NBAS ’11: Lepers and Mannequins by Eric Beeny

I was slightly confused when I started Lepers and Mannequins. The confusion was, I later realized, simple because I had recently come off of reading a spate of hilarious Bizarro novels that challenged me to stretch my imagination to the fullest, while bending me over in pain from laughter. My initial react to this novel wasn’t, at all, funny. I was concerned. I was concerned for the main character, for her lover, for her society and their natural enemies, and for the entire world they lived in.

And then I realized what was happening, and the brilliance that this novel is capable of.

Eric Beeny not only assailed my senses with some of the most off-the-wall characters and plot devices, but he also made me think long and hard about society and all of its nasty little ‘isms’. This is the Bizarro novel that almost made my damn self cry.

From Amazon:

It’s been three years since the last harvest, and the lepers are preparing once again to wage war on the mannequins for spare parts – prosthetic limbs they need to rebuild themselves. Jaundice (a female mannequin) and Quall (a male leper) have fallen in love in the midst of this war, forcing them to confront and redefine the nature of loyalty and betrayal. An absurd and tragicomic allegory, Lepers and Mannequins explores how love, identity, class, religion and desire all divide people not only from each other, but from themselves. As the lepers struggle to maintain their humanity (striving at all costs to conquer both the mannequins and their disease), they could ultimately lose it. This is the mannequin metaphor, and warns of a startling fate for the lepers – if they can stay in one piece long enough to put themselves back together…

I usually don’t like stories that tell themselves from more than one perspective, but the way Beeny did it here is almost poetic in its subtlety. Not once does he let on that he knows he owns you, but he also actively encourages the reader to fully immerse themselves in the story through clever and strange positioning of key ingredients. The slop and squelch of the world that these two warring, yet intrinsically linked peoples live in is absolutely tangible. I loved the way that, no matter what was happening in the story, Beeny found a moment or two to explain what the terrain was like, and how the living conditions fared to the touch of these two ‘tribes’.

The entire novel could easily be set in anyone’s local forested area, making this one of the more accessible novels in the series. Yes, I understand the fact that Mannequins aren’t alive, and that Lepers are rarely in such a state of decomposition that they may feel a tinge of social unrest, thus planning an attack bent on harvesting the limbs of their neighbouring colonies… but that’s besides the point. The fact is, Beeny is very adept at slinging his words in a way that shows you he means business, but also sits early with those who don’t want to slog through weighty words that mean less than they appear to. The end result, thankfully, is a novel brimming with social commentary, copious amounts of face shredding insanity, an a generous amount of twisted Romeo and Juliet love that will melt the heart of the most hardened of genre readers.

There isn’t much more that I can say about this novel that will justify it, except for praising Beeny’s keen eye for dynamic characters. Jaundice is immediately identifiable as the quintessential female desire to be ‘perfect’ yet still different from those around her. Her lover, Quall, never hesitates to lay everything on the line for his love, calling to mind the selfless things that a man will do to profess his undying loyalty to the woman he desires. The rest of the Leper colony, and Jaundice’s Mannequin tribe act accordingly, eschewing their feelings for one another in favor of vilifying their painful, violent past. If it sounds a little Shakespearian, that’s because it is. This is, by and large, the best adaptation of a classic, though throughly original in its own right, that I have ever read.

Wild, violent, tear-jerking attraction is almost immediate in Lepers and Mannequins. Beeny has created something special here, and I’m pleasantly satisfied with the result.

You can grab a copy of this book in paperback and for your Kindle. Also make sure you check out Eric Beeny’s blog, Dead End on Progressive Avenue, and Eraserhead Press for more incredible Bizarro Fiction. If you’re looking for even more Bizarro information, visit Bizarro Central for all of your weird needs.


Dreadful Tales Gets Weird

Over the past 3 weeks, I’ve read no less than 12 of the most insanely off-the-wall books I’ve ever seen. That’s a lot to digest in such a short amount of time – approximately something like 1200 (or more) pages of the weirdest shit you’ve ever laid your eyes on. And that’s also on top of the books I’ve checked out in the mean-time, and the 100 years of Horror articles.

And sleeping.

