Whenever I read a Bizarro novel, I wonder if I will live through it. I have risked my life in literary jungles before: I grew up on Luis Bunuel movies and equally surreal books and films; I cut my teeth on William S Burroughs and the beats; I navigated through the wide open ranges of Transgressive Literature and I’m still not sure what that is; I journeyed through the scattered corpses of Splatterpunk. But Bizarro sometimes scares me.
The best way to describe Bizarro is as a tricked-out version of everything I mentioned above. It is surrealism revved up by influences from Manga, Marvel anti-heroes, and B-horror movies. With a few exceptions it is a young man’s (or woman’s) game; one for someone young and foolish enough to break the rules and go where the id takes you.
I Will Rot Without You by Danger Slater is an especially tricky piece of novelistic mayhem because it has a weird sweetness to it. That is a strange thing to say about a book that centers around mold and cockroaches, but it is there. If Richard Brautigan and William S. Burroughs had a baby it would be Danger. Anyone remember Joe’s Apartment, that terrible MTV-produced movie about an apartment infested with cockroaches? Think of a version that is ten times better with a script by Kafka and envisioned by David Cronenberg, and you are close to the experience of this bug and fungus infested novel, but not quite.
What makes I Will Rot Without You work is that the author places the narrator in an empathetic and even everyman’s persona while subjecting him through a nightmare of body horror and downright disgusting violence and gore. Ernie is struggling through the breakup with his girlfriend Gretchen. Immediately after her departure, cockroaches take over his place and repulsive but seemingly sentient mold is rapidly growing in alarming proportions. The cockroaches are led by one of their own named Cross who is as involving and interesting as you will find any literary character who is a cockroach. Ernie finds them feeding him the pinkish mold while he sleeps and starts to experience strange and terrible transformations to his body. In the meantime he is attracted to Dee, the girl next door, but when he approaches her, he is attacked by her boyfriend whose arms and other appendages are attached to her body. Then the weird stuff starts.
There are other outlandish things going on (such as the old man who made his dead wife into a marionette) but the author makes these characters fit in his unique world. The most realistic in-the-world character for me is Mr. Shakribarti, the verbally abusive landlord, but only because I once had a landlord just like him right down to the obscenities. All this bizarreness, and the casual way each character accepts it (at least at first) is par for the Bizarro course yet Slater cleverly weaves in a theme to the madness. It doesn’t take long to realize he is talking about the constructive and destructive abilities of a relationship. The author’s elegant prose stands out, taking us through the odd occurrences, and gives it a beauty and meaning all its own.
In the end, Slater shows us what good Bizarro is all about. The best Bizarro is not just weird but weird with a purpose. His wonderfully descriptive and poetic prose is worth the admittance alone but I Will Rot Without You is so good on many levels that I recommend this to anyone, even those that hate cockroaches and mold. If you have never read a Bizarro novel, this would be a good one to start with. If you have, it is still a must read.
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