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Complete Issue List

Author Title


  Issue 2 Bertie Marshall
Nicholas Blincoe
Christopher Fowler
Jim Grimsley
Rafi Zabor
Poppy Z. Brite (editor)
Lisa St. Aubin de Teván
Ric Alexander (editor)
Matthew Collin  

Arundhati Roy
Larry Baker
Sandra Tsing Loh
Jello salad
My Drowning
The Bear Comes Home
Love in Vein 11
The Palace
Cyber-Killers An anthology
Altered State: The Story of Ecstasy Culture and
Acid House
The God of Small Things
Flamingo Rising
If You Lived Here, You'd Be Home By Now
 Issue 1 Alan Warner
Kirsten Bakis
Sarah Champion (editor)
Slavenka Drakulic
Mark Maxwell
Stewart O'Nan
David Madson
These Demented Lands
Lives of the Monster Dogs
Disco Biscuits
The Taste of a Man
That Other Lifetime
Speed Queen
Confessions of a Flesh-eater
 Sneak Previews Marya Hornbacher Wasted

Reviews from ISSUE 2 August 1997

Psychoboys by Bertie Marshall : Codex : UK 1997

Firmly in the tradition of Dennis Cooper, Kathy Acker and the transgressive cult, Marshall deftly records the imaginatively twisted vision of street, rent boy Rez. Beginning in Moscow, where he's taken on by the sex-crazed, coprophiliac, transvestite Ms. Thing, and meets the Countess Handover, a drag queen who genetically engineers animal curiosities, Rez then moves on to Berlin where he "came together to fall apart" through his encounter with the sailor who serves to deconstruct both Rez and text. Experimental play with text and language veers a hair close to pretentious at times, but amazingly isn't, because all's fair in this wild romp through the fractured psyche of Rez/Berlin Boy, where one meets Nico and Patti Smith in conversation, encounters reworkings of Pasolini and the phantom of de Sade, flashes to a Jaqueline Susann book signing in the early 70s, and discovers the secret ingredient of GENET Eau de Cologne: "a charming little sniff of squashed crab lice, vaseline, blood, sperm and shredded wool spun from the uniforms of prisoners" (guaranteed to attract rough trade). If that scent puts you off (reading about it anyway), so will Psychoboys, but for those who aren't daunted this is a rich treat that boils down to the power of fantasy as escape route for the likes of Rez. Quite readable too, even for the uninitiated. Highly recommended. J.A.


The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy : Random House : US 1997

Family saga of sexual and caste intrigue set in Kerala, India, vacillating in time between the present day and some 23 years ago, focuses on the "two-egg twins," Estha and his sister Rahel. Thirty-one year old Rahel, recently divorced from her American husband, returns to India from the U.S. having learned that her twin, Estha, has just been "re-Returned," a reference to the time the twins were separated at age seven - Rahel remaining with her mother's family while Estha was "Returned" to a father he hardly knew. Events leading up to the separation form the moral and structural center of the novel in a slowly unwinding loop filled with numerous catch phrases and refrains, which, along with the highly figurative language, carry the narrative. When it's good, it's very good, but the language can also be intrusive: "Elvis Presley puffed" to describe an unhealthy baby may work, but "Baby Kochamma's neckmole licked its chops and throbbed with delicious anticipation"? And: "She had half-moons under her eyes and teams of trolls on her horizon"? At times it seems as though the author has engaged in an exercise of unusual and bizarre metaphor. It is nothing if not bold, but the over-abundance of such extravagance becomes distracting; one wonders what curiosity will come next. Well worth a read, but worth all the fuss? Hmm. J.A.
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My Drowning by Jim Grimsley : Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill : US 1997