And eating.

Not books… eating food.

Though… I could eat books…

Never mind. Eating books is a bad idea right now.

Especially after the announcement I’m about to make, and mostly cause I’m nervous about this.

What’s the announcement? Well, I’m sure you can see that the site has taken on a bit of a… different… look today.

That’s because we’re trying something different with our design (which will be ongoing for a little while) and celebrating Bizarro Fiction for the next 9 days here on Dreadful Tales! (January 23rd to the 31st)

Now, one might ask what exactly Bizarro Fiction is:

According to the most informative website on the genre, Bizarro Central‘s ‘About Bizarro’ page:

What Is Bizarro?

  1. Bizarro, simply put, is the genre of the weird.
  2. Bizarro is literature’s equivalent to the cult section at the video store.
  3. Like cult movies, Bizarro is sometimes surreal, sometimes avant-garde, sometimes goofy, sometimes bloody, sometimes borderline pornographic, and almost always completely out there.
  4. Bizarro strives not only to be strange, but fascinating, thought-provoking, and, above all, fun to read.
  5. Bizarro often contains a certain cartoon logic that, when applied to the real world, creates an unstable universe where the bizarre becomes the norm and absurdities are made flesh.
  6. Bizarro was created by a group of small press publishers in response to the increasing demand for (good) weird fiction and the increasing number of authors who specialize in it.
  7. Bizarro is like:
    • Franz Kafka meets John Waters
    • Dr. Suess of the post-apocalypse
    • Takashi Miike meets William S. Burroughs
    • Alice in Wonderland for adults
    • Japanese animation directed by David Lynch

Even though the Bizarros are underground cult outsiders they still have gained an incredible amount of respect in the publishing industry, having been praised by the likes of Chuck Palahniuk, Christopher Moore, William Gibson, Jonathan Lethem, Piers Anthony, Cory Doctorow, Poppy Z. Brite, Michael Moorcock, and Charles de Lint, to name a few, as well as the publications Asimov’s Science-fiction, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science-fiction, Fangoria, Cemetery Dance, Publishers Weekly, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Details Magazine, Gothic Magazine, and The Face, among many others. They have also been finalists for the Philip K Dick Award, the Bram Stoker Award, the Rhysling Award, the Wonderland Book Award, and the Pushcart Prize.

Bizarro isn’t just weird fiction, it is DAMN GOOD weird fiction. And it grows exponentially every single day, so, love it or hate it, you’ll be seeing a lot more of it in the years to come.

We’re excited to bring you a look at 8 new bizarro novels from Eraserhead Press, and specifically from the minds of the New Bizarro Authors Series folks who fill the 2011 lineup (henceforth known as the NBAS ’11). For those of you who don’t know, this is a series Eraserhead Press has started in order to bring some fresh blood to the genre.

Here’s the idea behind the NBAS:

You hold in your hands now a book from the New Bizarro Author Series. Normally, Eraserhead Press publishes twelve books a year. Of those, only one or two are by new writers. The NBAS alters this dynamic, thus giving more authors of weird fiction a chance at publication. For every book published in this series, the following will be true: This is the author’s first published book. We’re testing the waters to see if this author can find a readership, and whether or not you see more Eraserhead Press titles from this author is up to you. The success of this author is in your hands. If enough copies of this book aren’t sold within a year, there will be no future books from the author published by Eraserhead Press. So, if you enjoy this author’s work and want to see more in print, we encourage you to help him out by writing reviews of his book and telling your friends. In any event, hope you enjoy…

Given the guidelines there, and the fact that I was contacted to review one of the books, I wanted to lend a little more than a helping hand. I’m a huge fan of bizarre tales and upstart authors, and it’s no sweat off my back to read a few hundred pages and talk about it. So for the next bunch of days you’re going to be checking out the weirdest that the genre has to offer (with other stuff peppered in), and reading about some of the fresh blood bursting onto the scene.

With that, let’s welcome Justin Grimbol, Vince Kramer, Constance Ann Fitzgerald, Troy Chambers, Spike Marlowe, Michael Allen Rose, Eric Beeny, and S.D. Foster to the fold. This week is gonna be weird