succeed at creating a dreamy forgotten arcadian paradise that might raise a tear or two, depending how pleasant your past was. But the novel lacks cohesion or credible characters, so the end result is a hotchpotch of moments within a sentimental bildungsroman frame, with a lapse or two into melodrama.

18. Benjamin Constant The Red Notebook

A painfully brief semi-fictional autobiographical romp. I could have swallowed another two hundred pages of this tale, easily, but I only got sixty-five for my sins. Constant is a bumbler in this short one, messing up his attempts with ladies, racking up huge gambling debts and expecting his father to foot the bill. The typical chutzpah of an upper-class French aesthete. He takes trips to Edinburgh and London where he becomes a peripatetic bumbler, backsliding into poverty before his inevitable return to his father’s estate, where he bumbles the apology through his chronic shyness. Constant should have penned more fiction. Adolphe isn’t enough when the writing is this crisp and engaging. I docked a star for its shortness and its erratic non-structure.

19. Marguerite Duras The Lover

If you like lyrical romantic prose in staccato sentences, written in the literariest of all literary styles, this is the novella for you. If you don’t, this isn’t the novella for you. Me, I’ve read this story a million times before. Goodnight March.

Reason to Celebrate:

This month marks the completion of my 100th Dalkey Archive Press title. You won’t find this level of slavish devotion to an obscure American press on any other blog. Guaranteed. A gushing post is coming up.

Book of the Month:

Charles Dickens The Pickwick Papers

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

My Month in Books, Part One (Mar)

1. Gore Vidal — Two Sisters

From yesterday’s gore to today’s Gore, this delightful novel cured the heartsickness I felt at a certain French bile-maker. An extremely playful formal experiment mingled with exquisite high-class prose, Two Sisters describes an act of incest through a script set in Ancient Greece, a notebook by the perpetrator to his sister, and Mr. Vidal’s former lover’s confessions. Certain understandings about sexuality in the novel only make sense halfway through for those not versed in Vidal’s “we’re all bisexual” stance, but once the story takes flight, the faux-autobiographical style is a clever and effective technique. Vidal puts himself in the novel and riffs on his encounters with Tennessee Williams, Norman Mailer, and his refusal to script the movie version of Slaughterhouse V. It’s patchwork stuff, perhaps, but I was enthralled and tickled for the duration.

2. Jim Krusoe — Iceland

My first thought is of Jean-Philippe Toussaint’s infinitesimal novels and their arbitrary “and-then-something-else-happened” plots, belying perhaps some structural sleight-of-hand, or perhaps not. In Krusoe’s novel, Paul is a bumbler whose chance encounter with Emily at the organ pool (literally a pool of organs) shapes the next fourteen-plus years of his life—he’d gone there to acquire an unspecified organ but ended up having unscheduled hanky-panky on the diving board. As you do. What follows in this surreal novel is an altered reality—not exactly dreamlike, not a cold authorial playpen . . . but somewhere in between. Accepting the writer’s ludicrously wooden dialogue as a humorous meta-ha is crucial, otherwise Krusoe would be guilty of Dan Brown-level crimes against naturalism. But the cartoony cardboard-like narrator, bumbling oaf or not, barely holds the novel together, especially during the overly descriptive bridges between the next “something-else-that-happens” (usually involving unscheduled sex and volcanoes), and lapses at times into a weary absurdism. Otherwise, a highly entertaining slice of playful and wilfully weird comic fiction. And Martin Amis likes it too.

