Cocksucker is a joyride through the swamps of Florida. Lucas Milliron paints a not-so-pretty picture of an Everglades populated by incestuous hillbillies, cryptids, and wild pigs…essentially what anyone outside of Florida expects to find in Florida. We first meet Clive as he and his sister, Abigail, are enjoying each other’s company in a way most of us hope our children never will. The true miracle of this book is that the hillbilly family, and Clive in particular, ultimately come across as sympathetic by the end of this tale. Not many books featuring inbred families manage to make those same people the heroes of the story, and yet that’s precisely what the reader will find within these pages. Sure, they’re disgusting people in essentially every way one might imagine, but they’re also quirky, funny, and–most importantly–human. When the henhouse is destroyed and the chickens are slaughtered and exsanguinated, Clive is forced to accompany his father on a hunt for the chupacabra-like creature responsible. Instead, Clive makes his first real friend, and that is only the beginning of this strange adventure. In the meantime, a suddenly tense vacation for a group traveling from Florida back home to California leads them on a collision course with the inhuman residents of the swamp where Clive and his family live, and it’s safe to assume none of them will be the same again, assuming that they survive. If you only read one book containing graphic depictions of men being raped by a skunk ape, Cocksucker should be that book. Are there other books with that subject matter? I don’t know. Frankly, I don’t care. This is the only one you ever need to read.
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Filth and purity. These words will mean something to you as you follow along with Courtney’s awful narrative. They’re appropriate words to have in mind as you read Mangum’s Saint Sadist. In a strange sense, there’s an overarching theme of filth and purity, the duality of those two things, and the way they reflect one another throughout the whole story. Courtney’s father was a violent and abusive man, until she discovered she could use her burgeoning sexuality as a shield to protect herself from those bouts of cruelty and violence. Becoming a victim of a wholly different sort of abuse, teenage Courtney believes she’s taken control of the situation, both protecting herself and preying upon her father’s weakness. Then she gets pregnant. Reading this, you might think this is the end…but it’s only the beginning. Courtney escapes from her home, hoping to provide a better life for her incestuous offspring by living the life of a harlot. Few authors would look at what they’d created thus far and decide they haven’t gone far enough. Lucas Mangum is one of those few. The story grows increasingly vile and violent. The voice in Courtney’s head and the visions she experiences force us to wonder how much is real and how much is the result of severe psychological damage and depravity visited upon a young girl. This is an unpleasant, raw, and disgusting masterpiece. Melody Muzljakovich breathes life into both Courtney’s Texas drawl and the hissing whispers and chanting of her inner voice with equal skill. Other characters are similarly well-narrated.
John Wayne Comunale’s Mage of the Hellmouth is both surreal and captivating. It’s entertaining in the way a lot of subversive fiction is, and the horror of it sort of runs along with a similar style to Jacob’s Ladder and other psychologically unnerving horror stories that make you question what’s real and what’s not along with the characters. Apropos of the Jacob’s Ladder reference, this book even includes a bizarre scene of graphic sex at a party where our protagonist, Jake, is forced to question whether he’s simply too intoxicated or really witnessing the events taking place. It’s a quick read, and it’s well-paced to keep you invested in everything taking place on the page…as you follow Jake from his late-20s slacker, stoner, drunk life of tedium working for the Fam-Mark ice cream company through the progressively sinister experiences and encounters with co-workers and friends as he takes on his new role at the main facility. And when I say “role” it has multiple meanings, as the events in Jake’s life dovetail with an old tabletop RPG he’d played as a child, Mage of the Hellmouth. In the end, this is an example of no good deed going unpunished…as Jake receives the reward for the marginal part he’s played in grand events he had no way of anticipating. The only issue I have with this book is a time jump/recollection that initially seemed like a formatting error. Upon finishing Chapter 7, the content that doesn’t appear until Chapter 10 seemed like it should have followed…making Chapters 8 and 9, Chapters 9 and 10 respectively. The ambiguous shift back to earlier in the story is not a deal-breaker by any stretch of the imagination, since the story as a whole was a terrific read just the same, but it was a bit jarring and led to momentary confusion until I’d caught on to what was going on.
Samantha Kolesnik’s True Crime is a gritty deep dive into an abusive household and the horrible consequences of that abuse. It’s all the more awful for the plausibility of it. Suzy’s only escape from the horrific emotional, physical, and sexual abuse from her mother–and boyfriend(s)–is reading True Crime magazines that she’s fixated on. Her only allies in the cruel childhood she’s experienced are her older brother, the emotionally detached Lim, and the unseen girl, Alice, held captive in the basement by Suzy’s mother, speaking to Suzy only through the heat registers. Little does she know that she and her older brother, Lim, are soon to create their own story befitting her favorite magazine…as she smashes an ashtray into her monstrous mother’s head…and that is only the beginning. As Suzy evades justice and Lim winds up in prison for the murders no one imagines Suzy could have been involved with, we find ourselves wondering if she can be rehabilitated with a second chance and a clean slate. The animal freakshow scene was deeply upsetting and made me want to attack the spectators as well, and the later scene where Suzy discovers the dogs made me sad too. Acts of cruelty and violence against animals do more to get under my skin than the same sort of violence perpetrated against people. It seems that Suzy and I have that in common. Jennifer Pickens expertly narrates the audiobook edition of the story, capturing the equal measures of naivete and cruelty of Suzy’s first-person narrative.
I grew up in an abusive household in a rural region. This story hits close to home for anyone with that sort of background. While it was my father, rather than my mother, who levied the abuse, it doesn’t change much. That the abuse from my father was physical rather than sexual isn’t much of a difference. The sexual abuse, instead, came from a slightly older girl who lived next door and who saw a six or seven year old boy as a suitable way to learn about the differences between boys and girls.I wanted to include a little warning, in case anyone is triggered by these sorts of things.