Great Books from Great Presses

21 Feb

Yesterday on Facebook, about a dozen authors engaged in a lengthy discussion about bizarro fiction and the seeming lack of more experimental work within the scene in recent years. It’s a subject that crops up every few months, even though the bizarro scene is now more diverse than ever. There’s really nothing that can’t be done in bizarro at this point. If it’s good enough, there will be a home for it.

The brunt of yesterday’s conversation centered on one question. Why isn’t there as much experimental work coming out of bizarro as there used to be? For starters, this is both true and untrue. It’s true that Eraserhead Press, which began as a publishing collective that included experimental fiction luminaries Lance Olsen and Trevor Dodge, has honed its focus in recent years to over-the-top, patently absurd, b-movie fiction. In its early years, before the bizarro label was adopted, Eraserhead Press existed as a home for a diverse range of authors. There were those who became core bizarro authors, namely Carlton Mellick III, Kevin L. Donihe, and D. Harlan Wilson. There were the experimental writers like Lance Olsen, Trevor Dodge, and Michael Hemmingson. Then there were horror and science fiction authors – people like Andre Duza, Simon Logan, and Richard Kadrey, whose work tended to be too offbeat for mainstream genre publishers.

Although these authors all shared a label, in hindsight three distinct groups existed. Some of the writers stuck around to form bizarro. Others moved on to large literary/experimental publishers like FC2. The third group aimed for deals with major horror/science fiction houses (Richard Kadrey’s wildly popular Sandman Slim series has made him a New York Times bestseller). Today, the division is very much the same, only now Eraserhead is dedicated solely to bizarro fiction, while Lazy Fascist publishes the literary/experimental/bugfuck work, and Deadite mostly focuses on violent cult horror. So things have changed since Eraserhead was founded fifteen years ago. There’s no longer one publishing line that encompasses everything. Rather than limiting the company’s range, this has resulted in a wider diversity of fiction emerging from the Eraserhead umbrella than ever before.

When it comes down to it, though, what I’m saying here isn’t about bizarro or Eraserhead. It’s about the good shit. Knowing where to find the good shit can be tough. One of my primary goals with Lazy Fascist is to build bridges. I want bizarro readers to know of the good shit beyond bizarro. I want readers of that other good shit to know that bizarro is good shit too.

In the conversation that started all this, a few people expressed that they had a hard time finding new experimental/surreal fiction, so last night I compiled a list of twenty presses that have published some beautifully weird fiction and poetry, mostly in the last few years. Some of these presses are larger, some are very small, but in every case, they’re contributing something unique and vibrant to the landscape of modern literature. Because the task of mining through all of their catalogs and determining where to begin would be a daunting, if not downright overwhelming, task, I’ve selected one book from each press that I recommend starting with (two titles, in a few instances). The presses are listed in alphabetical order and every single one of these books is solid.

Action Books
POP CORPSE! by Lara Glenum

Black Ocean
With Deer by Aase Berg
The Man Suit by Zachary Schomburg

Caketrain
Collected Alex by A.T. Grant

Calamari Press
Motorman by David Ohle

Civil Coping Mechanisms
Green Lights by Kyle Muntz (forthcoming)

Coffee House Press
The Song of Percival Peacock by Russell Edson

Dalkey Archive
Log of the S.S. the Mrs. Unguentine by Stanley Crawford

Eye Rocket
The National Science Fair of Amazing New Discoveries by Matt Kessler

FC2
Museum of the Weird by Amelia Gray
It Was Like My Trying to Have a Tender-Hearted Nature by Diane Williams

Hobart
The Avian Gospels by Adam Novy

Grove Press
Blueprints of the Afterlife by Ryan Boudinot

Little House on the Bowery
Wide Eyed by Trinie Dalton

Madras Press
The Third Elevator by Aimee Bender

Publishing Genius
Light Boxes by Shane Jones (1st edition, current edition published by Penguin)

Sator Press
Confessions from a Dark Wood by Eric Raymond

Solar Luxuriance
Throne of Blood by Cassandra Troyan

Small Doggies Press
Edie & the Low-Hung Hands by Brian Allen Carr

Starcherone
Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls by Alissa Nutting

Two Dollar Radio
The Orange Eats Creeps by Grace Krilanovich

Underland Press
Last Days by Brian Evenson

For classic surrealism, absurdism, etc. along with works in translation, check out Exact Change, Open Letter, and Dedalus.

And if you’re a Lazy Fascist reader or anyone else who’s looking to check out bizarro for the first time, here are a handful of titles I recommend to get your feet wet:

The Best Bizarro Fiction of the Decade (featuring Aimee Bender, Joe R. Lansdale, Alissa Nutting, Bentley Little, Ben Loory, and over thirty other writers)

We Live Inside You by Jeremy Robert Johnson

By the Time We Leave Here, We’ll Be Friends by J. David Osborne

Haunt by Laura Lee Bahr

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