3. Nicholson Baker — The Size of Thoughts: Essays and Other Lumber

The earliest essays in this collection, labelled ‘Thought,’ are more like hyperliterate blog posts, or a Pascal Pensée, than anything resembling a conventional work of non-fiction. I haven’t read anything more word-drunk (overwritten?) outside the columns of Will Self and frankly, I didn’t expect it from Baker. Baker, of the thumbnail novel, the svelte entertainment—clearly, he needs a place to flex his writerly muscle, and the essays are that unfortunate destination. At no point does Baker stray from his own interests, so we have pieces on model aeroplanes, movie projectors, and ‘clip art’ (not the Microsoft Word variety), written in the style of a man in his shed, utterly oblivious to the audience outside of a certain Nabokovian preciousness in the prose and self-congratulatory wordplays and archaisms. Baker seems to delight in exhausting a topic well past the point most people might find it engaging—his essays ‘The History of Punctuation’ and ‘Leading With the Grumper’ are witty pieces that seem to get the balance between obsessive detail and when to stop correct, the rest do not. Sadly, a tediously long (and dated) piece on online library catalogues, and an 150-page essay on the word ‘lumber’ broom out the reader with staggeringly dull pedantry. The essay ‘Lumber,’ in particular, falls flat since it offers no explanation as to Baker’s motivation for studying the word ‘lumber’ (outside a randomness of purpose, which isn’t good enough!), making his dry excursion through early English poetry in search of lumber utterly meaningless and, eventually, unreadable as the footnotes and lengthy quotations from obscure poets and critics pile up and pile up with no significant payoff in mind. (I gave up halfway through). Baker doesn’t seem to have much purpose in his essays, outside the man-tinkering-in-his-shed—he writes like a one-man trivia machine, interesting in parts, forgotten moments later. And the cover is hideous. Orange!?

4. Joris-Karl Huysmans — Against Nature

I loved the ornate, glissading descriptions of art, music, perfume, theological texts, peptone enemas, and the fabulous namedropping of French writers such as the Goncourt Brothers, Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, Charles Cros, Verlaine, Mallarmé, Ernest Hello, Léon Bloy, Barbey d’Aurevilly, and François-René de Chateaubriand, among others. Reminiscent of Gautier’s Mademoiselle du Maupin but with a gloomier fin-de-siècle (fan-de-see-eck-le) outlook. This edition includes reviews from Zola, Mallarmé and critics of the period. (Zola wasn’t impressed).

5. Charles Dickens — The Pickwick Papers

The middle classes in this country still aspire to some half-baked bucolic idyll—renting a farmhouse, living off the land, swinging on a hammock reading Balzac while buxom farmlasses frolic in the Devonshire sun. The reality? The work involved in milking cows, shearing sheep, fattening chickens requires the brawny pluck of a youngster, not the snoozy disregard of the doddery, and those farmhouse repairs won’t repair themselves, those bills won’t pay themselves . . . until the call of the one-bedroom flat in the city becomes impossible to ignore. Unless you’re rich enough to hire lackeys, in which case, the vida loca awaits! This is a rambling and rambunctious comedic debut from the soon-to-be Bard of Blighty, rich in top-flight farce, whip-smart satire, and politely scabrous social comment. All very tame and steeped in the Fielding and Smollett tradition, but absolutely engaging from page one to page seven-and-twenty (depending on your edition), and full of marvellous set-pieces, among them the courtroom farce scene, which remains unbettered in modern satire (no, Liar Liar doesn’t count, as fetching as Amanda Donohoe is), and the subsequent imprisonment of Mr. Pickwick for being caught in flagrante consoling his housekeeper. The touching bromance between Samuel and Pickwick, the hilarious Mr. Jangle’s frantic shorthand dialogue, and the indefatigable amiability of this bucolic idyll (and occasional dark turns) make this novel essential for even the most casual of Dickens admirers.

6. Rikki Ducornet — The Complete Butcher’s Tales

I recently hosted a Dalkey Archive Appreciation book meet, sharing the wonder of this glorious little press with fellow Glaswegians. I read this in preparation for said event, but packed my bag with a dozen bedazzling specimens, among them Mulligan Stew, The Book of Jokes, Log of the S.S. Mrs Unguentine, A Nest of Ninnies, The Mirror in the Well, Pierrot Mon Ami, Night, Best European Fiction 2011, and some others. I suggest every one of you, my GR review followers, does the same in your provinces and townships, spreading the word about this incredible—that’s DALKEY ARCHIVE, what do you mean you’ve never heard of it?—publisher. This collection of enchanting fables, micro-fictions, surreal and erotic oddities doesn’t quite work as a whole—taken in small snuffs, perhaps, it would perhaps be a more satisfying concoction. Read sixty-three Dalkey books now!