Story of a woman's search to unlock the mystery of a dream which has haunted her all her life: that of her mother slowly slipping beneath the surface of a swollen river. Set in the rural South amidst extreme poverty, materially and spiritually, young Ellen Tote must cope with the hardships of growing up with little to eat, little to wear, and much to contend with in the ever-growing family that uses and abuses her. There is a quiet grace and dignity beneath the vulgar trappings, however, that surfaces in the sometimes lyrical, always poignant narrative voice of the now much older Ellen, who is looking back on the life from which she has managed to escape. Grimsley's take on white trash lacks the bite and humor one finds in Lewis Nordan (Dorothy Allison comes closest to mind), but no matter, the voices are convincing and the characters memorable. Moonshine-swigging, ne'er-do-well Daddy and his brother Cope may be a bit of a stereotype, but no, they don't actually physically violate the daughters, just lech after them enough to keep the girls scurrying out of a room whenever they enter. Perfect pacing and a spare prose style carry it nicely along to the unraveling of the mystery, making this another winner, equal to the award-winning Dream Boy (1995). J.A.  


The Palace by Lisa St. Aubin de Teván : Macmillan : UK 1997

Historical novel set in 19th century Italy begins with its peasant narrator in a dungeon awaiting execution for fighting on the side of Garibaldi (for pay) to liberate Rome from papal rule. It turns out to be a mock execution, after which in the communal cell he meets the gentleman, Vitelli, who teaches him the ways of the world which seem to rely heavily on gambling. The peasant takes the name Gabriele, is released, integrates himself into Venetian society with the help of a crafty gondolier, makes tons of money playing briscola, and pursues his dream of building a palace, which he wants to construct for his romantic love (who has never so much as noticed him), Donna Donnatella. Then comes the long, tedious second half, mostly taken up with the long-plodding building of the bloody palace. It's hard to know the author's intention. One gets the feeling we have a 19th century Italian Jay Gatsby in the character of peasant-turned-gentleman Gabriele, who builds a palace for his romantic upper-class ideal, Daisy-cum-Donna. But there is no redeemable center to the novel and it all fades into the thin air that holds up the mirage-like palace. J.A.
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The Bear Comes Home by Rafi Zabor : W.W. Norton & Co. : US July 1997

I wasn't keen on approaching the 750 page manuscript about a talking bear who plays jazz sax, but I was soon won over. The Bear, simply known as Bear, is a descendent of a long line of European circus bears and "the product of an amazing roll of the genetic dice." He is first seen barely making a living in New York as a dancing bear in a street act with his friend, Jones, who won him in a gambling episode. The bear, however, is really happiest when playing the alto sax and his big break finally comes. Gigs around the country and a romantic liaison follow. Bear, of course, must travel incognito in raincoat and jumpsuit and hide from the population at large (sleeping on the tour bus instead of motels), but the parallel with the one-time fate of black musicians is only nominal. More than anything Bear represents the isolation and alienation experienced by the human condition. The eternal questions of how to love another human being and how to connect with a spirituality that defines and releases the separateness of being human are puzzles the Bear is apt to ponder; and ponder he does on a cosmic level, and I mean cosmic: the Bear psychically relates to the heavens, especially to the constellations Ursa Major and Minor, and those in his orb, Jones and love interest Iris, have similar experiences. He's jazz incarnate, the Bear, and first time author Zabor (a jazz musician who spent seven years writing the novel) beautifully captures the spirit in writing, from its subtlest nuances to the wildest flights of improvisation; but whether or not you are a jazz aficionado Bear is sure to delight. There is a lot of sex too, in which one learns the difficulties and rewards of conjugating with a 300 pound bear. There is the problem of "heterotopic baculum," for one thing, the process by which a bone extends into the penis during excitation. And the rough tongue too. No big problem as it turns out. No big problem at all. J.A.

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Love in Vein 11 edited by Poppy Z. Brite : HarperCollins : US 1997

Sure it's goofy, but so what? This second anthology of Vampiric Erotica delivers the goods if you don't mind your vampires with hard-ons and goth chicks with attitude and masochistic-punk gay boys and necrophiliacs and lesbian vampires named Adolpha and everything else you'd expect to find in Vampiric Erotica. With offerings from Pat Califia, Christopher Fowler and Caitlín R. Kiernan, among others, the 18 stories range from the New Orleans goth scene to the red light district of Amsterdam. Those who read the first anthology will recognize references to Brian Hodge's story in his new one dealing with the mysterious Celtic Sisters of the Trinity where eat of my flesh means eat of my flesh; 'Ceilings and Sky' traces a mother's journey to Las Vegas where she confronts the charismatic, sexual guru whose cult brought about her son's suicide; 'Bela's Plot' shows the lengths a goth chic will go to obtain Lugosi's cape; 'To Have You With Me' has you feeling sorry for a pedophile (trust me); and there's even a new take on Snow White in 'Snow, Glass, and Apples' that has to be one of the best yet. This is fun stuff, perfect for the beach or to be read out loud in the boudoir. J.A.

