Monday, November 27, 2017

A journey into urban weird

Secrets of the Weird

Chad Stroup

Publisher: Grey Matter Press

Pub. Date: July 11, 2017

Ratuing: 5 out of 5 stars

Sweetville sounds like a place I'd want to visit but wouldn't want to live there. At least that is true for the part of Sweetville that Chad Stroup explores in Secrets of the Weird. At first it doesn't seem all that different than the shady parts of any city that include the downtrodden, hopeless and outcasted. It has its share of people who choose a marginal and conventionally frowned upon lifestyle. We got neo-nazis, drug addicts, name it. They make what is the skids of Sweetville. But then we get to find out about those residents who don't necessarily fit our own world. We have an odd cult called The Withering Wyldes whose emaciated bodies seem anything but natural. A transforming Angelghoul who sells a drug called Sweet Candy and feeds upon human flesh. A dwarf plastic surgeon who seems to love his job too much. If the city of Oz was created by Williams S. Burroughs it might be something like this. The author's depiction of this normal yet not normal city is a strong aspect of the book. It seems like an environment meant to be visited again. I thinks we are only getting the tip of the iceberg and what a tip it is.

Then something happens. With the interesting city building taking place, Stroup throws us a curb ball . Amidst the insanity a personal story develops. Trixie is a boy who is really a girl. The first sentence of the book set her dilemma up. "Trixie loathed her penis". Trixie is quite a character. She struggles through some of the roughest of situations slowly making her life tolerable yet knowing she won't be really accepted in society as she is. Kast, the plastic surgeon who is allied with The Withering Wyldes, has offered her a dubious solution and she is reluctant to go the full mile. Then a boy shows up, Christopher who is a member of a punk band called The Civilized Cannibals. He is one of the good guys and it would be nice to say he accepts her how she is but then we wouldn't have a story.

Now we come to the intriguing issue of the novel. There really isn't too much of a plot here. The real story is Sweetville and the interaction of its denizens. Yet Trixie plays a key role and brings us the real human condition of the story. Stroup does a very good job creating a character who may elude some readers unless they actually are personally intimate in the trials and emotions of being transsexual. The author makes this all work. Though the heart of the narration is third person and seen though the perceptions of several characters, there is plenty of back story received through the pages of Trixie's diary. Stroup also adds interludes through magazine ads and articles that give us a stronger glimpse of the topsy turvy consumerism in Sweetville. They tend to be more amusing than revealing. I wish I could say both city building and personal story comes together but I'm not sure they do. They seem disjointed when brought together but they are both very strong and I kept reading for both.

Secrets of the Weird is often more like a painting than a novel. It is a both landscape and portrait. One cannot help becoming immersed in this urban world with its body horror and psychedelic terrors but you also feel for the character of Trixie. If there isn't a slam bang thank you ending, you still are dumbfounded by the time you get there. I previously described Sweetville as the city of Oz as seen by Burroughs but perhaps it's more like Cannery Row as written by Phillip K. Dick. I think Stroup's influences for this novel are a bit of all four but for a debut work it has a lot of individual brilliance. While I had minor issues with the book, in the last analysis I cannot give such a strong first novel anything but 5 stars. Perhaps the true secret of the weird is that it is nothing without a strong dose of humanity

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