7. John Updike — Rabbit, Run

Something of a masterpiece, this first in the trilogy of five explores the universal themes of domestic humdrummery, fidelity, and the repercussions of discarded dreams. The titular Rabbit is a compelling portrayal of a now somewhat stock character, the coulda-been-a-contender (in this case basketball) bounced into a life of McJobs, dowdy small-town wives, and unwanted children. Updike’s novel is the best depiction of this soap-opera conceit I have read: he transforms every banal scene into something riveting and moving and sexy and wrenching. His dialogue, character nuance, sex scenes and melodramatic moments glisten with pearly descriptive gems and metaphors, and utilise a close third-person partial SoC narrative that adds dramatic heft to his characters’ reflections. Rabbit is a brilliant creation—philandering bastard, all-too-human everyman, Hamlet-like dilly-dallier, tender lover and Mersault-like drifter. And the surrounding characters, esp. Joyce, the tormented daddy’s-girl and alcoholic, are equally stunning. I can’t wait for book number two. *runs to Rabbit*

8. John Updike — Rabbit Redux

This book is where the Angstroms became the Osbournes, without the cracking heavy metal catalogue. Or, as other reviewers have pointed out, it’s where Updike tackles Big Questions of American politics and culture within his sexy literary soap opera framework. I also see I was wrong in attempting to empathise with Angstrom—he’s clearly being set up as a Great White Dope, where racist and sexist poison accumulates and infects those unfortunate enough to fall under his sway. So we open with Rabbit’s domestic downfall: Janice has started an affair with a tachycardic Greek and his son Nelson has come to despise pop’s casual racism. Then the book veers into political and social territory as Rabbit picks up teenage prostitute Jill and installs her in his home as a live-in whore. A hippie child spurned by her parents, she is the only likeable character in the whole shebang. And this makes the ‘Skeeter’ section infuriating to read. Skeeter is a Vietnam vet and drug pusher who tries to educate Rabbit in black history over a series of after-dinner talks (Rabbit lets Skeeter stay in his front room), who shoots Jill up on mescaline when Harry’s not looking and spits out the vilest misogynist trash in front of the kid. So we’re sucked into this 150-page spiral, knowing Jill is going to perish at the hands of these imbeciles, screaming at the book GET THIS POOR JUNKIE TO HER MOTHER, but alas, she meets the grizzliest end Updike can imagine, leaving me frazzled with indignation and confusion. Is this scabrous social comment, or a piece of callous authorship? Veering towards the latter. Rabbit’s utter indifference to Jill’s death is also completely ludicrous—his character withers a great deal in this book, which is compelling but oh-so-deeply flawed. I could say more. I’ll spare you.

9. Charles Dickens — Oliver Twist

Yes, but what became of Oliver? Let me tell you. He became Oliver Twisted. That’s what. He became Battersea’s premier caulker—that is, someone who seals gaps in drywall with waterproof sealant. But Fagin’s influence seeped into poor Oliver’s caulking duties. Instead of sealant, he would put sea lions, banana skins and discount copies of the musical Oliver! Homeowners would thrash in their beds to the bleating of moribund sea lions. Houses would slip away from their districts into horrible places like Wales or Scotland. People were driven mad listening to Lionel Bart’s appalling musical numbers (with no apologies to Paul Bryant). Yes, Oliver was a rotter and no mistake. He was later dismissed from the Caulking Co. and set up a whelk stall in the East End where he met Bianca, a flame-haired human foghorn whose face was so mottled with freckles she became one oblate spheroid human freckle, living off a diet of hydrocortisone smoothies and Diprobase pasties. You didn’t think Oliver would grow up good? Please! You don’t endure a childhood of ritual abuse and become a huggable hunk. You milk it for all its worth (naming no names—Dave Pelzer) or become a corrupt caulker. I am loving Dickens right now. I also love The Vaselines. And I also love Eugenius. Ciao ciao.