Altered State: The Story of Ecstasy Culture and Acid House by Matthew Collin : Serpent's Tail : UK

An exceptionally well-written and well-researched account of the cultural history that gave rise to Ecstasy Culture. Beginning with the gay bars of New York, where innovative DJ's began messing around with the medium, the techno dub sound with all its variations soon spread to Chicago where the name 'acid house' was coined and, of all place, Texas, where it cut a big niche before getting transported to sunny Ibiza and taking off big time. On this 10th birthday of Ecstasy Culture, Collins delivers an intelligent and objective appraisal of the dance scene, discussing both the pros and cons of the scene, the difficulties of legalizing drugs and the need to do so, and the sociological factors contributing to the scene's success and endurance, beginning in the 80s with Thatcher's espousal of materialism which was effectively taken to heart by a disenchanted generation who invested and scored big time in the black market area of drugs and the illegal rave scene. This is not only the definitive text on ecstasy and Ecstasy Culture, but also an important sociological portrait of contemporary England. Highly informative and wholly fascinating. J.A

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Cyber-Killers, An anthology Edited by Ric Alexander : Orion : UK 1997

With stories from the Sci-Fi greats, Clark, Dick, Sheckley, Silverberg and current biggies like Pratchett, Banks and Gibson and a host of others, Cyber-Killers can't fail in delivering great stories, can it? No, it can't, but buyer beware: the title is modern and the blurb on the back suggests the 90s themes of "The Internet, cyberspace and the information super-highway;" however, most of these stories are pre-80s and quite a few are from the 50s. Fine, so writers were predicting what would be happening to us 40 years on, except they weren't, and by drawing attention to them the anthology shows not only how old these stories are but also how scary our present reality is, and with warnings about the dangers of being in an aeroplane when the clocks change at the end of this century (The Millennium Timebomb) I do mean scary. It would seem the editor is attempting to cash in on the word Cyber, but collecting stories that are related only by the theme of computers and robots doesn't cut the mustard. If these stories "chart a future where technology could be the death of you" then where are the car and plane crash stories, the eaten by an escalator and killed by a vibrator stories? And where are the stories from the current cyber generation that we can call old in 20 (maybe 5) years time? The most recent is from 1992. But, hey, despite the lousy, totally misrepresentative marketing ploy, the stories are still great, and here's one small comforting thought: a computer may have beaten man at chess but, by god, we can drink the suckers under the table any day - at least for now. M.G.S.

Jello Salad by Nicholas Blincoe : Serpent's Tail : UK 1997 (US: Nov. 1997)

'Not for the faint hearted' reads the dust jacket of Nicholas Blincoe's second novel Jello Salad, and that would be correct. This tale of alcohol and drug excess by TV chef Hogie (who's greatest weakness is his penchant for his friends' mothers) and his rave and gangster pals in Manchester and London includes violence that would do Tarantino proud. Indeed Jello Salad has a graphic description of a disembowelling torture scene that would be the envy of De Sade. With a plot with more than enough of the right ingredients to satisfy even the most hard-boiled crime fiction lover, plus plenty of insights into how the lowlife live the highlife, Jello Salad comes out a hybrid somewhere between the airport pulp of Julie Birchill and Elmore Leonard's deep noir. As with his first novel, Acid Casuals, Blincoe's second relies heavily on happenstance to keep the plot boiling, which it certainly does, at a blistering pace and with an assurance that perhaps was lacking in his debut offering. L.M. 

