Rake: A Novel by Scott Phillips

RakeI’ve reached a point in my book collecting drug habit where I can’t fit any more books sitting upright in that classic, “Look at my shit” style. I’ve now had to start stacking books on top of one another, in front of one another, because I’m too cheap to buy another bookcase. It wouldn’t be such a terrible situation, and I call it terrible with my tongue planted directly and with so much vigor into cheek, if I’d just read more so I can, then, move said books over to my “I read this” bookcase. Or I can go back to the library and donate what I don’t want to keep (Nope! NEVER owned a copy of Tell-All. Not once. Not ever.).

I look now and from a room and a half away, I can see all kinds of books I’m excited to get through: A bunch of Sallis, Meghan Abbott, that dope-sounding Pym joint, and a bazillion Stephen Graham Jones book, no doubt. Any rate, I seem to be getting back into the swing of reading printed words, so I’m trying to tackle as many as I can before I can’t anymore. While I slowly digest The Booked. Anthology, I also burned through Scott Phillips’ Rake: A Novel. It seemed rather short, and the boys over at Booked. Podcast won’t shut up about Phillips, so the book took a relatively permanent residence at the top of the priority list. They tell you what to read, after all.

And as per usual, their opinion was fairly dead on. Rake, tells the tale of a quasi-successful American soap star transplanted into present-day Paris, where his daytime serial really rooted itself into the French prime time. Striking while the iron skillet is hot, he takes the opportunity that his current fame is affording him, to plow through as many European panties as possible. The second priority is to prolong his success by getting a movie made, while doing as little of the actual work as possible. Because really, he’s really, incredibly busy getting nailed. And then the story really takes a turn, when the man vowing to finance the main character’s movie endeavor, finds out that his wife is sleeping with the protagonist.

It’s a simple enough story that takes all of the right twists and turns to keep a reader, such as myself, with the attention span of a coke-fiend (that sounds kind of bad (just a comparison, folks!)), and an avid love of commas, grounded firmly in a supurb noir tale. It also helps that the book is action-packed with lady-pounding and other fine violence. If more dudes read, or more and to the point, if more dudes asked for book recommendations, Rake: A Novel just surpassed an entire slew of titles to reach short-list status.

(Honestly, in the first draft of this, there was a Bruckheimer reference, but Phillips deserves better.)

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The Booked. Anthology Review 6: “To the Bone” by Seth Harwood

In every ideal situation, the point of art is to move the audience in one direction or another. Songs are crafted to make stupid teenagers fall in love, even the teenagers that have been married for sixty-some-odd-years. Paintings find new hues of blue to make the viewer feel sad, cold, and alone. Movies are made to have us rolling around on the floor holding our sides with laughter. Unless you’re watching The Guilt Trip. Fuck that movie.

Hard.

Seth Harwood has earned maximum achievement points with “To the Bone,” a brief look into a period of the south when interracial coupling was something of a taboo topic. Because race relations are all better, right? The violence in this story reaches out, grabs you by the collar and pulls you in, making you breathe in what it breathes out. The motivations are nauseating, and I promise, none of this is hyperbolic. I’ve done and said things over the years that I’m not proud of, I’ve witnessed and been a victim of some horrible shit. So, it’s just a harmless short story, no big whoop.

Wrong.

Harwood manages to do in a few pages what life has failed to do on countless occasions. This story rocked me to the core, and honestly, I haven’t been able to look at The Booked. Anthology since. That’s probably something I shouldn’t admit, as it isn’t a selling point. “Fuck this book. You’ll get six stories in and not want to pick it up to read the twenty-something stories afterward.” However, I think that speaks to Seth’s talent. In a few short pages, he made this cold hearted bastard feel something. That’s the mark of an amazing story; an amazing author.