10. Gore Vidal — Myra Breckinridge & Myron

Myra Breckinridge (1968) is a scabrous genderbender satire about an untouchable woman(?) out to claim her fortune from a sleazy Hollywood mogul. If you’re familiar with Gore Vidal’s haughtiness from one of his incalculable TV appearances it might take a moment to settle into this female(?) voice, but once the farcical frolics begin the novel is heap-good-fun. Among the more notorious scenes are Myra’s dildo rape of male chauvinist Rusty, and her failure to achieve Sapphic congress with the defiantly heterosexual Mary-Ann. Seen here in the appalling film version with the perfectly cast Raquel Welch. This book is notable also for Vidal’s use of nouveau roman S-o-C in the mogul’s narrative—his opinion on the French avant-garde was famously low, so what gives, Gore? Five stars. Myron (1974) is the patchy, semi-sci-fi sequel where Myron (the male Myra) is sucked back onto the set of Siren of Babylon, a fictional 1948 movie where his alter-ego Myra wrestles for domination of his/her body, like Michael Caine in Dressed to Kill but with castration instead of murder. Not for the squeamish this one. And largely incoherent, so not for anyone at all, really. Three stars.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Good Enough?

How do we decide a story is ready for publication? If we proofread, edit, and tinker with the story, deciding it reads smoothly and makes enough sense to be read by others, is that enough? NO? Apparently not. I have difficulty with this. I wrote a story this week, ‘Writing For Carol,’ about someone who writes for the image of a random girl on the internet, basing the story’s content on what he imagines this girl would like judging from her photo. Then he encounters this girl on the subway and his story takes an entirely different shape as he stalks her to glean more information about his potential audience.

I contrived an ending where the piece of writing the narrator submits for Carol’s edification is not a story obsessively tailored to her reading requirements, but an honest account of the narrator’s devious acts, plus an apology and entreaty. I felt this represented an emotional breakthrough for the character, who had been an unreliable narrator up until this point, and conveyed a general truth about writing ‘for’ a particular group of people—writing needn’t be contrived for an audience, it should simply be as honest and direct as the author can be, with no pretence or deception. All good.

But is it enough? If I write a story over several days, is that enough time? I suppose the most important questions are what does this story achieve? what does this story do that is unique? do I achieve the aims I have for the piece? So can I answer all these questions? Well, I wanted to explore the reader-writer contract on a micro-level, the mania that comes from thinking about the eyes that might scan our words and seeking to please the owners of those eyes. If we could view our audience like musicians, would that make writing easier? Would we riff out metaphors and do long descriptive solos like Clapton twiddling on his Stratocaster? Throw in a moving description of a beautiful creature to attract the women?

And build a story into this. I am happy with the story, but I have no idea what is “good enough” these days. Anyway, there I am, posing with a nut. Life is good.

Monday, 19 March 2012

The Vassal Vessel

For Fyodor

A cockroach scaled the black mud-mound, flexing its antennae at the scrofulous peasant.

With an expression of endless suffering – the doomed mien of someone in a lifelong hex – the peasant raised her boot and brought it down upon the roach with a crunch.

“Take that, you rotten insect!” she snivelled. “And that is what I will do to that wretch Haskov Haskovovich when he returns from his carousing and gambling and sinfulness!”

She paused.

“I said, that is what is what I will do to Haskov when he returns from his gambling and sinfulness!”

There was a cough at the door. A bulky man with muddied cheeks entered the shack, tripping on a pile of firewood and stones arranged in a chaotic manner before the mud-mound. In his left hand was a turnip, coloured green with felt-tip pen. In his right, a Vodka bottle filled with water. He imitated a belch and waggled the bottle with a grin.

“Just look at the state of you, Haskov Haskovovich! Have you no pride, you disgusting man? Out until all hours of the night with your cheap whores, gambling our money away while I sit here, starving! Do you hear? I am starving, you filthy mongrel!”

