Saturday, 25 October 2014

The Crow Death and Rebirth: The Crow Lives Once More

A Review By: Amelia

If you’re a follower of Bookworms Unite you’ll know I’ve posted about The Crow before: it’s my favourite comic and movie of all time. Since the success of the first movie though, there’s been a plethora of sequels hoping to cash in and, let’s face it, they’ve all been pretty subpar (I’m thinking of a much worse word but I’m going to reframe from using it lest there are fans for the sequels reading this). The Crow: Death and Rebirth was a comic that I avoided for awhile thinking it was going to go down the same road as the movie franchise, but when I found the complete graphic novel half off at a book store, I thought why not? Surprisingly, I wasn’t disappointed.

The Crow has been reborn: this time in Tokyo. Jamie Osterberg finds his life torn apart when Haruko, his girlfriend, is kidnapped and somehow changed into a different person. As he struggles to find out how and why he himself is killed. Of course, he doesn’t stay dead. The Crow must once more make the wrong thing right—but this time he might have to do it by killing the woman he loves the most...

John Shirley is the author of more than a dozen books, most in the cyberpunk or splatterpunk genre. He’s also written prequels and sequels to videogames and movies including BioShock and The Crow. He’s been the recipient of the Horror Writers Association’s Bram Stoker Award and won the International Horror Guild Award for his collection Black Butterflies. Shirley has also fronted punk bands and written lyrics for his own music, as well as for Blue Oyster Cult and other groups. A principal screenwriter for The Crow movie starring Brandon Lee, Shirley now devotes most of his time to writing for television and film.

The main characters of the piece are Jamie, an American studying in Tokyo, Haruko, his Japanese girlfriend, and the shadowy broad of directors at an unsavoury multi-billion dollar corporation. Overall the cast of characters is varied and interesting, but you learn very little about them throughout the piece. In the original Crow you came to know Shelly and Eric through numerous flashbacks until they felt like characters you’d known all your life. Unfortunately with Jamie and Haruko, you only get the opening of the graphic novel to learn about their relationship and it really doesn’t seem as loving and amazing as Shelly and Eric’s. The same goes with Jamie once he becomes the Crow. Jamie lacks the humanity that made Eric such an interesting serial killing vigilante. It just makes what Jamie and Haruko go through seem flat. It’s got life to it, but the life is a little cookie cutter-esque.  

The art style, like the writing style, in Death and Rebirth is a gritty and dark style. It’s got sharp lines and shadowy, murky colours. Faces are minimalistic and the landscape even more so. It’s an interesting choice since the piece takes place in Tokyo and there’s not an inch of that city that’s not covered in advertisements and neon lights. All in all, the shadowy and dark colouring that’s featured in Death and Rebirth is on par with the original Crow (of course the original didn’t have colour, but that’s beside the point).

My final thoughts on The Crow: Death and Rebirth are that it’s pretty good–it’s no where close to the original because I’ll be damned if that wasn’t the most genuine thing I’ve ever read!–but Death and Rebirth wasn’t trying to be the original Crow (unlike all those horrible movie sequels that tried to cash in on the original’s success). It was a revamp–a rebirth–of the franchise. Although it didn’t hit every mark it attempted to hit, it was still an interesting take on James O’Barr’s mythology. Death and Rebirth  has its own story with its own themes and if you’re a Crow fan, it’s definitely worth looking into.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Party Monster: Murder Has Never Been So Much Fun!

A Review By: Amelia
I often find myself drawn to the darkest, most disturbing, bursting-with-salacious-personal-details of memoirs I can find. There’s just something about a life lived in an impure way that’s so compelling to read about. When I watched the movie Party Monster and then discovered it was based on a book, how could I resist?

Disco Bloodbath: A Fabulous but True Tale of Murder in Clubland re-released under the title Party Monster: A Fabulous but True Tale of Murder in Clubland is a 1999 memoir written by James St. James about his life as a Manhattan celebutante and club kid. The book specifically chronicles his friend Michael Alig’s rise to fame and his subsequent fall after the murder of fellow club kid and drug dealer Angel Melendez.

James St. James (born James Clark) was a club kid of the crazy Manhattan club scene in the late 1980s/early 1990s. He was notorious for a lifestyle of excess that included heavy drug use, partying, and bizarre costumes. St. James was Michael Alig’s mentor in the scene and one of his closest friends leading up to Alig’s murder conviction.

When Party Monster was first published, it was a storm of controversy. Apparently people just weren’t ready for its vivid, striking, often disturbing, and always outrageous depiction of the hedonistic world of New York City’s club kid scene. The book is an inside story of life in clubs like The Tunnel and The Limelight and the drugs, sex, music, and mayhem that existed during the heyday of the New York City club culture written by the man that more or less started it.

