Monday, October 29, 2012

"Die You Doughnut Bastards" reviewed

When I was at Wordstock in Portland a few weeks ago, I randomly met bizarro fiction author Cameron Pierce. We chatted while tasting high quality bourbon provided by Bull Run Distilling. I have to plug these guys because A) I am a bourbon snob and B) they make damn fine bourbon. If you like good bourbon, check out their Temperance Trader Straight Bourbon Whiskey. It's one of the best bourbons I've ever tasted, and I don't make that statement lightly. I have deemed many a pricey bourbon "shit" after I've payed exorbitantly for a single shot.

While Cameron and I chatted, he told me all about Bizarro fiction. I'd never heard of this strange genre. I asked if it was anything like Bizarro World in the Superman comics. Cameron told me it sort of was. That got me on board immediately. I wanted to hear all about it. Fortunately, Cameron works for Lazy Fascist Press, an imprint of Eraserhead Press, and he knows quite a bit about this weird genre. He also writes Bizarro fiction himself. 

And as it turned out, his wife Kirsten Alene, who was sipping bourbon and talking bizarro with us, ALSO writes bizarro. I couldn't ask for a better pair to give me an overview of the genre. Kirsten told me she had just published a novel entitled "Unicorn Battle Squad." She called it her love letter to Terry Gilliam's "Brazil" with fighting unicorns thrown in. Having recently been told about the sub-culture phenomenon called Bronies, people who love the 1980's cartoon My Littly Pony, I couldn't wait to hear more. Because seriously, who doesn't love fanciful unicorns who kick ass?

When I got home from Wordstock, I immediately ordered Cameron's latest story collection entitled "Die You Doughnut Bastards" and Kirsten's "Unicorn Battle Squad." (I will be reviewing Unicorn Battle Squad in an upcoming post.) 

I was sorely tempted to start with Cameron's "Ass Goblins of Auschwitz" baed on the title and cover alone, but Cameron has stated publicly on his blog that if he gets 50 reviews for "Die You Doughnut Bastards" by this Thanksgiving, he will get a pink or similarly disgracefully colored mohawk. I have no axe to grind with Cameron, but when someone offers up such a bold publicity stunt, I HAVE to show my support. Also, I was amused by the utter coincidence that Cameron had written a story about killer doughnuts, and I have written a story about donuts that kill, entitled "Donut Does It," which is available on Kindle at for only 99 cents.

And now, on to my review for Cameron Pierce's brilliantly comical and rewardingly horrifying "Die You Doughnut Bastards."

Have you ever thought to yourself "Man, movies and books and TV shows are the same thing over and over again. Why can't Hollywood and the publishing industry make something different for a change?" I wonder this myself all the time. Everything is a remix of a re-hash of a remake of a book that was originally a folktale.

Cameron Pierce's story collection Die You Doughnut Bastards is none of those things. This book is actually different. It's original from top to bottom. It is chock full of stories like nothing you've ever read before. It is strange, surreal, morbid, poignant, intimate, and it's really good.

After reading a fair amount of commercial fiction lately, I was in the mood for something fresh and original. Bizarro fiction sounded like the perfect place to start.  Die You Doughnut Bastards delivered, and then some. It's a collection of short works that includes poems, flash fiction, short stories, and a novella. There are also dozens of quirky drawings by the author, one at the beginning of each story, which reminded me of Tim Burton's "The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories."

Doughnuts do indeed kill...
Overall, the content of these stories are what I'd describe as a combination of the works of William S. Burroughs, Splatterpunk, Pulp noir, Surrealism, Magical Realism, the film-making of Michel Gondry (think of that Youtube video "Michel Gondry solves a Rubik's Cube with his nose"), some good old North American alternative comic book sensibility (Crumb, Harvey Pekar, Chris Ware), a bit of Ripley's Believe it or Not circus freak freakiness, and hallucinogens. It's everything weird and counter-culture you could possibly want.

At first, as I read through the stories sequentially (I can hear the die-hard anti-commercial types telling me I should have read the stories randomly or backwards or in a mirror or hanging upside down in a tree) I thought I was going to get a giant spaghetti bowl of weirdness where you never quite know what's going on, but you can't stop reading because it's all so vividly fascinating. This in itself would have satisfied me. Some of the shortest stories in Mr/ Pierce's book remind me of looking at abstract art or outsider art, where nothing fully makes sense in a familiar left-brain narrative capacity, but it's captivating and engrossing in an open-ended right-brain way. 

But Cameron Pierce is more than just an abstract artist. He also knows how to tell a good story and evoke emotion. Several of the stories in the book had a strong and finely-honed emotional narrative thru-line. "Death Card" tells the touching story of a quirky young couple facing the challenges of having a baby and dealing with mortality in their own creative way. "Pablo Riviera, Depressed, Overweight, Age 31, Goes to the Mall" makes some subtle yet enlightened observations about the nature of loving relationships. "Lantern Jaws" is the longest piece in the book, and would make a wonderful stop-motion animated film in the vein of "Coraline" or "Corpse Bride."

In case you're worried, this book isn't all just a touchy-feely mushroom-fueled hippie love-in. There's also guns, violence, amputations and blood. Lots of blood. 

And hordes of savage, killer doughnuts.

Die You Doughnut Bastards was a fabulous read, original and creative to the highest level. Cameron Pierce reminds all of us what art can be when an artist disregards the demands of commercialism and instead strives to be true to his own artistic vision.

Five stars.

If you're looking for something to read that is different AND good, buy Cameron Pierce's "Die You Doughnut Bastards" now.

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