A Beginner’s Guide to Bizarro Fiction

A few weeks ago, this cease and desist letter from Jack Daniels to author Patrick Wensink caused quite a stir within the Bizarro literary community, for about an hour. Then the news went viral. For independent presses and publishers like Lazy Fascist, any publicity is generally good publicity, but this — especially for the Bizarro community — was unprecedented.

Bizarro Literature is still a relatively new and unknown genre, at least to the mainstream, possibly in part because it’s difficult to define. Though it may sound like some sort of exclusive and super-strange underground literary movement, it in fact encompasses many kinds of fiction — all of it weird. In an attempt to elucidate through example, we’ve collected a list of eleven Bizarro books that are representative of the genre after the jump. NB: this is by no means an all-inclusive list, so if you feel we missed a book or author, then let us know in the comments!

Person by Sam Pink

How can you tell a story that is about nothing? Sam Pink’s Person, the Bizarro equivalent of Albert Camus’ The Stranger (as if The Stranger wasn’t already strange enough), does just that. Person is written in the first person, and it’s about a person, living in Chicago. That’s it — or at least, that’s about as much as we can say about it. Take this sentence though: “I live in Chicago and I don’t get along with a lot of people and the reasons are always new and wonderful.” It’s poetry that reads like a book — or maybe vice versa. This is existentialist Bizarro Literature at its finest.

Help! A Bear is Eating Me! by Mykle Hansen

Help! A Bear is Eating Me! is exactly what it sounds like. Think Nicholson Baker’s The Mezzanine except that it’s about a company man on a team-building trip in Alaska and somehow, he traps himself under a SUV. Oh, and at the same time, he’s being eaten by a bear. A quick read, almost like watching a movie, this book is really just good fun.

Blankety Blank: A Memoir of Vulgaria by D. Harlan Wilson

Professor Wilson is an interesting fellow. He has worked as a garbage man, tax collector, casino dealer, model and actor, international salesman, sommelier, town crier, and flâneur — all before obtaining an M.A. in English and Science Fiction Studies (that’s two separate Masters of Arts), and then finally, a Ph.D. in English. Yes, he’s something of a maximalist, it seems. Blankety Blank is about Mr. Blankety Blank, a serial killer with a barbershop pole for a head. As far as plot is concerned, that’s about it. After that, you’ll find dozens of interesting quotes from people like David Burkowitz the serial killer and Sir Brian Aldiss the Science Fiction author. You’ll also find a section on werewolves, haikus, several dictionary definitions for words like “goodbye” and “dutch wife,” and lyrics to a song titled “The Egg Man.” This novel is a definite highlight from Wilson’s illustrious cabinet of Bizarro titles.

Beyond the Valley of the Apocalypse Donkeys by Jordan Krall

Some high-concept Bizarro stuff here, and totally NSWF. Beyond the Valley of the Apocalypse Donkeys opens with a preface, an introduction, a foreword, the main story, and then an afterward, each written by five different authors. Talk about post-everything. But the story itself is a Jordan Krall original. And here, we’re talking nudist colonies, explicit sex, pancake batter and bodily fluids, cult films, donkey masks, ultra violence, post-modern chapter markers and duh, things like Apocalypse Donkeys.

House of Houses by Kevin L. Donihe

House of Houses is a Wonderland Book Award winner, and that means a lot within the Bizarro community, and with good reason: when it comes to creating unique characters and strange, unforgettable situations, there’s no one like Donihe. In House of Houses, Carlos gets married to his house, Helen. Problem is, the very next day, something happens and there is a terrible house apocalypse. All the houses of the world collapse and go to a place called House Heaven. House Heaven, as you can probably imagine, is only for houses, but Carlos is determined to get Helen back, no matter what. Add characters like Tony (also spelled R’yony), the black superhero with an oversized sex organ and the human/house hybrid tyrant Manhaus, and you pretty much have House of Houses (sort of) figured out.

The Obese by Nick Antosca

Check out this opening line: “My name is Nina Gilten, and I’m cutting pieces of hipbone off a beautiful South African girl called Behati van de Velde…” Yikes. The best thing we can think of to say about this book is that it’s sort of like Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds meets really fat people. And that cover art! But seriously, there’s no better way to put it. The Obese is about fat people, plain and simple, but also, it’s about the fashion industry, and other things. And yeah, it’s as over-the-top as you’d expect, with some truly sickening moments of violence. But this is smart satire, so don’t go expecting anything shallow. When he’s not writing books, Antosca writes for film and television — his film, The Cottage, starring David Arquette comes out later this year.

The Sorrow King by Andersen Prunty

For the horror fiends, The Sorrow King is something like the classic boy meets girl story but with a strange Bizarro twist. As it turns out, there’s this thing, the Sorrow King, and it causes teenagers to kill themselves. Imagine, if you will, a more sick and twisted version of Martin McDonagh’s Pillow Man, and then multiply that by one hundred. Prunty also manages to offer some of the most convincing portrayals of teenagers, ever. It’s scary good.

Rico Slade Will Fucking Kill You by Bradley Sands

Bizarro action! Arnold Schwarzenegger’s head on fire! And some guy named Rico Slade says he wants to “fucking kill you!” Exclamation points!!! Wow, talk about getting excited. While the plot itself is practically non-existent, the prose is sparse, somewhere between Tao Lin and Less Than Zero-era Bret Easton Ellis, and the concept is simple enough (and it’s pretty obvious, just from looking at the cover): you know in action movies how the action hero always manages to survive everything and kill everyone, no matter how insurmountable the odds? Well, this is an homage to that kind of horrible movie logic. People die, things blow up, and sequels become sequels of other sequels. Plus, it’s really really easy to read. Like a movie.

Shark Hunting in Paradise Garden by Cameron Pierce

Shark Hunting in Paradise Garden tackles religion, fantasy and sharks, all in the space of about 128 pages. And it’s definitely a what-the-hell-did-I-just-read sort of book. The exposition is kept to a bare minimum and everything just sort of happens. Quick plot summary: there’s a pack of pilgrims who travel back in time to the Garden of Eden (because they want to meet Adam and Eve and talk to them) but, along the way, something goes horribly wrong. They crash land and tons of pilgrims die… well, that, and then the fact that there are sharks the size of buses floating about, eating everything and everyone! Probably the most bizarre Bizarro book on this list.

Warrior Wolf Women of the Wasteland by Carlton Mellick III

Carlton Mellick III is a legend. Cartlon Mellick III has already written so many books he could probably fill his own little section at your local book shop. Carlton Mellick III has always been — and always will be — a staple of the Bizarro community. He’s also managed to, somehow, write a book in just about every literary genre imaginable, while still sticking to his bizarre roots. But Warrior Wolf Women of the Wasteland, is, in our opinion, his most accessible work to date. There’s romance, action, violence, sex, post-apocalyptic goodness, McDonald’s — it’s all there! Plus, this one was also a recipient of that coveted Wonderland Book Award, so you know it’s good.

Broken Piano for President by Patrick Wensink

This one’s a clusterfuck. A good clusterfuck. Broken Piano for President is about a man, Deshler Dean, who “has invented a hamburger more addictive than crystal meth [and] scored a six-figure contract for his terrible art rock band, and started dating a woman he doesn’t even recognize.” What? Clusterfuck, we told you. Let’s just say this one;s full of conspiracies, alcohol, fast food-speak, alcohol, and uh, well… more alcohol. But there’s so much going on that you may want to read a little slowly, or you might miss something good.