Did you ever have a pet for a best friend? Maybe a lil’ cat you would watch morning cartoons with? Perhaps you had a dog that followed you everywhere, ate your table scraps, and truly lived up to the catchphrase “man’s best friend?” That’s the premise of MP Johnson’s first book The After-Life Story of Pork Knuckles Malone about 12 year old Daryl and his pet pig Pork Knuckles published by Bizarro Pulp Press (February 2013). Daryl treated Pork Knuckles, also known as PK, as if he were a person, sewing outfits for the pig and spending all his time with PK. They were inseparable and Daryl expected it would always be this way. “When he thought about the future, PK stood beside him through everything: helping him study his way through law school, handing him the ring on his wedding day, traveling the world with him and hand-gliding from the tops of fuming volcanoes. Everything”
Doesn’t that sound sweet? Of course, I’m sure you can guess that since we’re reviewing this story on Dreadful Tales, and being published by Bizarro Pulp Press, this is no sweet boy-and-his-pet coming of age tale.
Here is the synopsis from Amazon.com:
What’s a farm boy to do when his pet pig becomes an evil, decaying hunk of ham with slime-spewing psychic powers?
After Daryl Malone absconds to Green Bay with the remains of his pet, Pork Knuckles, strange things start to happen. Why is everyone around him so hungry for ham? And why is green ooze pouring from their orifices? When he finds the answer to these questions, he’s forced to choose between his best buddy and a family that has only existed on the periphery of his life. That choice will send him and the ones he loves barreling nonstop through a labyrinth of cannibal hippies, Nazi flies, rabid drag queens, brawling grizzlies and punk rock muck fests.
The After-Life Story of Pork Knuckles Malone is a trippy, punk-inspired, weirdo tale. Even though this is a bizarro story with bat-shit crazy characters, insane twists in plot and viscera squirting from every damn orifice imaginable, this tale has heart. As one would expect from the bizarro genre, this story is over the top, but it’s not a constant one-upping of gross-outs and camp to shock the reader; young Daryl is a good kid trying to do the right thing by his friend and I white-knuckled my Kindle until the very end hoping he would make it out in one piece, pig or no pig.
At a scant 94 pages, there’s a limited amount of space for Johnson to expand on Daryl’s character and the relationship with his father Albert, but he successfully keeps them from being one dimensional. Johnson has an obvious talent for creating pitiful yet likable and relatable characters in a super short amount of time. This story would be a blast to read even without the family background, but the insight Johnson offers early in the story gives the action that follows more weight. Sure, the weirdo truck driver, the bus full of drag queens, the meat orgy at Meaty Pete’s Butcher and Deli, and crazy puking punk rock aunt and uncle are all entertaining, but the father-son thread at the heart of the story makes it all the more engaging.
At times, the story tugged at my heart strings a bit while I hoped for the father-son reunion between Albert and Daryl, but The After-Life Story… is all about a consistently morbid sense of humor. Johnson has a quirky way of writing and a distinctive style. Like in this passage when Albert is confronted by a rather large man: “The man packed at least three hundred pounds of meat onto his five-and-a-half foot frame. A significant percentage was nose, as if God had reached the end of a batch of humans and, instead of discarding the excess nose material, simply slapped it onto this guy. Waste not, want not.” Then there is the finale at a punk show in which Daryl sings “Dead Piggies” which, ironically, the aunt notes “It’s not about the cops, but fuck them anyway!”
MP Johnson has an extensive background in non-fiction writing, his music obsession satisfied in reviews for his own personal zine and website Freak Tension and the punk music magazine Razorcake. Johnson doesn’t abandon his non-fiction world of punks, freaks, misfits, social rejects, and psychos (and I use all those labels in the most complimentary way) but instead uses them to fill his fictional bizarro world, albeit through a distorted funhouse mirror, infusing his own unique voice in an often trudged genre keeping things fresh. The marriage between Johnson’s own real life experiences with the bizarro world is one of the reasons the story so satisfying.
You can pick up MP Johnson’s The After-Life Story of Pork Knuckles Malone in both paperback format and Kindle format here or anywhere else cool books are sold. This will be one of the Dreadful Tales Book of the Month club titles, so be sure to get a copy and join us at The Mortuary to chat about it!
To follow MP Johnson and all his fiction and non-fiction shenanigans, friend him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter, and check out his website Freak Tension. While you’re at it, check out this post which offers some insight into the origins of Johnson’s story.