This was one of my first reviews and remains my favorite. Thought I’d share it since most of you guys probably never saw it. Jody Franklin sure knew how to swell a person’s head. 🙂
It was published in MungBeing, btw.
Suicide Girls In The Afterlife
2006 Afterbirth Books
Bizarro is a new revolting literary genre. It has coalesced around a core group of writers including D. Harlan Wilson, Carlton Mellick III, Kevin Dole 2 and Bradley Sands, the small press publishers Afterbirth Books, Eraserhead Press and Raw Dog Screaming Press, the zines Bust Down The Door And Eat All The Chickens and Dream People, and the Mondo Bizarro web forum. While they market it as a genre it feels more like a movement to me, as at the heart of it all there is a strong and united community. The writing itself encompasses diversity as it splices together elements of experimentation, absurdism, the surreal and the Kafkaesque irreal with genre pulp (sci-fi, fantasy and horror), hipster self-awareness and a punk attitude. Some of the Bizarro authors prefer to think of it as just weird fiction.
If the writing of Gina Ranalli is taken as representative of the genre, then the world of Bizarro warrants deeper exploration. Her debut novel Chemical Gardens is a darkly humorous acid-punk reinterpretation of The Wizard of Oz, conjuring the spirit of the late Angela Carter. Ranalli’s prose is at times vibrant, colourful and playful, confident and zippy, full of verve and vim. Her phrasings, even among the most simple, often dance: “…cool wet slime… caking in the cracks of my knuckles” and “I share a scream as we careen…” are but two examples of her subtle whimsy. With the story she lunges forth from the gate running and doesn’t stop until she reaches the finish line. Imagery is her strongest point, and I often found myself imagining some of her scenes quite vividly. Her ideas are clever rather than “clever;” there are few awkward constructs, there are no ironic sneers. She respects her characters and she respects her readers, and this is an admirable quality in a writer. Her characters, however, are drawn as gaunt as the cover illustration, and this occasionally puts a drag on the frenzied pace. This is a forgivable trait in such a breezy and entertaining fantasy; after all, I doubt her intent was to make a profound statement on the human condition. Just let her wave her wand.
Upon reading Suicide Girls In The Afterlife I was perhaps a little disappointed to discover that it was not about washed-up softcore porn lesbo goth bimbos whining about how cool their website used to be. (/Bad joke. Groan. Couldn’t resist). Hmm. If the title isn’t a marketing ploy concocted by Ms. Ranalli and Afterbirth Books to Google traffic to their website, it damned well should be.
Ranalli’s second fiction book (in one year!) is much thriftier in its delivery. She’s trimmed her prose to make it leaner, and as a result there are far fewer bumps along the road than were present in her previous effort. True to form, her words blossom with imagery dynamic and clear. The story opens in the haze of a misty surrealist dreamscape as the expired protagonist passes through an electric forest with nothingness falling down around her. She finds in afterlife only a waystation, interned as she is in a boring and gaudy hotel while Heaven and Hell undergo renovations. The oppressive ennui sparks an outlandish outlaw tour of the building as she leads a gaggle of misfits to seek out a stoner Jesus and a morose Lucifer just for kicks. Suicide. The afterlife. Heaven. Hell. Jesus. Lucifer. Somehow Ranalli navigates through these potentially weighted subjects without cracking any of them open. I’m quite certain faced with them in my own writing I’d stop and linger and delve and digress. In presenting the landscape and deities as dull and ordinary, Ranalli succeeds in demystifying the Chritsian mythos with gentle ribbing.
Gina Ranalli’s work is light, crisp and an easy read, accessible yet eccentric, creepy yet endearing, catchy like bubblegum pop yet twisted and off-kilter. Both books have cinematic and graphic novel potential. She comes across as more intelligent than your average pulp writer but feels no need to rub that fact in your face, she’s smart without the smarm. Enchanted. Enchanting.