Kill ‘Em All: Book Review

Steven Stelfox returns in the new John Niven novel, Kill ‘Em All. It’s been twenty years since the rampage that takes place in the pages of Kill Your Friends, and if anything Stelfox is all the more sordid and bloodthirsty. Monetary success has driven him beyond excess, and to new lows at every pass. He muses that the world is, “A place where ambition still outstrips talent… Where the kind and weak are ripped apart like loaves of bread” (327). He admits early on that regardless of what’s to come he will not grow from the experience. His heart isn’t in the right place, if there’s a heart at all.

The year is 2017. Trump is taking office in the opening pages while Stelfox is presented with a job opportunity. He has settled into the luxuries of light retirement, with the occasional gig as a consultant for music industry big wigs. On this occasion a pop star is being blackmailed for his activities as a sexual predator who preys on children. With the dawning of the era of ‘fake news’ Stelfox takes control of the situation, spins it into something much darker, before he burns everything to the ground… all while making himself a profit.

I don’t want to give much away, so I won’t. Kill ‘Em All is the most wretched fun I’ve had in a long time. Niven never disappoints, and Stelfox is his most satirical creation, a modern vice figure who tells the audience just enough to keep them guessing. It’s blatantly offensive. I can’t recommend this book to everyone. It’s not for everyone. But if you’re looking for something ugly I’d start with Kill Your Friends, then move on to Kill ‘Em All.

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Beatrix and the Wooden Dagger: What’s Up With the Prop?

What’s the deal with the wooden dagger? It doesn’t appear anywhere in the text, so why is it in the title? What does it have to do with the story? The answer has to do with medieval theatre and use of props in character development. Characters in the medieval morality plays were often named for traits they were meant to embody. The vice figure was one of comic relief, meant to tempt and bring folly towards characters of virtue or other such positive traits. The vice often turns to the audience, and delivers lines by breaking the fourth wall. This brings about an inclusion so that the audience is in on the misdeeds.

They would carry a wooden dagger on stage. This prop was meant as a direct gesture to inform the audience, ‘Hey! I’m the villain.’ By the Renaissance, Shakespeare had dropped the prop, but perfected the role of vice in Richard III and Iago of Othello. These characters turned to the audience, told them of the intent, and then turned back to the story world with their malice in practice. A contemporary version of this that has resonated with audiences would be comic book antihero Deadpool, or average politician Frank Underwood in House of Cards.

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That’s my aim with Beatrix. She’s an antihero of sorts, who wants to fill you in on her thoughts and intent as she does whatever her wretched heart desires. The book consists of five stories that span over the course of her life, and plays with time. It’s framed with bits of the thriller, cultural satire, and dysfunctional family drama.

That’s the deal with the wooden dagger. I framed this character after the many vices I’ve come across, and hope to turn you off to humanity with her antics. If you’re still with me, give it a shot! 

As always, thank you for your time.

No Good Deed: Book Review

No Good Deed examines and satirizes the complications of long-term friendships. We’re brought in on the premise that our main character offers some money to a homeless person, and is thanked by name. After an awkward moment Alan realizes he’s staring at his childhood friend, Craig. He takes his old friend to a pub, and then to his home in an attempt to help him up.

Alan’s a semi famous food critic. Craig played guitar for a band that got big in the early 90’s, and then fizzled out. It feels of an age-old story where the emphasis resides upon the reversal of fortune. Themes of carnival surface as one character is brought up, while the other descends to ruin. These classical notions mixed with contemporary commentary make for an excellent piece of cultural satire. Niven delivers, again.

It is the unspoken feelings long harbored between the two main characters that motivate them to actions both comical and wretched. Distance of years would not change how they felt about each other. It is expressed that, “all the money and fame imaginable could never re-engineer how we come to define ourselves as teenagers” (165). I found myself laughing out loud at the insults, and feeling a genuine emotional investment when dealing with the prospect of loss.

At one point Craig is being interviewed about his story. He is honest about his spiteful feelings toward Alan, and describes him with a harshness that seems far away from the warm feelings we typically associate with friendships. Niven offers an insight that feels all too relatable,

“It did make her slightly sad, however, the realization- common to many jobbing journalists who must routinely deliver copy crafted to suit many different publications – that lurking beneath the piece she was going to write about the life-affirming powers of friendship, there was another piece, a different piece, a better piece. One about the strange currents and deep, dark pools that hide beneath the surface of many lifelong friendships, especially ones that have involved dramatic reversal of fortune” (198).

It’s just fantastic. Probably the best overall work from Niven. My personal favorite since The Second Coming.

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The Handmaid’s Tale: Book Review

What makes dystopian fiction frightening is the prospect of truth. When I think of the genre I ponder over themes of science fiction, with tendencies that lend themselves to some kind of futuristic setting. In The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood offers us something that feels modern, and for that the story feels as though it could happen today. It’s not the notion of oppression through the vessel of a futuristic specter, but a hyper masculine insecurity that treads the nostalgic waters of a more outspoken, forceful, and violent patriarchy.

