Review of I Wonder What Human Flesh Tastes Like by Justin Isis, Quentin S. Crisp

The struggle of young people to understand their place in the world, within society’s context, or outside of its proscribed categories, considered from a multitude of perspectives, at differing stages of fatalistic contempt, solipsism, wanderlust, and obsession.

The Japanese setting, conjured with sublime authenticity, was absolutely convincing. Equal parts startling nostalgia and enigmatic yearning. With the tenacity of Mishima and the crystalline clarity of Tanizaki, Isis attains timelessness. In a style bereft of posture, the author zeroes in on a generation of media-savvy, dislocated characters who possess a shattered sense of empathy or are psychologically tethered to abstract or actual idols, who are at times depraved due to the sheer weight of loneliness. It depicts delicate sensibilities in a mature way, reaching a salience of aesthetic purity which perfectly demands the reader’s active consideration while memorably encapsulating beautiful lived-in moments.

A sublime and poignant collection of long stories. Atmospheric, mesmeric, down to earth, and unhurried as the films of Kiyoshi Kurosawa or a darkly tinted Ozu. The desolation of empty public spaces, littered with wind-swept memories. Leave your innocence at the door. The book embodies the act of stepping off the precipice of youth into the abyss of adulthood, forcefully straining you through a contorted filter of sex, philosophical hunger, and the inseparable gulf between disparate human understandings.

I would’ve continued reading this book for another 1000 pages.

Review of The Cutest Girl in Class by Quentin S. Crisp

I have already come to expect greatness from the publisher Snuggly Books. 

This did not let me down. It is an intriguing descent into a particularly uncanny-valley subculture. It left me wondering where the name Sooki comes from. Urban Dictionary offers a number of possibilities. Turns out it is not an uncommon Eastern name. But I can’t help thinking I’ve missed a secret allusion to some obscure piece of media. Undoubtedly, dozens, if not hundreds of references within the book went over my head. It is a complex interweaving of experimental styles, product spoofs, characters satire, and pop culture commentary, all wrapped up nicely in a page-turning plot. While it goes completely off the rails during a fondue party, I was still strapped in for the remainder of the ride with my eyes stripped and almost extruding from their sockets. The celebrity cameo was delightful.

A specifically compelling aspect of the novel is how it pays homage to broken English pornographic advertising copy, inserting it like some kind of occult background incantation.

How rare is a novel combining the ideas and writing styles of 3 geniuses? It is not possible, in my opinion, in the current publishing industry and this modern age, to be more skilled at portraying magically real characters than these writers are. The many books they have produced all seem to possess a certain intangible dissociative reality at once disarming and irresistibly compelling.

Both vivid and transgressive, The Cutest Girl in Class is an examination of sexual commodification, which, in its various manifestations, often simultaneously discomforts and validates us. The extreme uses to which aesthetic pursuit might be pushed is explored in the form of real doll collecting, a pastime depicted with a startling degree of fidelity. The love for artificial reality pervades the blasted and ruined landscape of our modern consciousness as construed through a soul-siphoning dependency on substances, physicality, and the illusions our brain concocts to adapt to our environment. The inhuman gratifications of the simulated experiences bleed into the hedonistic reality of our anti-heroes, belittling their sense of self while they connive and indulge in equal measure. The inner folds of micro-delineated tactile sensations crackle through the well-polished prose. The galleries of painted geishas presented within convey the possibility of harems of daintily maintained dream-bots, semi-sentient, all-accepting, serving the omni-ravenous appetites of adolescent awe. The possessed idols of our de-aged hormonal fixations pull us into luscious intimacies through the gravitas of their silicon valleys, their exquisite inanimate, detachable tongues, the soft-fingered prongs of their jackknifed grip, their lock-jawed smiles and reptilian eyes.

Loneliness, isolation, the palaces of the interior. Connections: spiritual, physical and psychological,
cloaked in absurdity. Gangsters with very peculiar interests and a vast network of niche resources.
What makes us human? What degrades us and shoves us into realms of the inhuman, and what is to be found there? This novel pierces through the veil of propriety to the festering microcosm of the human imagination. Though I found the adolescent romance scenes less compelling, they were still well-written and woven into the overall plot, seeding it with a counterpoint of innocence, optimism, and chastity. Perhaps it was a missed opportunity not to give the reader a full chapter entirely from Sooki’s perspective, given the alternating perspectives that tweaked the lens of the narrative eye.

Idol-worship, entertainment, devotion to an artificial expression of desire and idealized beauty. conspiracy, paranoia, campy Yakuza-style subplots, and a dislocation from the everyday. We are each a subtle corpse, a barely zoetic masses of disparate particles, anchored into a substratum through faith in our continued existence.

I challenge you to explore the quirky and enigmatic avenues of this miraculous piece of fiction.

Review of Dadaoism by Justin Isis and Quentin S. Crisp

One must look closely at the cover to appreciate the art. Words, portmanteau or apropos to the content, beginning with the longest word and decreasing slowly into the four-letter expletive at the bottom, cascading into one another. These key terms suggest some of the tricksterism to be encountered in the anthology. Finally, there are the two gender symbols merged at the base, encompassing the two halves of the human experience. It reminds me of a funnel, a filter of language.

But what is Dadaoism? Justin Isis and Quentin S. Crisp posit two partial comments on the theme in their superb introductions. Isis explains that authors erect armor around themselves in the form of writings, feebly increasing the durability of their spiritual vessels. In my mind, the metaphor extends to ephemeral mansions and worlds constructed by authors to escape reality, in the hope for the endurance of our personal brand of imaginative expression. We each craft a golden disc, but instead of the great void, we cast it into the supersaturated information exchange permeating our culture.

