Book Review: “Quicksand House” by Carlton Mellick III

I am extremely excited for this review!  Why, do you ask?  Well, I LOVE the Bizarro fiction movement and this is the first bizarro book I feel will sit comfortably in a Young Adult area.  About now, some of you may be wondering what is Bizarro fiction.  The best way I can think of to describe Bizarro fiction is to ask you to imagine Adventure Time with a decidedly mature bent.  The hallmarks of Bizarro fiction include decidedly absurd plot elements and characters, a gore factor that is right out of low budget B horror films, and a sexuality that pushes boundaries far beyond what most would consider normal.  It is crazy stuff and I LOVE it!  Frankly, I can’t get enough of the stuff.  The fact is, our culture is rife with more and more of the same old same old.   Be it artistically, fashion, the things we eat, the things we watch, and what we’re advertised to enjoy in our free time, there just aren’t many people pushing the boundaries in this culture.  Or, at the very least, our culture chooses to label these individuals as crazy or simply ignore them.  This is because, as a whole, we’ve decided that monotony $ELL$!  So the fringe doesn’t see a lot of exposure or publication.  The Bizarro fiction movement seeks to remedy that with independently published works that make you say “What is this,” “OMG,” “eeeeeewwwww,” and maybe even question some things about our lives.

Sounds great, right?  So, why can’t we put them in the Young Adult area?  Now, the gore and absurdity are by no means roadblocks or red flags for most parents; however, many parents balk at even realistic representations of sex and sexuality present in a normal teen’s life.  The ramped up sexuality presented in the majority of Bizarro fiction is where we run into the potential problem. It is this that would have 99% of Bizarro fiction formally challenged (or outright stolen from the shelves to be found in the dumpster two days later . . . the malleable morals of the offenders that do this always amuse and baffle me) before you could say “stay calm and have fun!” This is frustrating because a casual look at what our teens watch and do will show that they can’t get enough of the absurd, which would make them a prime enjoyer of Bizarro fiction.  If you doubt the absurdness enjoyed by our (or your) teens, take a cursory glance at their Tumblrs, check out Reddit and Tickld, or simply observe them with their peers.  Teens are prime purveyors and consumers of the absurd.  They would eat Bizarro books up like they are a tasty bag of Cheetos and cry out for more, whether they are reluctant or avid readers.  Which, let’s be honest here, would be GREAT!  I mean, teens reading books with abandon . . . even the ones who “hate” reading?  Where can we sign up?!?  Which is precisely why I was so happy to find this book published!  It is ripe for teen enjoyment, with very little that most parents would find objectionable.

Now that you’ve had a bit of an introduction, let’s get on with the review!

Publisher Marketing:

Tick and Polly have never met their parents before. They live in the same house with them, they dream about them every night, they share the same flesh and blood, yet for some reason their parents have never found the time to visit them even once since they were born. Living in a dark corner of their parents’ vast crumbling mansion, the children long for the day when they will finally be held in their mother’s loving arms for the first time… But that day seems to never come. They worry their parents have long since forgotten about them.

When the machines that provide them with food and water stop functioning, the children are forced to venture out of the nursery to find their parents on their own. But the rest of the house is much larger and stranger than they ever could have imagined. The maze-like hallways are dark and seem to go on forever, deranged creatures lurk in every shadow, and the bodies of long-dead children litter the abandoned storerooms. Every minute out of the nursery is a constant battle for survival. And the deeper into the house they go, the more they must unravel the mysteries surrounding their past and the world they’ve grown up in, if they ever hope to meet the parents they’ve always longed to see.

Like a survival horror rendition of “Flowers in the Attic,” Carlton Mellick III’s “Quicksand House” is his most gripping and sincere work to date.