Our main character is a handmaid named Offred. She isn’t legally allowed to read, and any rhetoric or conduct beyond appropriate protocol could result in execution. Her primary social value is rooted in her potential to become pregnant. It is not a comfortable existence.

Offred is summoned for private and illicit meetings with her Commander. With brevity she entertains the thought of free will, but concludes that, “to refuse to see him could be worse. There’s no doubt about who holds the real power” (136). Offred understands the conditions of her scenario, and stimulates the notion of her own interest, “To want is to have a weakness. It’s this weakness… that entices me… I want to know what he wants” (136).

It seems fitting that this book would take a place in our social consciousness, but I’ll leave political/social parallels up to you. Atwood is nothing short of fantastic.

 

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Critical South Park: Political Satire, Expectations, and the Issue of Donald Trump

With South Park having become serialized the most recent season placed greater emphasis on storytelling, while using real world events to maintain their topical edge. Season 20 focused on the presidential race, paralleled with the complications of Internet trolling. The end result was a show that had become self aware, and acknowledged the likelihood of existing, “in the post-funny era of satire.”

The show faced a curve ball when Trump won the election. Since 2008 South Park had produced their election episodes based on betting odds in Vegas. When Clinton lost they had to rework the episode with less than 24 hours to air. But I’m less interested in their portrait of Clinton, as she was depicted in her own likeness.

South Park has taken it upon themselves to include the sitting president, in addition to a number of other politicians, and their depictions, though crude, are fitting for the character they sought to represent. Bill Clinton looked like Bill Clinton, George W. Bush looked like George W. Bush, and so on.

Then we get to Donald Trump, and we’re faced with the complication of entity. The discourse of the 20th season goes back to the first Christmas special, and the first time Herbert Garrison asked if their township could, “get rid of all the Mexicans.” His anti-immigrant sentiments have echoed on, ever since.

Season 19 was the first to implement serialization through the entirety, and that story world was carried over into Season 20. In an early episode Garrison finds himself overwhelmed by the sudden influx of Canadian immigrants, suggests getting rid of them, and declares his desire to build a wall between Canada and the United States. He’s distressed by the fact that Canada has beaten him to punch, by building their own wall between the countries. It’s revealed that Canada has been taken over by a character known as ‘Canadian Trump.’ By the end of the episode Garrison has raped Canadian Trump to death, and begins his own campaign for the top office in the country with running mate, Caitlyn Jenner.

Season 20 began, and Garrison is tanned to a bronzed orange. Topical interviews and dialog are voiced through this character, as a deliberate entity of Donald Trump is never produced. This struck me, over and over as the season progressed. The writers had avoided the low hanging fruit of the previous administrations, rarely depicting any president as incompetent on a consistent basis, so why establish the distance of depicting a candidate by means of another character? Aside from Mr. Garrison and Caitlyn Jenner, every other reference to the contemporary political arena mirrored that of the real world. Even then South Park left some of the sensationalism to the media, as their depiction of Steve Bannon showed him looking over a clipboard, and making a simple statement about the transition going smoothly.

It’s sharp satire, because it defies expectations. Such expectations include a Trump figure in the likeness of real world Trump. By having put that agency onto a character already established in the story world, it allowed for the writers to play with the kind of atmosphere that cultivated the results we have today. They made sharper and deeper cuts than their late night counterparts, but were never called out by the Twitter prone President Elect. Though poking fun at Trump, it’s done so through the veiled obscurity of distance, a nuance not employed by late night comedians or other political satirists, which is why South Park hasn’t been on the receiving end of a Twitter rant (or the trolls that follow).

In a time when the President Elect decries negative commentary in the media, the obscurity of South Park has allowed them to make some scathing comments without personal backlash. It could be that South Park is just a silly little cartoon show, while Saturday Night Live is culturally relevant, but I’d argue that the distance established in how Trump has been depicted on South Park is the best bet for artistic media to criticize the coming administration without fear of repercussion.

 

Critical South Park- S20E1: ‘Member Berries’

Spoiler Alert: South Park, Season 20-Episode 1: ‘Member Berries’ will be discussed.

There are no greater minds contributing to contemporary satire than those of Matt Stone and Trey Parker. As South Park enters its 20th season the audience was enticed by a commercial that suggests the show has been there for a number of our own personal milestones. The advertisement juxtaposes clips from the show with a family, and depicts their youngest daughter growing up with the show. It is similar to my own experience, as I recall being in the fifth grade when the first season premiered. South Park has changed since then, and I argue that such change has been for the better. It maintains a particular freshness, while other shows become stagnate victims to their own routines. Season eighteen gave us a light serialization to the episodes, while the format of season nineteen was that of a chronological storyline. Season twenty seems to pick right up where we left off last year.

