Listening to Mark Justice reading Edward Lee's The Bighead and going "hmmmm" (in a good way)

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Summary: I have been listening to Edward Lee's The Bighead...a combination of dark comedy, redneck horror, eschatology, and scatalogical pervesion. Um, it's neat?

Thursday, 03 December 2009

(19:57:05 CST)

Listening to Mark Justice reading Edward Lee's The Bighead and going "hmmmm" (in a good way)

I wasn't looking for an audiobook when I found Edward Lee's The Bighead. I do not do audiobooks, not really. Just not my thing. Why spend twelve hours listening to a book when I can read it in four? Plus, the smell, right guys? I know, I know...for some reason that "cozy smell" argument is only applicable to ebooks and not abooks, but screw it. Anyhow, I was looking at some of the recent additions to Darkside Digitial, Horror Mall's digital downloads section, which usually means non-DRMed indie-press horror. One of those recent additions turned out to be The Bighead, and it was an audiobook (the first and only that they offer, as of the time I write this). It's one of those you buy and download as mp3s, not a physical CD one.

For those who like links to things: the digital download for Edward Lee's The Bighead as audiobook. $16.95 for about eight hours of content. Insta-download. Four files, around about 120MB each, evenly split out of the eight hours total. 128k or so sound quality. The whole thing can fit on one mp3-CD if you play like that, though you need to rename them since the file names are not consistent and the computer is going to pick the third one to play first. You'll see what I mean when you get the files.

They are read by Mark Justice, whom I did not know until I looked him while making this post. He is one of the ones behind Horror World's Pod of Horror podcast. He does an excellent job by the way. Not only does he swap voices around to represent the shift in omnipresent narration from one character to another, but he gets into the various exclamations and shouts to keep the listener ready and willing. When you hear what he is reading (don't worry, fair reader, I'm about to get to that), the fact that he keeps it together and makes it impressionable wins him a full three-thumbs straight up. No joke. Easily one of the top two or three audiobooks voices I have ever heard. You hear that, Horror Mall and Mark Justice? Do more. I'll buy them.

As far as reviewing the sound quality and such, it is not a perfect endeavor. Sometimes a recently read sentence will be reread. I thought it was a glitch of encoding at first, but once it happened with a slightly different timbre so I think it might be different takes that weren't sliced just right. Maybe, and just maybe, it is from the text. Lee has a few spots of repeating, with variation, the last bit of one section in or near the first bit of the second section. There are also some sqawks and some spots of hiss. There are a few spots where Justice pronounces a word kind of weird and one spot I know of where he says the wrong name. There is also one spot in the first file where the voice suddenly sounds like it is in a windy echo chamber. Nothing that causes you fling the audiobook from your being, but there. I cannot quite tell whey they chose two-hours at a go. If you have to burn it to audio CD, you have to break up the files. Since I do not do many audiobooks, maybe that's a standard length to break up digital ones?

This is not a post about sound-quality, though. This is a post about one of the most disturbing books out there. Maybe. I mean, chances are, unless you are particularly freaked out by clouds or one of those who swears up and down that the only thing that scares you is something really specific, it is one of the most disturbing books. No, I'm not going to gore-fight and try and say it's the most disturbing. I've seen those dumb discussions on and even as a huge horror hound, can barely understand them. What exactly are we bragging about here? The amount of guts per pound of celluoid? Unless you made those guts, personally, or were somewhere on set when they were brought out, you probably should just enjoy gore for all of its myriad rainbows of delight.

Some body parts and bodily fluids you will find in this novel, most in great quantity: poo, piss, blood, guts, brains, semen, snot, tears, anuses, breasts, and big flopping members of all strange shapes and sizes. There is sex both consensual and non-, more of the latter than the former, involving most holes and avenues naturally available and at least one sex scene involving, I shit you not, a colostomy bag. The introduction promises a double catheter scene, though I have not gotten that far. There is rarely a ten minute segment that does not make you go "ack, god, sweet...WHY!?" once or twice. And this thing has a plot, too. How about that?