My review: 4/5 creepy monsters in the shadows

This book is a ridiculously entertaining and quick read.  As with most of Mellick’s works it clocks in around 200 pages with a comfortable print size and relatively short chapters; which makes it an ideal book to carry with you and pull out anytime you are in a line, waiting for a bus, or just have a moment.  Not to mention, like any Bizarro book, people WILL ask you what you are reading.  It is always fun to discuss books with strangers and I quite enjoy reading my Bizarro books in places people will interrupt my reading to talk about the book, due to the covers featuring absurdly interesting characters.

Speaking of the cover, one of the things I enjoy about almost every Bizarro book I’ve read is the fact that the covers are accurate to the novel and its characters.  This is a rare thing in publishing . . . too many times has a character of Asian or African descent been white-washed to be placed on the cover.  Or a picture of a young woman of indeterminate age staring off into the distance who looks NOTHING like ANY of the bloody characters described in the book!  These book cover fax-paux and more are made purely for marketing purposes.  It shows little respect for the content it is supposed to represent and even less for its readers.  Well, no fear of that where Bizarro titles are concerned!  If you see a girl on the cover with green hair and antlers dressed in a gothic lolita skirt standing next to a cage with glowing planets, you can rest assured you WILL find that same character description and scene in the book.  What you see on the cover of a Bizarro book is what you will get and I can think of few things more refreshing in modern publishing!

Once again, Mellick confirms his position as the master of Bizarro fiction (When the likes of Cory Doctorow espouse you as “A visionary of the surreal science fiction tale” you know you’re doing something right!) with a nearly pitch perfect novel of absurd beauty and horror.  One of the things that Mellick accomplishes in every book he publishes is his ability to convey a vivid picture with surprisingly little in the way of description.  Most readers will find themselves reveling in this particular skill.  I like a book that paints a complete and rich picture in my head, but not at the cost of paragraph upon paragraph of description.  Mellick avoids this trap with a deftness that I find in few authors.  His depictions of the happenings and characters in the book are just enough and no more, painting a picture within one quickly loses oneself.

The plot is engaging and thoroughly intriguing.  Many of us remember times as children when we looked up from playing or napping to find our parents nowhere in sight.  Looking around, we found them to be simply gone.  Most of us panicked, certain our parents were gone forever, leaving us abandoned.  In reality, they might have stepped outside to get the mail or were at the back of a closet, or doing some household errand in a room we rarely ventured into; however, this pervading and nigh-universal fear of the absent caregiver provided a solid hit to our guts.  Mellick takes that fear and worry and turns it into a disturbing reality.  In this undefined future, parents no longer crave the presence of their children.  In fact, they find them abhorrent and shutter them away with a nanny who raises the children, teaching them to love their absent parents unquestioningly.  It remains this day until the day the child is grown and the parents come to liberate him/her from the nursery.  So, why do Tick and Polly hear their mother calling to them every night in their dreams?  Why have they not come to collect Polly even though she has long-since outgrown the confines of the nursery?  To this solid base, Mellick adds the hallmark Bizarro absurdity and gore to a taught plot of survival and a quest for belonging.  The result is a tense story rife with palpable fear, delightful strangeness, and a depressing future that still manages to end with an ounce of hope.

Now, for the bad . . . and it isn’t much: grammar and spelling errors.  Given the small scale publishers that release Bizarro fiction, it isn’t surprising that we see some failures in editing.  I love the things that Eraserhead Press and other Bizarro publishers release, but I do often wish for more thoroughly edited manuscripts.  The occasional error of spelling or grammar may be a hindrance for some readers, though most will likely read right passed the majority of such errors.  Mellick usually does okay in this regard, only seeming to inflict errors at tense moments or at the high points in the plot.  I would assume this comes about by being excited so much that he begins writing with speed and furious abandon during these intense and engaging scenes.  This is something I believe many of us are guilty of doing in diverse artistic endeavors, but I sorely wish the publisher would spend a bit more time on the editing side.

I sincerely hope that we will see more Bizarro novels in this vein that will sit comfortably in most Young Adult areas.  We certainly have the audience for such content in our Young Adult areas.  I am happy to add this title to our collection and you should be able to check it out in a few week’s time.


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