 

Episode I: Member Berries

To open the season with our current discourse the scene opens at a volleyball game where four girls sit down during the national anthem to, “protest all the harassment and trolling they receive on the internet.” With parallels to the recent Colin Kaepernick controversy, the internet trolling is used to make light of some of the heavier topics they tackle on the show, including race relations and cultural misogyny. The decision to sit out the national anthem is used as a device that gives light to the greater divisions being explored. “The final result: four athletes sitting out on the national anthem, three of them not even black.” The national anthem ends, the crowd leaves, and the girls play their game in front of empty seats to present the absurdity of the public backlash against peaceful protest of a celebrity.

To parallel the message of the commercial, season twenty opens with the theme of nostalgia. We are faced with the same language the show used twelve years ago concerning the nature of American elections and the voting process. Hillary Clinton is called a ‘turd sandwich’ while Mr. Garrison (the figure standing in for Donald Trump… probably to satirize Trump in their own way since he is the low hanging fruit of late night comedy) is called a ‘giant douche’ with the intent to carry out an immigration policy of, ‘fucking them all to death.’ Such a policy is also carried over from the story line of the previous season. Stan Marsh isn’t pleased with the throwback language, and suggests something negative about the writing in Meta fashion. Randy Marsh, his father, suggests that Stan is being ‘cynical’ and a ‘nihilist’ for voicing such concerns. This moment stands as a veiled attempt to please everyone through self-deprecation, and to this point I’ve heard no complaints.

The school message boards continue to be trolled by an anonymous figure, and the primary targets are women. All of the students assume the troll, known as Skank Hunt 42 is Eric Cartman, but the final scene reveals Gerald Broflovski, Kyle’s father, lawyer, and member of the city counsel. The use of this character suggests the complication of anonymity, as the shroud permits a person free of suspicion to partake in the vile expressions of photo shopping, ‘a picture of Heidi Turner’s mom with a dick in her mouth’ to the amusement of some of the boys. It suggests we may not know a person as well as we’d like to assume, and that that no one is born above the inadequacies of environment. This trolling creates a divide between the genders that is used to reflect upon the contemporary discourse concerning rape culture, and that the character of a reputably good person is susceptible to that of cultural vice.

With politics and the election being at the forefront of the narrative, the adults seek the refuge of escapism through chemical indulgence. Through the episode we see Mr. Mackey, Mr. Stotch, and Randy Marsh partaking in a ‘new super fruit that helps you mellow out’ known as member berries. These bunched fruits have the appearance of grapes, but bear faces, and speak with the voices of nasally children with thick New York accents. They make suggestions of comforting nostalgia. Lines like, ‘member Star Wars?’ are followed up with, ‘oh I love Star Wars!’ They make suggestions of nostalgic entertainment where the comforting suspension of disbelief stands in for the crippling anxiety of our shared reality. It is only as we near the end of the episode that the berries begin to lull Randy into a nostalgic stupor with suggestions of, ‘member when marriage was just between a man and a woman?’ ‘member when there weren’t so many Mexicans?’ ‘member no ISIS?’ and my personal favorite, ‘member feeling safe?’ Randy resents the sentiments of the member berries, and panics at the momentary connection he feels in being nostalgic for a past that wasn’t so great, and the possibility/complication of having harbored such prejudices.

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Prologue for ‘Tin Foil Hat’

{The following is the prologue from my second book, Tin Foil Hat.}

Record Seventy-Four
On Stalking-Social Skills-A Prelude to Waste

Reflecting upon the first time I broke into Beatrix Kennedy’s apartment, I associate the memory with the euphoric sensation similar to the peace one feels beyond the climax of drowning. With her Twitter account informing me that she would be spending quality ‘alone time’ with the TV while she caught up on some shitty drama before the new season was set to premier the following weekend, I felt this was the moment worth seizing. Knowing she’d be by herself and binging in front of the screen allowed for an excitement that sent my heart into double time. I’ve been stalking Beatrix for a matter of years now, and I could not have fantasized such a perfect coincidence. How foolish of her to move back home…

It starts by seeking them out online. Social networking has made this easier than ever before. While B’s Facebook page was private and left much to the imagination, her Twitter account granted open access to her thoughts, feelings, and occasionally her schedule. Of course, I started from the beginning and broke the ice by reading through all one thousand three hundred and twenty-seven tweets that she had typed off since the winter of 2009. You can learn so much private information about a person when they post it for the world to see; no roommate, no dog, owns a gun, even the fact that she prefers women to men. I tell myself when she does love a man she loves a man with a beard. My routine of maintaining a shaved face would not be a deterrent, as her tastes were not part of what I considered important. Her online persona is so sarcastic, and beautiful, and selfish. It’s no wonder she’s single.

