Friday, May 23, 2014

A Big Blue Dick: A Review of Clown Tear Junkies by Douglas Hackle

This is that painting by Munch, The Scream

Do you know that painting The Scream by Edvard Munch? Okay, now imagine that that character there in the foreground is real, and he’s called The Scream, and he doesn’t talk or make any noise at all, and he usually keeps his wavy hands next to his gaunt face unless he’s doing something else with them. And he hangs out with an immature, blue-collar jerk who takes him clubbing all the time, trying to pick up chicks. And the chicks all think the Scream’s friend is a loser, but that’s okay, because he’s got a pat response that puts them all in their place: he tells them they are 7s. Then goth chicks start to dig The Scream and he becomes a horror movie star, so the two part ways….

That’s pretty much what it’s like inside Douglas Hackle’s mind all the time.

And that’s pretty much the story The Scream, My Dog, part of Hackle’s collection Clown Tear Junkies. I spoilered the crap out of it, but you should still read it because it’s still good.

Camera zooming out for a moment, Clown Tear Junkies (WARNING: Contains zero clowns and/or circuspunk elements) is a collection of 27 very short stories. People like to use the term “absurd” to refer to this style of prose, and while some of it is absurd, Hackle’s style is much more nuanced. He draws equally from the wells of the existentially absurd turf mined by Kafka (see: Struggle of a Description); the playful, list-loving postmodernism of Barthelme; and obscure pop cultural references—Stiles from Teen Wolf makes an appearance alongside the chain-smoking Indonesian toddler of YouTube fame. What makes Hackle’s writing so much fun is his unpredictable wordplay and his juxtaposition of low brow fare and academic trivia. You’ll find quite a bit of recursive humor tying the stories together, not the least of which will be the intoxicating and addictive nature of clown tears (esp. when mixed with mime tears and mainlined—what a rush!). You’ll find yourself looking up words to see if they are in the real dictionary or at (yes, both chyme and chyle are for real). You’ll find yourself expecting the stories to be going in one direction; you’ll be surprised where they end up taking you.  

Now, there are a few moments when the stories just get downright silly, and there’s probably a story or two that doesn’t stack up to the rest of the collection. But 27 is a nice round number, and who are you to tell Hax to the Max to drop a story from his baby? I mean, these stories are like his children, and just because some of them are born with beards or flippers or lobster faces doesn’t mean you love them any less, right? Are you asking the man to pick his favorite child? What kind of a monster are you? Quit Sofie-ing his choice! When you do see one of these freak babies, do not make direct eye contact. Just keep your head down and push through to the next paragraph, which is bound to be creepily brilliant, like Crispin Glover playing Sherlock Holmes.

And there are a few moments where you think to yourself, “Is Douggie Hacksaw trying to tell me something?” It’s possible some of the stories actually have a meaning. Racism, homosexuality, intimacy, education, cosmology, music, art, life and death, puppets/poppets, chyme and chyle are all examined in varying degrees of insanity. At the end of the book, I learned that Strange House advertises within Rooster Republic books, and this seemed like a sort of conflict of interests, but nowadays networks advertise their shows on other networks, so whatever. It just makes it harder to remember which station the shows come on, but I have a TiVo, which doesn’t seem to get confused and can always figure out how to record the shows I tell it to.

I’d point out the highlights, but that’s almost the entire book. If I can only recommend three of these stories to strangers, I’d say that you, stranger, should start with The Perfect Popcorn: A Recipe, Fishing with Higginsworth Fig VII: A Tale of Denial, and Give Courtney Cute Anything She Wants.

The Scream, My Dog could really act as a sort of synecdoche here. Meaning, I could say, “You read The Scream, My Dog yet?” and you would understand that I meant, “Have you read Clown Tear Junkies by Dig Doug Hackensplatz yet?” We just have that kind of understanding of each other, don’t we, stranger?

Wait, forget it. Just read the whole damn book. We’re done here.