Cities of the Red Night, The Place of Dead Roads, and The Western Lands by William S. Burroughs

NOTHING IS TRUE. EVERYTHING IS PERMITTED

Undeniably the magnum opus of his later (some might say entire) career, the trilogy of novels produced by William S. Burroughs between 1981 and 1987 continues to cast its shadow as one of the most enduring pieces of experimental American literature ever written.

Whether readers find this “great work” to be great indeed or just greatly disappointing will largely depend on their opinion of Naked Lunch (1959) and his other novels from the 60s and 70s, because although the form and substance have matured quite a bit in the intervening decades, there is still much from these early cut-ups prefiguring the wild rides that are Cities of the Red Night (1981), The Place of Dead Roads (1983), and The Western Lands (1987). The lurid descriptions of sex, drugs, and violence are still very much present in Continue reading

Her Mouth Looked Like a Cat’s Bum By Matthew Ward

The twenty-one stories in Matthew Ward’s latest collection Her Mouth Looked Like a Cat’s Bum (World Audience, 164 pages) are idiosyncratic and challenging. Built primarily out of character studies from society’s outcasts, the stories traverse a nihilistic baseline, where societal norms end and disintegration begins. The opening story, “Bathrobes” is almost a novella at 38 pages, at least compared to the other stories in this book. Within the story is the line that forms the book’s title, and the sense of disapproval that the title conveys is one which clearly sets the tone for the book. The stories are intended to shock, cause the reader to disapprove, frown, but perhaps also see life from a slightly different perspective. The characters are homosexual, naked, playing cards with Continue reading

Death with Interruptions by Jose Saramago

As a reviewer, there are two things you’ll want to know about me before bothering to read further. I only like literary fiction, and I only like literary fiction that’s a bit “difficult,” in one way or another, style or theme, preferably both.

A good theme for me might include controversial social issues, human paradoxes, ethical puzzles– problems to which there are no easy solutions. The concerns of unmarried 32-year-old woman and the plight of a middle-aged man whose affair is petering out are not real “problems,” in my view, nor is the temporary loss of faith in God or humanity. Continue reading

Willful Creatures: Stories by Aimee Bender

Aimee Bender’s stories are the contemporary descendants of those of the Brothers Grimm, with their surrealism laid on top of human desire and need. In both her previous collection, The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, and this newest one, Willful Creatures (Doubleday, 224 pages), her fiction adopts the tone of fairytales through the straightforward storytelling of the bizarre. Instead of a sausage growing on the end of a nose, Bender gives us potato children and a captive miniature man. Instead of a wicked stepmother, she conjures a collective group of predatory teenage girls. The “willful creatures” of the Continue reading