She launched a gobbet of goo into his face and kicked him in the shin. Startled, he wiped away the goo and pretended the kick didn’t hurt. When she looked away, he grabbed his shin and gave it a rub, mouthing the words ‘bloody hell, Rillania.’

She stared into the cracked mirror, regarding the filth-strewn walls of her shack. Her very soul was clenched with pain. Her life was worth less than the roach at her feet.

“Oh, how I loathe this life! I truly am the saddest of the Russian peasants. I am also the poorest, ugliest and loneliest of Russian peasants. We are meaningless pieces of human waste. If we were to die tomorrow, no one would care. Oh, how we suffer! We are the dead!”

She waited a moment then coughed. Haskov pulled a piece of paper from his pocket.

“Yes – ” he read, “ – in this lowly shack beside the Lvov dunghill we truly are the most useless beings on Earth.”

“Oh, how I loathe you, Haskov!”

She placed her last kopeck on the table and hmmed. There was nothing left for her to do except curl up and die. She put her head in her hands and imitated sobbing. Then, lifting the finely carved stick at her side, with its knife-sharp apex, she handed it to Haskov.

“Oh, kill me, Haskov! Put an end to this miserable life, forever! I can’t stand to be on this wretched planet a moment longer!”

He took the stick and pretended to stab her four times. She fell back onto the mound, her head rolling back but not touching the mud. She gargled saliva and closed her eyes.

Haskov waited a few minutes.

“Bravo, Haskov! That was excellent!”

She leapt to her feet and hugged him.

“I truly connected with the Russian peasantry and their sorrows! Didn’t you?” she asked.

“Yes,” was the response she wanted to hear.

Rillania had yearned to experience life as a hopeless Russian peasant, and for the last hour, in her disgusting rags, in the rotten shack, she had gained an insight into the lives of the underclass. Her father Ivan was outside in the limo and honked twice. Time to go.

With a skip and a smile she returned to him, tossing her dirty overalls into the nearby field.

“So, darling… how was it?” Ivan asked.

“Oh, it was wonderful father! I felt like a real-life peasant girl! What a beastly life these people must live,” she chirped.

Did live, darling. The days of serfs are long gone. Russia is a Republic proud of its liberated vassals. Farmers these days are free to cultivate their land without intrusion from the state.”

“Oh come now father, you know that’s not true.”

“Well, anyway. Shall we go back home?”


She sank into the limo’s leathery love. The sitting distance between Rillania and her father could have been seen as a metaphor for how her parents loved her from afar, pandering to her expeditious whims instead of offering warmth and love, but this didn’t occur to her. Her father was a swell guy who owned a large portion of Murmansk. She didn’t need things like hugs and kisses when she had wealth and adventure.

Haskov the driver, recalling a shortcut from his time delivering post to Lvov, took a crafty detour up a rickety farm road. Rillania and her father sat in silence, their heads bashing against the roof as the limo potholed through lime-green fields. The road narrowed and the dirt-tracks faded, taking them along a stretch of deep grass and down a sharp hill.

Below sat a village bearing the sign ODOR. Two letters had been erased from the sign, but this abrasion turned out to be an accurate description of the town’s repellent musk.

“Driver, where are we?” Ivan asked.

“I’m sorry, Sir – I thought this was a shortcut, I’ll turn back.”

“No, hold on a minute, driver. I’ve never heard of this village before. I will have a look around.”

“Oh, can I look around too, father? This is a genuine peasant village! And what were you saying about the liberated farmers?”

“Very well. But stay close to me. We are far from home.”

Haskov volunteered to lead the way, protecting Ivan and Rillania as they entered the curious village. Upon first glance, the buildings appeared to be constructed from straw, cement, grass and mud, or a composite of the four. They were lamentable attempts at DIY housing, clearly done by humans with dangerously low intellects.

“Be on guard, driver. The people who live here are obviously primitive, possibly violent.”

After a brisk potter around the ‘streets,’ it became clear there was no one to be seen for acres. Rillania cried out ‘FARM FOLK?’ a few times, hearing only the soft bounce of her echo against the stone. The further into the strange favela they walked, the more barren it became.