The plot has a lot of "lost souls" coming together. Some are horror cliches. Others are kind of new. One is almost an Elmore Leonard character (hint: the priest). You have Charity, a sweet, anxious, and never-yet-sexually-satisfied thirty-year-old who was taken from her family in Appalachia but is now going back to visit her aunt. She road-trips with the recently met Jerrica, a sex addict with a self-destructive tilt, going to visit the region to do a series of write-ups on it. There is Father Alexander, an ex-soldier turned priest and psychologist, who deals with a the issues brought up by his fellow clergymen going astray. There is Dicky and Trip "Balls", shine-runners whose main hobby involves killing and maiming and raping and whooping it up. Finally, there is The Bighead, a mutant from the low country with two massive heads (one less massive than the other, I'll let you figure it out), sharp teeth, and a constant desire to do much the same things that Dicky and Trip do...just you know, mutant style. I am about half-way through the novel, and the priest and the two women have met up. I'm pretty sure that Bighead is also about to meet up with them, to everyone's horror. Not sure what Dicky and Trip are going to do, but I have a feeling that I will find out (and it will involve meeting up).

This novel is so unbelievably depraved and yet is told with such an earnest, and seemingly non-ironic, passion. Both Edward Lee's prose and Mark Justice's reading take this novel beyond the point of throwaway trash. Maybe that's the point. You take something so harsh and inhuman and you find a way to connect it to the human as much as possible. You feel pretty bad for Father Alexander while simultaneously respecting him. Charity is a borderline basketcase, and often mopey, but you can see where she is coming from. Dicky and Trip, I do not know, but even they tend to be told with as much humor and earnestness as you can in their situation. It is fascinating, something of a scatological irony: the audience should not accept the grotesque situation but does, because the obvious grotesquery masquerades a more subtle humane story. Can I coin that phrase? "Scatological irony?" You heard it here, first, folks! Think of Dead Alive, where Peter Jackson has us actually caring for people in the midst of a lawnmower-chopping-up-zombies scene. Frankly, almost all the best horror novels use something like it, and it is one of the most misunderstood aspects of the genre.

On top of this scatological irony is eschatological imagery (that, ladies and gentlemen, was the greatest play on words that I have ever, EVER, used; it is all downhill from here...) about apocalyptic urine nuns and poo lakes and...yeah, I'm done. Did I mention all the slang? I now know more words than I ever wanted for women and things that touch them or attach to them.

Here is the crazy thing, though. You got a rapin', cursin' triplet of freaks running around rural-land doing what they do best and saying the word "nut" about once per thirty seconds; and you got a pair of broken souls trying to get their life in order; and this all somehow has something do with each other. Seems like a scatter-shot of feces wrapped around a bad joke, right? I cannot get out of my head, though, that if this book had been written in the 1950s and had been in French, it would have described as an underground classic that forces us to reinvent our notion of the profane. Because it is set in South Redneckica, we focus more upon the throwaway than the keep. I mean, I could be wrong, maybe this is a good thing. Does the world need another novel that uses the word "cornhole" more times than you can readily count on your fingers? I do not know, but I do know that novels no greater and, if anything, less passionate than this have been lauded as groundbreaking.

Maybe Edward Lee is talking about hell on earth. Maybe Lee is summing up the utter frustration fo all the types of sexual disfunction. Maybe this is a novel about the degeneration of the American dream. It's probably about poo and having sex. Still, though, screw a world that shunts Edward Lee to the back-burner while standing in line to shout praises at movies like Salo. Like all good transgressive works, there is something kind of holy about tapping so deep into your inexplicable id, brushing up against the hell you will never know. It is a freeing sort of act, and that's about the best I can say about it. Embracing no holds barred because real life is all about the barring of holds. And poo. Life is definitely about the poo. At least in the land of The Bighead.

Si Vales, Valeo


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