Reviewed March 2020 by DG as part of the Blackthorn Book Tour
About the author. Andy Rausch is an American film journalist, author, screenwriter, film producer, and actor. He is the author of several novels and novellas including Elvis Presley, CIA Assassin. He also wrote the screenplay for Dahmer versus Gacy and is the author of some twenty non-fiction books on popular culture. His fiction books and collections include : Riding Shotgun, Bloody Sheets, A Time for Violence, Layla’s Score
“The only beauty’s ugly, man
The crackin’ shakin’ breakin’ sounds’re
The only beauty I understand”
Bob Dylan, Poem for Joannie
Oh this is such a beautiful book of stories! OK, so I’m an old hippy with mice in my hair, and I still think Nostalgie de la Boue sounds like a refreshing perfume, but seriously folks, this is a really cool book of grim short stories, not to mention one unexpectedly fun novella.
Read it at your own risk – Rausch doesn’t care if you like it or not but he has the decency to warn you that you mightn’t and he kindly suggests that if you’re not going to like it, maybe it would be better to pass? (Naturally he’s motivated by the wish to avoid terrible reviews from people who mysteriously thought from the title that this was a long-lost unpublished volume of Jane Austen and bought it by mistake, but I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt: he wrote these stories to entertain his readers, which is a high and noble aspiration, and he’s not in the business of deliberately upsetting anyone.)
But he’s right. Some people would definitely be upset by these stories.
They are full of such exuberant, insouciant transgression: the man who casually turns his dodgy mate into quite a few suppers; the diner who feels a massacre is a fair response to a few unwanted pickles; the white supremacist who tries to bring a re-animated Hitler to a conference. They are also full of ugliness, dirt, low-life. His characters are generally a bit grubby and they’re rarely clever or successful. They’re losers, deadbeats, down-and-outs, people whose friends – if they have any friends, and some of them don’t – are pretty unsavoury. Thinking of unsavoury, these stories are also full of food. Not, on the whole, delicious, though there are few exceptions: Granny Wilkins serves up a delectable feast (even if it … no, that would be a spoiler); and the guy who wouldn’t die had a pretty good last supper the second time round. But food anyway. More food than sex. Sex is possibly a little too elevated an ambition for these stories.
Rausch admits himself that these stories might indicate a fixation on death, and certainly there’s a lot of death between these covers: a great deal of killing, and some painful losses, and a noticeable number of dead people who persist – I don’t just mean zombies, though there is a story with those as well: the dead persist in so many ways here, as they do in the world.
Amongst all this death, I found only one story which was actively, almost explicitly life-affirming. That’s the last one, which he tries to sneak past the reader, suggesting that they might as well skip it, since they’ve had their money’s worth already and this is a story that won’t mean much unless they happen to be devotees of some arcane band who I’ve certainly never heard of (sorry Andy Rausch). And in case this doesn’t put the reader off, he goes on to lace the story with so much dope and talk of whores and obscenity and blasphemy that he appears to be determined to hide its secret. Is it possible that Rausch is actually a bit embarrassed to be including a story so shamelessly optimistic and tender? Is he afraid that if the reader discovers this one, there is a risk that they might flip back through the stories and suddenly notice that underneath all the death these stories are teeming with life?
Once, in Calais, in one of those tasteful restaurants where they turn the lights down low to hide the dirt and cockroaches, I ordered a seafood pie. It looked delicious – a crusty lid of golden pastry over a little pastry cauldron, surrounded by delicate fresh herbs. I should have just cut into it, loaded my fork and enjoyed, but instead I prized it open and peered in. What looked back at me was a terrifying zoology of unfamiliar monsters, like one of those slides of tapwater under a microscope, an unending cast of miniature primitive creatures with the wrong number of legs and eyes, some of them broken up, some of them complete, dripping with some uncertain liquid as if freshly scraped from the bottom of the sea. I couldn’t eat it. I stared for a long time, fascinated, but couldn’t lift my fork. It was beautiful: beautiful but repulsive. So much life, so much death, all in a pie. In the end I walked out, ashamed, leaving it untouched.
After reading Crazy Ass Stories for Crazy Ass People, I felt I had finally eaten that pie. It was yummy.
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