Thursday, February 25, 2016

Scary but whimiscal

Scary People

By Kyle Muntz

Publisher: Eraserhead Press

Pub. Date: October 1, 2015

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

So here is something I thought I would never say about a Bizarro novel that features a serial killer, a samurai, a demon possessed psychopath, monster guinea pigs and zombies.

Scary People is cute.

Kyle Muntz has managed to make a fantasy novel of the Bizarro type that is alternately scary, funny and even a little warm-hearted. It entails equal parts of Richard Brautigan, Tom Robbins, Anime, Warner Brother Cartoons (Watch out for that anvil), and something else that must be all Kyle Muntz since I can't quite put my finger on it. The novel doesn't really have much of a plot even though all is brought together at the end. It reads more like a series of vignettes centering around four friends: Matthew, Michelle, Karen and the unnamed narrator. There are a couple other characters that weave in and out of the story: A cannibalistic serial killer named Siquard and a quick on the sword Samurai. Yet the four very close but often conflicted friends are the focus. The vignettes center around their adventures which are episodic and somewhat random in their telling. Some of them die a lot but they always manage to return for the next vignette. As the narrator states, "I wish life were a series of vignettes, instead of a sequence of memories. It would make things so much easier sometimes." They live in a place simply called The City. The narrator is well aware that he and his friends are characters in a novel and constantly remind us of that, which gives it a Calvino-styled edge. There seem to be different rules about life and death in the place that the characters reside but the narrator and his friends share problems and emotions that are a fixed ground for any universe.

And that is what makes this novel so charming. The surrealism of the story catches up to you gradually. The first thing noticeable is the narrator 's somewhat stoic reaction to what is going on around him. Yet he is not indifferent and certainly not indifferent about his friends even when he is terrified or confused about them. That is his grounding and, consequently, ours. The thing that the narrator keeps mentioning is that the people around him are turning into "Scary People". If I had to figure out what this novel is all about, I would say it is about friendship, the kind that gets you through all the scary people. There's an old saying that starts, "You can pick your friends..." and I have always wondered if that is true. Our "choice" in friends seems to be just as determined (or unintentionally random even) as anything else in reality. The narrator is stuck for better or worse with his friends and that will be either his burden or his salvation.

But that's just me reading into what is a wistful combination of weird, horror and comedy. The main thing to get out of this meandering is that Scary People is a delight to read. The violence tends to be cartoonish and the pace is gentle and thoughtful. This is one of those novels which you are likely to think of as a light read yet it keeps pulling you back to the things between the lines. It is a nice change from a lot of the more explicit gore and horror out there and even from its taboo stretching cousins in the Bizarro genre. Not that it doesn't mention a few taboos of its own. It is just you will be smiling when you get to them. If you are looking for a change of pace in the usual fantasy and plain old weirdness, Scary People may just be what you are looking for.

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