That’s only half the story though. The other half of the story revolves around Michael Alig, the gay kid from nowhere special who came to New York and blew up the club scene to the hedonistic levels that they’re known for nowadays. You learn a lot about his character through St. James’ recollections about him, and even though he’d been high through a lot of it, his descriptions are anything but lacking. He was a selfish and semi-sadistic kid who let his sudden fame go to his head. How did all this turn into the murder of a fellow club kid? Drugs of course. When Angel Melendez got angry at Alig for using all his drugs without paying, Alig fought back, killing him in the grisly manner and then dismembering him. From that point to the point of his arrest, Alig told anybody and everybody he could that he had, indeed, killed Angel. St. James says that he was told a few days after the murder while doing drugs with Alig at his apartment.

But while St. James's flashy approach is artful and engaging to this macabre tale of murder, St. James has no sympathy for the victim of the crime. Alig, after being sentenced to up to twenty years in prison is reeling with regret and shame. The closest thing to emotion on display is St. James's obsessive need to document the highs and lows of life with Alig and his own self-pity at the end of his carousing days with him.

All this is told in a stylish and very campy prose of a self-proclaimed rather needy diva and Alig’s best friend. St. James has a way with his words that makes it seem like all this happened just last week and not drug-induced haze years ago. There are funny parts where you can’t help but laugh out loud, and the description of Alig’s murder is gruesome and ghastly to no end. St. James's account of the rise and fall of Michael Alig is, truly, a most unconventional contribution to the body of true crime. Mixing outrageous exploits of club queens with the running commentary of a babbling drug addict, St. James fuses humor and narcotic enthusiasm with pure camp and the result is a flamboyant and engrossing first-person narrative.

My final thoughts on Party Monster are that it’s highly enjoyable. St. James tells two stories: one his own about the club kid life full of all-night parties and uncountable drugs and one of Michael Alig, the maddeningly selfish, mostly crazy murderer that not only made St. James’ life, but also ruined it. His story, despite its gruesome subject matter and frequent, shocking lucidity, has a chatty and anecdotal quality that's compelling, endearing, and human when it comes right down to it. St. James’ comes off as shallow and full of self-importance, but why not? It’s how he’s felt about himself since his club kid days! It’s an entertaining red full of salacious giddiness, queeny commentary, and decadent details. If you’re looking for a fuller account of the Alig/Melendez murder, look elsewhere. It’s an insider’s take on events, not factual accounts. Treat this book as it was meant to be treated: a technicolour-lurid portrayal of addiction, self-delusion, narcissism, and depravity that shows that murder was never so much fun!

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Circus Bulgaria: A Strange Look Into Bulgaria

A Review By: Amelia
In a departure of how I usually review only one short story from a collection, this week’s short story review is on a full book of short stories. Why? Circus Bulgaria was a unique short story collection. Each story usually lasted only a little longer than three pages each and I found it difficult to choose just one to write about! All that being said, here are my thoughts on the short story collection Circus Bulgaria.

A boxer-turned-hitman faces an impossible mission to kill his brother; an entirely insane man becomes part of a political rally; a master puppeteer loses her craft for something more profitable; artists are discharged from the army; and a fading beauty is courted by a suitor with suspiciously scaly hands. Circus Bulgaria draws on the monsters and myths of Balkan folklore, the brutal reality of the Communist regime and the magic of the author’s own imagination. The fifty stories included in this collection have a surreal and almost hypnotic quality. Absurd, painfully funny and deeply sad, Circus Bulgaria reaches straight into the bizarre heart of Eastern Europe.

Deyan Enev was born in Sofia, Bulgaria. He graduated from Sofia University, where he studied Bulgarian language and literature and among his various occupations are house-painter, hospital attendant, teacher, copywriter. As a journalist he has published over 2000 pieces with 12 short story collections among those. Circus Bulgaria was long-listed for the prestigious Frank O’Connor English language short story collection contest.

Each story features a set of characters, a plot, and a location that’s completely different from the last (although Eastern Europe is where most of this takes place). Some characters get no dialogue, some aren’t even named, yet what’s really quite remarkable about Circus Bulgaria is that, even though the characters have so few pages we (as the readers) can still empathize with them or villainize them.

Circus Bulgaria is an interesting book. The stories are poignant and quick paced but I did find they ended abruptly or in a way that didn’t make much sense (at least they didn’t seem to make much sense to me). Some held my attention better than others but that’s the case with most short story collections which can be very hit or miss.

My final thoughts on Circus Bulgaria are that it’s fascinating concept but maybe not a book for everyone. With so few pages to work with, each story starts with a bang and usually ends with one too but the lack of set-up information/the abrupt endings might put some people off. However, if you’re a deep reader, that dynamic works very well within this book. So check this book out if you’re looking for something you’ve probably never seen before.