Thursday, June 27, 2013


There's been a subgenre floating around in fiction for a few decades now, possibly longer I guess, though I only heard the term Bizarro about six or seven years ago. I feel like I've read plenty of Bizarro from as far back as the 60s with some William S. Burroughs novels, but I think back then they were just called Weird Books. Essentially, this still holds true for today's Bizarro Fiction: it's weird, and that's the point. Whether or not a Bizarro author writes a book that makes sense is sometimes immeterial next to whether or not it entertains and/or illuminates. Unfortunately, for me, this is where I disconnect from the movement--most bizarro titles neither entertain me nor make me think much other than the author is just trying to be strange.

The After-Life Story of Pork Knuckles Malone follows the exploits of a farm boy, Daryl, and his dead pet pig, who quickly ceases to be a pig in the first few pages when he is slaughtered by the young boy's father and cooked up as a ham for dinner. Daryl refuses to part with his best friend, ultimately stealing the ham and running away to his aunt's apt in Green Bay, WI. This is just the first of his many stops on a strange soul-searching trip as he runs from location to location, prompting everyone around him to continually remark that they smell ham. The story also cuts to the POV of both the father, and later the pig (ham?) itself--and even the POV of a fly aplty named Zzz.

As the novel progresses the situations keep turning up the knob on the bizarre scale until we're way past 11... to the point that we're introduced to demons, other worlds, monsters, space, what have you. There's no real solid conclusion to the book other than to make it clear this adventure continues beyond the final pages, which works well because I think a reader's own imagination is the only thing that can outdo Johnson's final scenes.

With all this talk of traveling down the road of weirdness, you're probably wondering if there's really a story. Thankfully, MP Johnson is wise enough to provide some meat to his tale beyond just a dead pig, and ultimately at the heart of our journey is a strained father/son relationship trying to rectify itself. Perhaps this is what I liked best about the book, that Johnson took a pretty cliche story of a farm boy in love with with one of his father's livestock, which is killed, and gave us an entirely fresh way of exploring the fallout and rectification.

Is the book entertaining? I almost laugh as I say this but YES, it is very entertaining. Is it for everybody? Certainly Not. And to be honest, had it not gone so far into left field as it progressed, and contained endearing characters, I might have gotten a bit tired of the journey. But by the end I was dug in and enjoying the ride. As I read the last line I sort of felt like my head had been put in a blender.

Johnson's writing is good, with a nice sense of prose and style, and a pacing that never lets the story get mired down. That characters are interesting and the pathos is just right. In lesser hands, this type of story would suffer greatly, but Johnson knows his audience, and he knows how to use the language that speaks to them.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit, even though I tend to lean away from bizarro fiction. So if you are a bizarro fan, you'll want to maybe add a bit to my final tally, but suffice to say I was nothing if not entertained and I recommend this to anyone looking for a short, strange trip.

3.5 OUT OF 5 Worms

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