“Oh, this is tedious, father. Where are the grubby little peasants with names like Boggy B or Alexei, pronounced Al-eck-si?” Rillania asked.

“Hmm. What is this? This looks interesting,” Ivan said, regarding a ruinous runic structure.

They ducked their heads into its very stony interior. On the walls were etchings, unreadable in the shade, but clearly imitative of medieval engravings. As Ivan squinted to read the badly phrased Latin, and Rillania studied a curious daubing of a peasant raping an ass, the wooden door slammed violently behind them. Ivan was furious.

“Driver – do not shut the door, we cannot see!”

“I… I didn’t touch it!”

An oblique sound effect, like paper being torn close to the ear, was heard outside. It took them by surprise, but irritation was the most pressing emotion. The driver was irritated at being called ‘driver’ when he had a perfectly good forename. Rillania was peeved at the sudden slamming noise, having sensitive ears. And Ivan was vexed at the darkness interrupting his Latin transcription. The sound effect was roundly ignored.

“Open the door, driver!”

“I can’t! It’s stuck, it’s – ”

The door, formerly stuck, now swung open. Gawking into the structure were a ragbag of cartoon peasants. Their shrivelled faces loomed into the entrance – a surge of palsied wretches, the likes of which Rillania could only imagine in her make-believe miseries.

“Quick! Mechi, Mechi! Look what I found!” one man, whose nose sported a prominent boil, said.

A second peasant, presumably the one named Mechi, spoke up from the crowd of hideous farm folks.

“Who are they? Thems look like they dropped from the emperor’s arse and no mistake!”

Mechi prodded Haskov with his hook-hand, while Ivan composed himself and grasped the situation.

“Excuse me. I am Ivan Irosovich – I am a wealthy landowner and businessman. My daughter and I were passing through your village and got lost. Could you please tell us where we are?”

“Ooh, he speak so royal! How much d’you think he’s worth, Mechi?”

“I’d say four thousand kopecks, at least!”

“Now look, here – ”

“Nah, you look, rich man. This is our town, you listen to us! Gregor! Guard the door, would you?”

“I know where this is heading,” Haskov said.

In fact, he was wrong in his assumption. Haskov, along with Rillania and Ivan, assumed the peasants would keep them hostage for an enormous sum of money and then sacrifice them to some invented God with three heads. The truth turned out to be less beastly, though undesirable in a different way. Rillania was buzzing with excitement.

“Oh, there’s so many of the little freaks, father! Did you set this up for me? Oh, it’s perfect!”

“Darling – I didn’t – ”

His response was cut short when Gregor grabbed the hostages with his mutant hands and dragged them through the crowd. To their amazement, the village had been completely restored – the huts and shacks remodelled into habitable living quarters (for poor people). Mechi and his followers flocked around the well-dressed visitors in various states of incredulity. Several women oohed at Rillania’s finery, while the men prostrated themselves.

Gregor showed little sign of obeisance. He pulled Ivan and Haskov along by their arms, scooping Rillania between the two, releasing them beside a giant stage. Sheer bafflement and other modes of disbelief ran through the minds of the kidnapped.

It didn’t occur to them that the small cottage structure they had inspected was in fact a time-travelling vessel that had taken them back to 18th century Russia during the time of the tsar Alexander I. Mechi gestured to the stage, bidding the crowd to shut up.

“You perform for us. You be rich people in our play, no?”

“No, we couldn’t possibly, we ha—”

“Perhaps this’ll convince you, no?” Mechi asked, pulling out a rather impressive knife. He behaved more like a pirate than a peasant, but Rillania was still smitten with his mannerisms.

The knife didn’t put them at an advantage. They clambered onto the stage while the few peasants whooped and hollered, hushing up after a few minutes. Rillania was so entranced at the sea of genuine serfs before her, she moved to the front of the stage.