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Disturbia by Christopher Fowler : Warner Books : UK 1997

Fowler's excellent Psychoville (1995) lay somewhere in the twilight zone between commercial and literary fiction, but his latest, Disturbia, seems to be heading more for the light of the mass market. Don't be put off by that, however, as the end result is a well-written and compelling story of class and power struggles that makes one wonder just how Britain's working-class, New Labour party reinvented itself and how the soundly destroyed, upper-class Conservatives are going to make a comeback. No, the book has very little, if anything, to do with politics but lots to do with the people who think they are in power. It also has a lot to do with an old, rundown, worn out but still alive and kicking, ugly but beautiful character called London. In writing a story about class, journalist Vincent Reynolds meets up with independently wealthy Sebastian Wells and although the two are worlds apart it is the city of London that links them. Vince delves more into Sebastian's past and finds that he is the leader of a shadowy, right wing, masonic type group, the League of Prometheus. Sebastian resents the probing and sets up a challenge. Vince must answer 10 questions about London between sunset and sunrise; if he does, he has freedom to publish his story on the group; if not, he will be killed. One other little rule is that he cannot ask for anyone else's help or that person gets killed. Of course there is more to all this than meets the eye, and of course, being Fowler, there is a gentle humour throughout that occasionally verges on slapstick. The plot works fine although no man alive could answer all the questions without some help, a measure Vince had to resort to. The only real gripe with the book is that it is a bit too centred on London and its forgotten historical past. But, as one would expect from Fowler, it's an intriguing, highly imaginative venture. Worth a read. M.G.S.

Flamingo Rising by Larry Baker : Knopf : US Sept. 1997

Wealthy and genetically in-bred southerner, descendent of Robert E. Lee, marries equally eccentric southern lady. While Mr. Lee is in Korea during the war, he adopts two Korean babies, a boy (the narrator, Isaac) and a girl, born the same day. Returning to Florida the family of four settle on the coast where Mr. Lee had a 'vision' that he was to construct the world's largest drive-in theater screen, which faces the ocean and blocks the view for the West Funeral Home across the street. Thus begins a feud between the Wests and the Lees, which provides much humor, as do the goings-on around the drive-in. It becomes all the more entangled when the young Isaac Lee and the neighbor's daughter Grace West develop a love interest. There's even a spoof on Rochester's mad wife in Jane Eyre in the form of the family dog who is sentenced to life in prison on the top floor of the drive-in tower where the family live. Set in the sixties, but with cultural references mainly limited to film (Psycho, The Green Berets, etc.), FR is a zany, fun and insightful narrative, reminiscent of Louise Erdrich's more recent novels, with unpredictable twists and turns and an explosive Fourth of July climax. This first novel by Larry Baker shows the making of a writer to look out for. J.A.
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If You Lived Here, You'd Be Home By Now by Sandra Tsing Loh
: Riverhead : US Sept. 1997

If You Lived Here, You'd Be Home By Now is a scream of a novel, replete with satirical sideswipes at the Hollywood movie-making system that excludes "losers" like struggling screen-writer Paul Hoffstead. Indeed Sandra Tsing Loh's third novel opens with a bout of screaming by Paul's hyper-anxious girlfriend Bronwyn stressing over their inability to quit their faux Bohemian lifestyle living in LA's unfashionable "Tujunga" area (read "Topanga"),which never quite made it out of seventies garishness. Nothing short of a lifestyle makeover will do for Bronwyn, and after some seriously cringworthy schmoozing with the Hollywood in-crowd, she achieves her dream of getting mortgaged up to the sky and moving into a swish yuppie apartment, just as the LA riots sweep along their street, prompting one of their house warming guests to comment as he watches the looting and violence from the safety of their skyscraper: "There goes... the neighborhood." And their dreams. In Loh's bleak vision of LA only the money-men can afford artistic freedom to spend time doing things like writing best-selling novels, after making a killing in real estate. The tale sparkles with moments of astutely black comedy; the overall message seems to be that truly talented artists will always be denied the chance to slurp "French food. Champagne. Oysters. Foie gras." Instead the couple are returned to their "... strange world of wind chimes and Mexican music and the heat of roasted foods". But with the yuppie dream ended I was happy to see them back in that non-competitive, but nonetheless reassuringly real world. L.M.