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The Booked. Anthology Review 5: “The Removal Kind” by Caleb J Ross

There are some stories that are generally innocuous. That doesn’t speak to the lack of voice, the flow of sentence structure, tone, or whatever. Just because a story is a story that sits there like a dead weight rising and falling with each breath filling your chest, it doesn’t mean that the story isn’t good. Maybe it doesn’t quite fit with the rest of a collection, or maybe there isn’t some hidden meaning. Perhaps the author just saw something and wanted to create a grander scheme to entertain themselves, rather than making another ridiculous YouTube video. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, you know? It just is what it is; a story.

Caleb J Ross is a disturbing fellow. Sure, his forehead is kissable in the dim light of a restaurant, when you’re in Boston, trying to feel normal. However, what is normal, anyway?

Not, “The Removal Kind,” but that’s what’s to be expected. Ross doesn’t exactly ever do normal. His characters are flawed in ways that everyone really is, but he puts a little extra stank on those flaws. And he addresses those flaws with a blunt honesty that makes the reader just a little more uncomfortable. Like a lover that just won’t quit, when you think you’ve found some equilibrium with his particular brand of weird, he twists the knife just once more.

Merkle is a dealer of rare items, primarily rats in jars; her other half is the voice on the other end of the phone, making that connection between Merkle and buyer. So, after a deal goes sour (the buyer doesn’t show), she goes back to her hotel room, to find that the guy she had brought to bed has stolen her product – a guy, no less, that was comfortable enough to forgo the scarring and staples of a fresh surgery that Merkle suffered.

Yes. That’s a Caleb J Ross story. He’s a weird little man and I love him for it. His stories don’t always fit, but they’re good, in that sore thumb sort of way. Always. He’ll never be Jonathan Franzen, all literary and boring in some classically trained New Yorker bullshit manner, and I appreciate that. That’s what I want, the weird and the circus sideshows, the fantastic and brilliant.

#FCJR

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The Booked. Anthology Review 4: “Scenes from the City of Garbage and the City of Clay” by Paul Tremblay

Roller coasters used to drive me crazy, that slow climb to the top; it’s maddening. Getting there was always so slow, and you knew eventually you would find that lip where you just had to get beyond the crest, and all you can see is the ground rushing up at you. But that climb, man, that potential. The rest of the ride, all of the whipping and hurtling through time and space is just right there; you can feel the icy chill of it all in your fingertips. “Scenes from the City of Garbage and the City of Clay” is jam packed with that slow, insanity-inducing climb.

You’re following the lives of a transplant living with her uncle and aunt shortly after her parents have passed away. Also, there’s an actor preparing for what is either the biggest role of his life or the biggest failure of a doomed career. The two of them roam the streets of a dying New York City, suffocating under heaps of garbage because waste management employees are on strike. And as the two main characters walk, they find presents addressed to no one in particular on top of the garbage. What they find inside these packages are the keys to everything they are looking for in life.

Kinetic energy is a bitch to someone like me. I’m impatient and suffer from Obessive-Compulsive Disorder. No, I don’t flip light switches eighteen times or go crazy because I haven’t washed my hands every hour. But once a thought creeps into my head, I have to do something about it or I’ll mentally gnaw on myself about that thought until I’m beside myself. The three main characters, including the city, are on the brink of the rest of their lives. That icy chill is starting to inch into their fingers, and without each other, without doing something about that dormant potential, they’re doomed to squander forever.

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The Booked. Anthology Review 3: “California Oregon” by Cameron Pierce

I’m beginning to wonder if, maybe, the guys of Booked. Podcast might have some sort of connect with a pharmaceutical company or somesuch. The Booked. Anthology opens with the rural, grizzly tragedy in “A Pound of Flesh.” The second story is Clevenger‘s “The Confession of Adelai Shade,” a tale of a gangster trying to do right by the prettiest lady he’s ever seen. And then there’s the third story, “California Oregon,” by Cameron Pierce.