“You beautiful peasants! Oh, you are so disgusting – it’s wonderful! How perfectly lovely it is to be here among you freaks! How charmed I am to see your grubby faces, your raggedy clothes, your ugly babies, your horrible homes, your vicious tongues and violent customs! I hope you will be hospitable to Haskov, my father and I as we visit your town. Thank you.”

The audience took a moment to process Rillania’s welcoming words. Soon, laughter erupted through the crowd, and Rillania was swept along in a humiliating gust of titters, chuckles and guffaws.

“Oh, you vile peasants! You vile beasts! Oh, how rude they are father! How rude they are!”

Ivan consoled his daughter with a hug.

Rillania found the peasantry vile, hideous beasts! And she was right. But then again, she had abused the Vassal Vessel.

See, when I designed the VV I intended to reunite descendants of Lords with their vassals. I was planning Genealogical Package Tours via the medium of time travel, but she misused the device.

Which was stupid. She should have consulted me first before stepping inside. And I know it was an accident, but still – I was around that afternoon, working behind a big rock. Shame they were sacrificed to the Russian God Volvoski later that day, but hey – accidents happen.

For more info on the Vassal Vessel call me on 0251 716 6116 or visit

Friday, 16 March 2012

My Toaster Impregnation Hell

Dear Daily Snoop, I have been through an ordeal worse than most of your page-three coke sluts. As such, I want this printed in your paper as it appears below, and I want some money in return. Like up to £1000. Seriously. Address is below, send it before printing. Thanks, Liza.

I woke up one morning pregnant with a toaster. I had been drunk the night before, guzzling down Bacardis like two-to-three an hour, three-to-four every half-hour – whatever – then took this slab of blonde manliness home to screw. What can I say? I have a good time. I’m a hedonist. There’s no crime in that, right? Mind your own business.

So we do it twice, once against the wall, because it’s a good workout on the pelvic muscles and gives you 3D orgasms, then collapse on the bed. In the morning he’s gone, with a note on the table that reads: HADDA DASH HONEY, CALL ME L8R. I vomit over the note, not ‘cause the grammar sucks, because my body wants revenge.

I spend the day in bed, puking into the wastebasket. I try all the remedies – aspirin in the coffee, salmon on the forehead, a bath in ginseng – nothing. The hangover gets worse and worse. Later on I hear these popping sounds in my belly, so I run to the A&E ward. Well, I don’t run – I get a cab, which takes 45 MINUTES to show up, by the way – then I’m made to wait with the other losers while I almost die on the floor.

The doctor performs an x-ray on me and there it is, clear as day on the screen: a fucking great toaster, with actual toast popping out the top! Can you believe this guy? I mean, a one-night-stand foetus I might have forgiven. But impregnating me with a kitchen appliance is so not the right etiquette for hunky blondies built for screwing.

They had to operate on me. I was out cold for three days, and I wake up with this giant stomach scar. The first thing I asked the nurse – a haggard old Korean thing – was: “Where’s the toaster?”

“It not here. Man come and take it away, said it his.”

I almost passed out. Not only had he not come to visit me since this outrageous appliance impregnation bullshit, he’d taken off with my baby! Surely there were laws against this sort of thing? I grilled the Korean lady, but she hadn’t been hired for her knowledge of custody law when it came to non-human offspring. I would have to track down this toaster-thieving putz and take what was rightfully mine.

So I got better (this took two weeks, with nothing but Ironside re-runs and crossword puzzles) and tracked blondie down. When I arrive at his apartment, this little whore is standing over the counter in her panties making toast on . . . hmm, a silver NuWare toaster suspiciously like the one I had in my womb for three days! The whore shrieks and runs into the bedroom as I burst inside and draw blondie’s attention to the toaster.

“What are you doing with this? This belongs to me.”

“I implanted the toaster seed,” he says. He looks hideous in the harsh light of day. I must have been like blind plastered.

“Bullshit. I gave birth to the thing.”

“So I’m the father, you’re the mother. How about we share a slot each?”

“Please. I’m supposed to come around here if I want to toast some bread? I’m taking it home.”