 

Once the target has been confirmed, it never takes more than twenty minutes to Google my way to an address. You really have no idea how easy it is; I should’ve worked for the government on some spy program aimed at watching civilians. As it turned out, Beatrix lived a ten-minute drive from my residence, and I visited the premises often. I even took the time to visit the leasing office, claiming to be moving to the area. This allowed me to indulge the specifics like the restrictions on installing a security system.

I had scoped out her complex a number of times before our first encounter. So much time spent in longing… She lived on the third story, which at first appeared to complicate how I’d go about breaking in. After a little inspection I realized that the stairwell was out of sight for the passerby and made for a prime jumping point to get onto the balcony that entered straight into the glory of her bedroom.

The best part of that humid Friday afternoon was making the drop to find that the city girl with a gun was under the assumption that her balcony was out of reach. Ms. Kennedy had left the door unlocked, and I slid the plate of glass to the left, pushed aside the blinds, and entered paradise.

Crisp air conditioning chilled me and solidified the layer of sweat to my skin in a way that contrasted the swamp-like atmosphere outside. That first sensation of cool air brought on such comfort that I almost forgot to press forward with my plan. Beatrix would be on the clock for another three hours… plenty of time to poke around and set up camp.

Dirty clothes were scattered about a carpeted floor in a flawed way that turned me on. An aroma lifted from the laundry and I brought a shirt to my nose to properly breathe her in. Pressing the fabric to my face, I closed my eyes and thought of her hair. Joy overwhelmed my heart as I dropped the shirt to the floor and continued inspecting the room. A queen size bed was located in the far corner with a few blankets carelessly discarded to the foot. Her dresser top consisted of old receipts and other such clutter that told me where she shopped and ate. A bookcase stood adjacent to the dresser and for the most part displayed the texts of her studies. Such curiosity on an intellectual level… could it be that I’ve found an equal? Nay, for she is greater than I am.

The only television was located in the living room, with all the bells and whistles of video game systems and surround sound. A walk-in closet peered directly at the couch that sat at the optimal television viewing position. At that point in time the closet had been left wide open. Clutter would be my saving grace, as I would drape fallen jackets and other loose garments over me and watch her watch her show. Even if she shut the closet I could still bear witness to her presence through the crack where the bottom of the door neglects to reach the carpet. Not too bad a view, at all.

The minor bits of filth in the bathroom brought a smile to my face. Upon entering I immediately seized the hairbrush and stripped it of the loose hair caught within, pocketing it for later indulgences.

I turned off my cellphone, ate a piece of wheat bread, and used the restroom well before Beatrix returned home for the evening. With building anticipation I took my place within the living room closet to wait it out.

 

She was so beautiful. That first audible sigh of relief that she let out caused my heart to swell with the genuine happiness that triggers the nostalgic wonder of childhood. Her business attire was quickly replaced with a loose fitting yellow t-shirt, the shortest of gray cotton shorts, and pure untainted white socks. I had never before seen much of her flesh above the knee. Such a sight complicated the conditions required to restrain myself. But I’m well disciplined.

Taking into account her negligence concerning the closet door, I would be treated to a much more desirable viewpoint than initially expected. What amazing luck. I stared directly at her, and she never caught my glare.

She spent a little time in the bathroom before emerging. Moving with the grace of divinity, she walked to the kitchen where she grabbed and consumed an apple. This display of her eating habits explains how she maintained a physique of such desirable conditions. I could not have fantasized this level of perfection. She is as an apple; the fruit I so desire to consume; the drug I need if I intend to sleep.

Upon assuming her position on the couch, Beatrix handled the assortment of remote controls to establish the ice breaking of the series-streaming binge.

Hours passed. The only interruption occurred due to hunger. In between episodes she ordered food from a Chinese restaurant, and it was delivered shortly thereafter.

Following dinner she removed more articles of clothing. The yellow t-shirt found its place on the floor next to the shorts. She was without a bra… I would have touched myself right there had it not been a point of compromise to my going unnoticed.

 

Shortly after two in the morning, she deviated from the show and put on something else to serve as background noise. From that point she proceeded to pass out on the couch.

I waited a solid half hour beyond my personal certainty that she was asleep before standing up as quietly as possible. I approached her resting body and hovered over it. The glow of the screen illuminated her pale skin, revealing the magnitude of its pull as a coveted and living thing. I looked upon her bare chest and considered a gentle caress… but the possibility of waking her would prohibit such a gesture. To compromise I ran my fingers through her hair and lowered my face to smell her before I walked out through the front door. Leaving it unlocked left me with the knowledge that something suspicious would be revealed to her, for she is not one to overlook such details.

I went home, and played guitar into the early afternoon. Then I masturbated myself out of the scope of realism and into a restful sleep. May have a new song in the works.

All of my love, -MT

 

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