Lance Carbuncle, Sloughing Off the Rot (Vicious Galoot Books, 2012)
When I was about thirty pages into Sloughing Off the Rot, Lance Carbuncle’s third and (conditionally) best-so-far novel, he and I (we’ve known each other since he emailed me out of the blue asking me to review Smashed, Squashed, Splattered, Chewed, Chunked, and Spewed six long years ago now) had a brief conversation about whether his work fits in the bizarro category. Lance doesn’t think so. In general, I agree, though when one of the first people you thank on your acknowledgements page is bizarro icon Andersen Prunty, you’ve gotta figure that the influence is rubbing off at least a bit. But—and this is a very odd thing to say about a book that takes place entirely in a dreamlike alternate universe, to be sure—Carbuncle’s work has always seemed a little more rooted in reality than most of the bizarro stuff I’ve read. In this case, “rooted in reality” includes a number of gratuitous musical references and a very strong Biblical parallel, both things which pretty much guarantee this book is bound to offend pretty much everyone you know—and if that’s not more than enough reason to read it, for the love of carrot sticks, what is?
Plot: a guy named John, who adopts the name John the Revelator after a conversation with a burning bush (see where this is going?), loses consciousness one night in the real world and wakes up in a cave, dressed like Jesus in any number of cast-of-thousands Hollywood Biblical epics (including having linens that seemingly cannot be stained). After said burning-bush conversation and meeting up with a slightly (okay, more than slightly) crazy sidekick named Santiago, John starts off on a journey to redeem himself of the sins he committed in the real world. John, you see, is not a nice guy. At all. But, rather like Douglas Quail in Philip K. Dick’s Total Recall, John discovers that his actual personality is, well, a pretty nice guy, and he wants to help people. HELLO, DIVINE PLAN! But how to reconcile these two halves of John’s personality? For that, he learns, he must confront the Boss Monster in this world—the right reverend Android Lovethorn, whom John must convince to send him back to the real world of his (Lovethorn’s) own free will…
It’s a classic quest/redemption tale, made even more classic by the strong Biblical parallels I mentioned before, which include Carbuncle’s writing style, which consciously echoes the Old Testament in a number of places. Rather than making this like the unreadable dreck that is the Old Testament, it lends the book a certain gravitas that it might not otherwise have, as long as injecting it with an extra layer of humor if you happened to grow up subjected to the strictures of Mother Church. There are some bits that I found, shall we say, unsettling (going into them in any detail would be a bit of a spoiler, but let’s say I found the blumpkins and niksiks to be… objectifying…), but your mileage may vary, and even if it doesn’t, I would not in any way say the ultimately minor problems I had with the book should stop you from going and grabbing a copy posthaste. If you are not yet familiar with the wonderfully wacky world of Lance Carbuncle, this is as good a place to start as any—but you can grab any of his three (so far) novels and you will find yourself with a helluva good time on your hands. *** ½