Crisp cites Zhuang Zhou’s well-known parable of the butterfly’s dream. Which makes one wonder, is our reality a personal interpretation? A flood of interpretations is likely to result from reading this anthology.

It begins with an intriguing story by Reggie Oliver – a controlled, subtle, philosophical tale in which the main character comes to identify with a fancy chair. It hints at the mingling of souls with inanimate matter, or the Asian trope of inanimate objects which inherit souls after reaching sufficient age.

The range of authors and stories (and poems) is immense. At times cryptic, impenetrable, irrelevant, and oddly hallucinogenic, this collection defies as it entertains. Whether they are advocating an elimination of style or motive, or relishing these things, this collection subverts whatever expectations you bring to it. I found Nina Allan’s tale one of the more traditional. Peter Gilbert’s “Body Poem,” seems to extrapolate into fiction of what Shelley Jackson has been doing in real life for years. It was one of my least favorite inclusions. Whenever several inexplicable twists occurred in this unpredictable collaboration, the intrusion of the imagination was everywhere evident. “The Autobiography of a Tarantula” by Jesse Kennedy might have been my favorite. Haunting and creative, unhurried, ruthless, and profound. A skewed perspective is often a leaping-off point for these microcosms, branching into unaccustomed spaces of neurally stimulating territory.

A good example was “The Lobster Kaleidoscope” by Julie Sokolow, wherein the chance existence of homonyms dictated the slant and content of the tale. A surreal and brilliant slide into uncanny dreamscape.

“Koda Kumi,” a ‘remix’ by Isis of Crisp, was particularly mesmeric, combining traditional storytelling elements with characteristic artful atmosphere and lyrical prose.

The unsettling dystopian “Poppies,” by Megan Lee Beals, though abrupt, added layers and dimensions of weird.

Totaling 29, these wildly different and stirring works contain something for everybody, as well as some things for nobody, and no things for somebody, etc. The permutations of the human mind are practically infinite, but our prevailing sensibilities latch on to easy interpretations. Be baffled. Wander through the labyrinth of hyperbolic experimentation. In its heart is the luscious fruit of enlightenment, sprouting from a rhizosphere of dark, subconscious exploration.

Review of Morbid Tales by Quentin S. Crisp

Incredibly good. QSC is not only a master storyteller, but his elegance and imagination are exquisite, refined, compelling, and unique. 

These are the types of speculative fiction short stories with subtle speculative elements, which could hold their own as literary fiction but expand their purview beyond the average range of infantile mainstream topics. They are not what I would normally term ‘morbid,’ at least compared to contemporary extrapolations of that term. They contain brutality, violence, sex, and surreal horror, but more than all that, they are immaculately written wellsprings of imagery, containing deep psychological insight and breathless, dream-like allure. Even if you do not like the stories he tells, you have to admit that he tells them well. Crisp is an apt name. The sentences crunch like Pringles. The residue they leave in the mind is haunting. Simultaneously old fashioned and cutting edge.

‘The Mermaid’ – a novella length story about the legendary sea creature, with a surprising ending. An exploration of sexuality, with a warm, nostalgic tone. Extremely uncanny, due to the intense and photographic detail, the immerse quality of the prose.
‘Far-Off Things’
‘Cousin X’
‘A Lake’ – A Japanese tale. Familiar themes, but Crisp conveys the Eastern setting with knowledgeable skill. He was collected in a Haikasoru anthology and has written other books taking place in Japan. He is obviously well-traveled and well-versed in Eastern philosophy. This one has a Lovecraftian twist, but above all, a chilling atmosphere.
‘The Two-Timer’ – Crisp writes convincing adolescent protagonists. A recurrent theme in his work is unrequited or misinterpreted love.
‘The Tattooist’ – A tour de force. One of those classic tales which is disturbing, beautiful, weird, creepy, ecstatic, morose and much more at the same time. In the vein of Tanizaki, but thoroughly modern.
‘Ageless’ – A retelling of a concept already exploited by Nicholson Baker. A quirky and hypnotic tale nonetheless.
‘Autumn Colours’.

I will have to read all of Crisp. You never know where his intellect and artistry will take you. Everything he writes is infused with brilliance, wit, and irreverent charm.

Review of Remember You’re a One-Ball! by Quentin S. Crisp

With some reservation I finished this peculiar novel.

Having read a few titles by QSC, this one surprised me in its focused content. The reasons I did not enjoy it as much as his other books are manifold, and I think the right reader will get a lot out of it.

A few comparisons came to mind during my reading experience: Soseki’s Botchan, in the depiction of the school setting, and Lolita. While Crisp’s style easily compares to Nabokov, the plot and perspective of the novel may turn some readers off. Crisp may be a journeyman or intermediate-master of the English language, but the naïve narrator and self-deprecating interior monologues were a tad tedious in my opinion. It could just be that my attention span is infantile, but I found my interest flagging often. Soseki is guilty of the same vice – dwelling on mundane details, overexplaining where subtle cues would engage the wide-eyed reader. I don’t mind that cruelty and heinous bullying underlie the novel’s message, themes, and events. Popular literature is rife with sleazy boarding school brutality.

For me, the limitations of its storytelling outweighed its linguistic merits. Unlike Lolita, it does not partake of the singular worship of beauty, but reaches for an aesthetic precision reminiscent of that classic.

That being said. I have already decided to read everything by this author.