Sex Dungeon For Sale
I've always been intrigued by the catalog of Eraserhead Press. They say you can't judge a book by its cover, but I remember seeing Carlton Mellick III's Satan Burger and thinking, there could be something betwixt those pallid ass cheeks worth reading about. Then I saw Mellick's grimacing author photo and I hesitated. Gaping buttocks was one thing, but a silly author photo? It just felt like he was trying too hard to be weird. And that seems to be the stigma associated with Bizarro Fiction- that they are purveyors of weirdness for weirdness sake. So, like many a jerk before me, I made my assumption and left it at that. But then a funny thing happened in the intervening years; Bizarro became a bona fide literary movement.
I might one day yet part the pages of Satan Burger, like the fleshy globes that adorn its cover, but alas, it was not to be my introduction to the genre. That dubious honor belongs to Patrick Wensink. His book of shorts, Sex Dungeon For Sale!, is the latest release from Eraserhead's New Bizarro Author Series. Created to showcase the talents of unknown first-timers, the series is a sink or swim proving ground for aspiring Bizarros. According to the foreword written by editor Kevin L. Donihe, "The success of this author is in your hands. If enough copies of this book aren't sold within a year, there will be no future books from the author." Effectively, what he's saying is that it's the readers fault if the book is unsuccessful. Way to go all Brandt on us. "Her life is in your hands, Dude." My response, like The Dude's, is, "Don't say that, man." I don't want to be responsible for ruining an author's career, but I don't want to be guilted into giving a good review, either.
So is Sex Dungeon worth your precious time and hard-earned money? Or is it a literary ringer, filled with dirty undies? At only 88 pages, it can be consumed in a single sitting, so I wouldn't exactly classify it as a time burglar. Most of Wensink's stories are short little bursts of absurdist humor, cautionary tales more akin to blog entries than fiction. They feel like "believe it or not" news blurbs passed around the internet amongst friends. Did you hear about the young husband who finds out his son is a French midget, and his wife's lover? (My Son is French.) What about the star crossed lovers who commit suicide via a murderous kitchen appliance? (Wash, Rinse, Repeat.) Or the one about the white supremacist soldiers training as a dance troop? (The Many Lives of James Brown's Capes.)
I think you get the idea. The longest offering, Pandemic Jones, is the most developed and seems to be the unofficial centerpiece of the collection. It is a tale of two corporate flunkies turned biological weapon set in the pharmaceutical world of supply and demand. It is one of the few stories meaty enough to sink your teeth into, and along with Wash, Rinse, Repeat, has the strongest emotional core. It is more than just the punchline to a joke, which is more than I can say for the majority of the book.
I feel like this is the lighter side of Bizarro Fiction. The humor at work is mildly amusing, but the stories don't really stay with you after the reading is done. These are shallow jabs at the current culture, painted in broad strokes, not boundary pushing obscenities designed to offend. If my mother found this under thirteen-year-old me's mattress, she'd shrug and thank her lucky stars it wasn't The Catcher in the Rye.
Salinger notwithstanding, I have to wonder- have my presumptions done both Bizarro and Patrick Wensink a disservice? This being my first time, I was expecting awkwardness, pain and blood. Instead, Sex Dungeon tried to make sweet sweet love to me. The absurdities on display are more jokey than shocking, more lighthearted than offensive. It may fly in the face of forced weirdness, but came off as anticlimactic to this reader. If you favor this style of quirky humor and can forgive the lack of depth, you might enjoy spending some time in the Sex Dungeon. If that's not your kink, I wouldn't recommend it. Just don't blame me if Patrick's kids go hungry.