Review of Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls by Alissa Nutting

The most creative short story collection I have ever read.

While technically belonging to the bizarro genre, this collection passes itself off as literary fiction. The author has, by now, established herself as a literary figure. It always bothers me how a slight literary polish makes all the difference between this and small-time bizarro practitioners, like Carlton Mellick, for instance. Small-time in the sense that people don’t seem to hand out awards and fellowships to authors in bizarro publications. The very slight difference is Nutting’s assured, razor-sharp, prose which floats like a skein of oil above the wild, deep, and controlled subtexts, delving into the bizarre alternate realities in her mind to scoop out the cream of wacky dreams and fantastical lapses in sanity.

Amid the demonic interplay of surprising and alarming plot points are heartfelt characters, unexpected twists, and a Garfield reference. The settings are diverse: from space to bowling alleys, from infernal regions to a stadium-sized kettle on the boil.

Very different from her novel Tampa, these are full indulgences of her imagination, the farthest flung scenarios from the frighteningly realistic portrayal of the novel. Consistent throughout both is a sharp wit, hilarious and startling moments, clarity of voice, eccentric behavior, and a simply ruthless commitment to imagery, description, and fascinating horrors. Luckily there is plenty of pathos, and her miraculously affecting storytelling does not suffer from pretension or unsympathetic characters. They are perfect if you can appreciate the out-there, the truly extraordinary things humans are capable of describing.

I greatly look forward to reading her other novel and everything else she publishes in the future.

Review of Tampa by Alissa Nutting

Are you a brave reader? If you read Lolita unfazed, made it through American Psycho, and graduated to Story of the Eye, maybe you’re ready for this one.

But ask yourself, what do you want to get out of literature. A thrill? Shock value? There’s a multi-part series on Youtube showcasing the most disturbing books ever printed if you’d like to go down the rabbit hole. But if you read for escape, to jump into an absorbing story, and don’t mind x-rated sections, and taboos, if your trigger warnings are turned off and you haven’t recently eaten, give it a go. The only way it could be more controversial would be if it were animals, cute fluffy ones, instead of teenage boys. (But we shouldn’t give A. N. any sequel ideas). Or if the genders of the main characters were reversed, in which case, read the other reviews to speculate on publishing trends, definitions of obscenity, and other relevant topics.

Have our desensitized, consumerist minds demanded this, or just created a market for it? Could it have been done better? Hard to say. It certainly could have been written worse. As it stands, it reads fifty times better than Fifty Shades of Gray (I read three sentences of that) and approaches the subject matter with professional, New Yorker-quality prose. Occasional flights of fancy add a whimsical layer to the pulse-heightening subtexts, until the eye-widening description takes over the text as a result of the intimate first person narration, usually awash in sensory overload—which in itself should satisfy most readers’ immersive longings. Imagistic quirks sometimes clot the gushing exuberance of the sentences. And midway through, characters start to act in ways reminiscent of cinema scandals, Hollywood climaxes, escapades of attention-mongering indulgence, all reckless enough to induce face palms, eye rolls, and a sickly, sad nausea, like what you might experience in a demented dream, where the universe conspires to trap you in an impossibly contrived situation of vibrant humility. The interior monolog is the star of the show, cataloguing and critiquing the main character’s environment with running commentary. Her predatory impulses define her existence, and her devotion to them empower her in the sense that lampooning and one-upping others converts her pathetic, obsessive personality into an Übermensch perception of self-admiration. But this heightened observational power is undermined by some of her naive justifications and lack of restraint. Then again, if she had any restraint at all, if the desires weren’t overpowering, then the book wouldn’t have a leg to stand on. The book needs to happen, so she needs to lose the battle. However, the interesting part of all this is how this novel becomes literary fiction, rising above erotica, by making plot subservient to psychological insight and societal allegory. The vicious rutting is secondary to what it says about humanity… or is it. You be the judge, jury, and reader.

Like Ballard’s Crash, Nutting uses human fears, insecurities, compulsions, weaknesses, and psychology to fashion a harrowing, downright riveting vehicle for her storytelling.