Pierce’s addition to this anthology is a second-person point of view tale that pits you, the protagonist, in an either-or, two dimensional story. You either live in the polished cul-de-sac dimension of Bakersfield, California, or the middle-of-nowhere wilderness dimension of Oregon, after “your” parents split and go their separate ways. Some of the life events remain the same, like the big plot twist toward the end, jettisoning “you” into either soul-sucking downward spiral of tragedy. However, the fallout of some of these events result in different consequences, different branches of woe in this family tree of doom.

Much like its predecessors, “California Oregon,” is shotgun-riddled with gloom. That’s life sometimes, though, right? Authors have been brandishing the human condition with an ivory engraved handle for centuries, and The Booked. Anthology, so far, has been flashing that mother like its the new kid in town. “California Oregon” is a fast paced read. But like the previous pieces, and no doubt, the remaining stories, it packs an emotional punch with sharp language, characters, and situations, that are real and easily identifiable. Cameron Pierce, author of titles such as, Ass Goblins of Auschwitz and Die You Doughnut Bastards, editor of anthologies like, Amazing Stories of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and In Heaven, Everything Is Fine: Fiction Inspired by David Lynch, and the editor of Lazy Fascist Press, continues to prove that Booked. knows what you should be reading.

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The Booked. Anthology Review 2: “The Confession of Adelai Shade” by Craig Clevenger

It only feels natural to follow a juggernaut like Fred Venturini‘s “A Pound of Flesh” with something to keep the reader ravenous. The opening story is quite good, to be true. However, the impact it has could leave the reader dazed, even sluggish, like a beaten boxer. So, after the powerful left jab, you follow with a strong right hook (Because that’s all I sort of know about boxing. Come back to me if you want professional wrestling jargon. I’m your man!). Enter Craig Clevenger‘s “The Confession of Adelai Shade.”

Clevenger transports the reader to the dusty roads of a time gone by; a time of outlaws and outlaws without badges. Religion is making a strong comeback in Shade’s town, thanks to Reverend Hoyle. Adelai Shade is a career criminal trying to duck the law while wooing the wife of a preacher. World’s collide in an explosion fueled by alcohol and sex. Do I really need to continue?

Craig, or Mister Clevenger if you’re nasty, takes on the voice of a Southern Drawl, leaving behind the noiry minimalist darkness of his novels, The Contortionist’s Handbook and Dermaphoria. The new voice suits him with the pleats in all the right places. He’s a master of storytelling and “The Confession of Adelai Shade” proves that continues to be true. It also serves as a fantastic appetizer while we wait for his next novel.

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The Booked. Anthology Review 1: “A Pound of Flesh” by Fred Venturini

Up until now, I’ve read a select few stories in this collection. Prior to its completion, I was one of the lucky people to read through some of the submissions, looking for typographical errors and the like. I’ve been singing the praises of the book’s concluding story, claiming that it would be THE story of the collection. Now that I’ve finally read the collection’s opening story, “A Pound of Flesh” by Fred Venturini, I have all the doubt in the world. That isn’t to say Michael Gonzalez‘s “One Shot (Only God Knows)” isn’t worth the kudos, but to lend credence to the claims that Venturini’s story is a strong contender, that I had been promised all along.

“A Pound of Flesh” does everything to you. It holds your hand while you fall in love, it judges you from across the room as you age, and it mourns as you suffer through the end. I shake my head even now, because I want all of that so terribly, and I don’t have it anymore; the endearing wonders of being in a loving relationship. Maybe I’ll find the things again in this story, the things that I’ve longed for for so long, but until then, at the very least, Fred has given me the hope. He’s given me a story that I can live vicariously through.

When my contributor’s copy arrived the other day, I went directly to my story and read through it. I hadn’t read it since the day I’d submitted it, and dreaded seeing it in print from then on. I’m sorry J David Osborne, I just don’t have the confidence you ask of me. I liked my own story for a change. It made me laugh. I was proud of it and felt like, “Yea, maybe my story belongs here after all.” I don’t say that questioning Robb or Livius’s decision to accept my piece, but in my own mind. In my own estimation of belonging. And now, after reading A Pound of Flesh, I’m not so sure anymore. It is, in short, an amazing story.

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