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Wasted by Marya Hornbacher : HarperCollins : U.S. 1998

Having trouble losing those extra few pounds? Here's a how-not-to and a half. Twenty-three-year-old Hornbacher became bulimic at age nine, anorexic at age fifteen, and veered back and forth from one to the other until age twenty. Her personal account is riveting and provides the most insightful analysis to date on the subject of eating disorders, a subject on which Ms. Hornbacher would seem to have something to teach the experts. There are no easy answers, but various and possible contributing factors are explored: the author's genetic make up; her mental and physical precociousness; the slightly dysfunctional family; and perhaps most importantly of all, the cultural milieu that equates self-control and self-esteem with thinness. This is quite the page turner as the reader follows the author through her sexually promiscuous junior high years and on through her teens and drugs and hospitalizations and institutionalizations and a mad sojourn in laid-back Bodega Bay, California on to university in Washington D.C. before receiving the one-week-to-live verdict at age 19. She beat that rap but is far from cured. Intelligent, honest, without the least hint of self-pity or undue accusation, this is not only the definitive personal account on the subject of eating disorders, but one hell of a book full stop. J.A. 


Contributors: Jill Adams, Lindsay McGarvie, Michael Garry Smout
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The following reviews appeared in issue 1, June 1, 1997

Lives of the Monster Dogs
by Kirsten Bakis, Farrar Straus Giroux
Sudden arrival in a future New York of large dogs with prosthetic hands and voice boxes goes along just fine until an important part of the story is told in the form of an operatic libretto. Downhill from then for me but worth a read. (My spellcheck queried Straus and suggested 'Strays.') M.G.S

Disco Biscuits Edited by Sarah Champion, Sceptre
Anthology of 'New Fiction from the Chemical Generation'. An interesting collection marking not just ten tears of Dance Culture since Acid House but also the rise of a whole new writing scene in Britain that has attracted a market that didn't know it wanted to read. Good, strong stories from Irvine Welsh, Alan Warner, Jeff Noon and Nicholas Blincoe among others, all having the techno/drugs/drink/sex/violence link at some point. Saved from being a BritFic collection by inclusion of American Douglas Rushkoff. Recommended. M.G.S
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The Taste of a Man by Slavenka Drakulic, Abacus
Title, cover and author's name lead to obvious conclusion before reading even starts. This makes the first few coy chapters tedious. If it had begun "Last week I ate my boyfriend" then this tale of obsessive love would have worked much better. M.G.S

For cannibals who like a little more..er.. meat
Confessions of a Flesh-eater David Madson, Deadalus Press, should be to their liking, though it is recommended that in the rather interesting recipes other types of meat be used. There is also follow up cookbook which doesn't have a recipe for Spiced Girls. M.G.S

These Demented Lands by Alan Warner, Jonathan Cape
Marketed as a semi-sequel to the brilliant Morvern Callar , this follow up bears little resemblance to the first although Morvern's voice rings true and wiser with a few years. Set on an unnamed island off the coast of Scotland with an amazing and entertaining array of characters with names like Aircraft Investigator, Brotherhood, the Argonaut, the Devil's Advocate, Nam the Dam, Knifegrinder, Halley's Comet, and Chef Macbeth, the whole sick crew come together for an apocalyptic millennial rave. Not as accessible as MC , but an enticing and daring novel. J. A.
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That Other Lifetime by Mark Maxwell, Secker
An engaging novel about an imaginary meeting between Raymond Carver and Richard Nixon at the end of their lives. Carver's cool calm and Nixon's gutter mouth make for laughs as their parallel histories offer real insight into their diverse personalities. Recommended for Carver fans. J. A.

Speed Queen by Stewart O'Nan. Doubleday
Hours before her execution for murder Marjorie answers 114 questions about her life for 'Stephen King'. A simple, compelling non-violent story about violence. M.G.S

Contributors: Jill Adams, Michael Garry Smout

© The Barcelona Review 1997
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