He stands in front of the door. Actually blocks my way as I’m trying to leave. What a psycho!

“I’m not a violent man,” he says. “But if you don’t put down my son, I’m going to hurt you.”

“Oh, fuck you,” I say. I lift up the toaster to warn him, but he kicks the legs out from under me and nabs the NuWare as I fall to the floor. Next thing, he’s dragging me to a box room and pinning me to the bed. I put up a fight, but the guy is like super-human strong and he sticks a needle in my arm. I pass out within a few minutes then wake up strapped to the bed.

The guy is on top of me, butt-naked, his cock hard, and seems to have the notion to start screwing me. Now, I don’t want to paint myself as some psycho slut or something. Don’t get me wrong – I thought the guy was a nutjob – but there was something about being tied up like that, in his power, that made me sort of horny. Usually S&M stuff turns me off, ‘cause the men into it are freaks or losers, but this guy had a proper man-sized wang and screwed like a hydroelectric wind turbine in a hurricane.

When he’s done, I spit in his face, tell him to let me go, warn him to let me go, scream at him to let me go. The guy is clearly unhinged, because he totally ignores me, stuffs a gag in my mouth, and moseys out the door. I can scream pretty damn loud, you know. I woke up half the neighbourhood one time when this little punk pulled his thing out and tried cocking me to the wall. No one ignores my goddamn screams.

About ten minutes later, the slut in panties comes in, wearing a suit which she totally doesn’t pull off – the best clothes for this little whore are no clothes whatsoever – and sits beside me.

“Are you OK?” she asks. My eyes laser her stupidity. “Look, it’s really cool being part of Adonis Inc. Our net profit last month was three times higher than it’s been in years. There are women here who want to experience childbirth without having to take care of an actual child. That’s why being an in utero supplier is a good career move.”

I mmm. My mmm translates as “remove the motherfucking goddamn shitting scotch tape, bitch” or thereabouts. She warns me not to scream then removes the tape.

“Fuck’re you talking about?” I ask.


“What supplier? Do you mean he’s knocking up other women with toasters?”

“Oh yes. There are over fifty women in this area alone gestating goods. It means we don’t have to buy them in from a wholesaler, we merely plant the seed then retrieve the item when it’s ready. The women have a pregnancy simulation – of sorts – and that’s their reward.”

“How is letting a fucking toaster grow in your womb the same as a baby?”

“As I said, it’s a simulation.”

“Look, you are clearly insane, so could you please let me go?”

“I’m afraid not.”

She puts the tape back over my mouth. Obviously, this is not what you might call an ethical setup. The blonde whacko is abducting women, impregnating them with his tacky kitchen appliances, and keeping them hostage in his flat or warehouse or wherever. With a team of slut women keeping the hostages in check and crackpot doctors doing the Caesareans.

Couple of days later, it’s obvious that I have another appliance in my womb. This one is massive, though – real monster massive, like a fridge or a cooker or something. I scream a billion insults as the doctor gasses me and puts me out of my misery. Surprisingly, I do actually wake up – I’m not dead – which proves the biggest relief. In the room beside me as I come to is a dishwasher. Blondie stands at the head of the bed, smiling.

“Isn’t it beautiful? Look, it doesn’t have to be this way. Join us. Work for us as a supplier and we’ll pay you a handsome packet.”

“Thought you gave women ‘simulations’. Thought you didn’t pay them,” I say.

“Those are the ones who refuse to participate in our scheme. It’s a handsome scheme, baby. You get all the kitchen shit you need, plus job security and enough screwing to last a lifetime.”

“Screwing. With you?”

“Hell yeah, baby. With me.”

Too drugged to even vomit at the thought, I accept his offer. I have no intention of following through on it, but I say it so he’ll let me off the bed and I can make a run for it. When we go into the kitchen, I have a bite to eat and speak to some of his workers. They tell me they earn up to £300,000 a year, and they get invited to all the coolest parties. I think to myself, that’s pretty cool, maybe I could work for them after all.

Maybe, I also think, the door’s locked.