The Girlfriend Game

girlfriend-gameThe Girlfriend Game
by Nick Antosca
Word Riot Press, June 2013
174 pages / $15.95  Buy from Word Riot or Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Every time we play the game, it brings us a little closer together.” So declares the title story of Nick Antosca’s poignant and feral new collection.

It’s not incidental that the book takes its title from this story. Grittier and less gothically stylized than Midnight Picnic (though quasi-supernatural dogs are no less present), the twelve stories collected here are about human closeness – the lack of it, the search for it, and the fear of it when it comes. They open with the premise of men and women drawing one another in, and play out the game that follows until some grim resolution brings that round to an end, sometimes sparing the players and sometimes not.

There are ample rat beasts, humanoid amphibians, alien landings, and panic-inducing weather patterns crowding the sky, but what’s scariest here are the ways in which, as a professor forlornly sleeping with her student puts it, “there was no escaping it, the violent strangeness of people.” Unlike in more common horror writing, where the monstrous crawls in unbidden from the basement or from another dimension, the people in Antosca’s stories call it up in one another, and access it via others in themselves.

In many of these stories, which tend to center on depressive twentysomethings in nondescript Brooklyn-based situations, people pursue one other across spiritual and geographical distances, often out of the city and into the woods. The woods, as in Midnight Picnic, are at once a sanctum of simplicity and innocence, and an arena for unleashing extreme and unpunished violence. Their sparseness of population seems to offer relief from the city’s human weight, but, as a setting for a certain kind of showdown, they serve an opposite purpose: they draw the pursuer and the pursued closer together by purging all witnesses and middlemen.

Weirdly, the violence this enables becomes a form of innocence. Beneath all the Facebook and iPhone surface noise, The Girlfriend Game fleshes out a primitive vision of society where dismemberment with knives and meathooks is a valid and even productive mode of interaction. It’s maybe the only way to play the game without tricking the other person. As one woods-bound narrator puts it, “I began to understand that only one thing might bring me peace – not fantasies of murder, but murder. I started planning.”

There are no misfires, but my four favorite stories are “Mammals,” the most purely horrific, “Winter Was Hard,” the baddest-ass, “Migrations,” the saddest and most enigmatic, and “Carnal Quartet,” which nails the vibe of darkening post-coital rooms where a hint of dread – maybe just passing time, maybe something demonic and amiss – creeps in to divide the dozing lovers, while at the same time enveloping them both.

Continue reading “The Girlfriend Game”

Q & A WITH TODD GRIMSON

 

Grimson sepia

Todd Grimson is one of the great living cult novelists.  I’ve known him for a few years, under strange circumstances.  He wrote Brand New Cherry Flavor, which is both one of my favorite horror novels and my favorite novel about Hollywood and the film industry.  He also wrote the underground vampire classic StainlessBoth were recently re-released by Schaffner Press, which is now publishing his new collection of stories, Stabs at Happiness, in pleasing hardcover.

It’s a terrific collection, diverse and weird and disturbing.  (Here are some reviews: LitbitchThe OregonianGothic.net.)  You can and should buy it.

I asked Todd some questions about Stabs at Happiness and about his strange life and career.

For a while, you assumed the name “I. Fontana” and published stories in BOMB, Juked, The Quarterly, Lamination Colony, Word Riot, PANK, the Voice Literary Supplement, Bikini Girl, Spork and many others. We corresponded for some time before I knew your real name. Why did you adopt that name?

Fontana comes from “Fontana Mix,” a composition by John Cage I heard when I was 13. Continue reading “Q & A WITH TODD GRIMSON”

Invent your monsters sparingly: a conversation with Ned Vizzini

I sat down with Ned on a Saturday. He was feeling rough, having consumed something gnarly at a dinner party the night before in an incredibly storied Hollywood Hills house. Soon after this interview, he was struck with food poisoning. Ned’s a busy guy: his book, The Other Normals, comes out today, and the TV show he writes for with Nick Antosca, Last Resort, premieres in two days. He’s also working on a movie with Nick called Woogles, and writing a series of middle grade novels with Chris Columbus (of Harry Potter fame). And he’s a relatively new dad. Below is a transcript of our conversation, Ned drinking down gut-calming tea…

I’ve known you since you first came to LA, and I wanna know if there was any event in particular that coincided with you starting this book.

Yeah. There were two things about a decade apart. One was towards the end of high school. I was out with some friends, hanging out in the park. And I hung out with a lot of Russian kids in high school. And I had a shorter, more wily Russian friend, who’s in my first book. His name is Owen. I also had a taller, bigger, more militaristic—

A Dolph Lundgren?

In that vein. He ended up joining the military. He’s the person who told me that the US military still trains against the Russians, that when you’re doing an exercise in the military, you’re still—

Fighting the commies.

Yes. And I asked him why, and he said, “Because we’re the baddest motherfuckers around.” Continue reading “Invent your monsters sparingly: a conversation with Ned Vizzini”

Nick Antosca on reading Lolita at 12. What was the first book that you felt dirty reading? I’d say mine was either A Confederacy of Dunces around the same age, or maybe The Godfather. Hard question for me because I was watching stuff like Terminator & Skinemax from about 5 on. You?

Spooky kudos to Nick Antosca, whose book Midnight Picnic is a finalist for a 2009 Shirley Jackson Award in the Novella category. If you’re wondering how to deliver your own congratulations, Nick likes swimming and Cuban sandwiches. Good work, Nick!

Word Spaces (16): Nick Antosca

Hi everyone. Here’s Nick Antosca‘s apartment and a few paragraphs describing where he writes. He wrote Midnight Picnic in this apartment. Thank you, Nick Antosca, for taking the time to do this post.

IMG00121I write in my bedroom.  I have a large bedroom for New York, so I can fit a small couch in it.  (My bedroom used to be half the living room, but we chopped it up when we moved in.  Three people live in what was originally a one bedroom apartment.)  My bed is in one corner and diagonally across from it is the black leather couch I sit on when I write (on my laptop).  This is really not ergonomic, but when I used to write at a desk, with ergonomic pads in an ergonomic chair, my wrists and back hurt a lot.  They don’t hurt now; I don’t know what that’s about, but that’s the way it is.

Continue reading “Word Spaces (16): Nick Antosca”

Winners of the Nick Antosca ‘Midnight Picnic’ Contest

Here are the winners of Nick Antosca’s Midnight Picnic Contest, as chosen by the author:

Winners:

Ben Spivey (points for picture) (http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v719/truettdietz/MScontest.jpg)

Ken Baumann (chill of truth)  (http://htmlgiant.com/?p=1936#comment-3436)

Honorable Mentions:

pr  ( http://htmlgiant.com/?p=1936#comment-3470 )

barry ( http://htmlgiant.com/?p=1936#comment-3447 )

jereme ( http://htmlgiant.com/?p=1936#comment-3481 )

crispin ( http://htmlgiant.com/?p=1936#comment-3701 )

Honorable mentions winners can email me (brothercyst@gmail.com) their mailing address and whether they would like to receive a copy of FIRES or a randomly selected book off my bookshelf.  (I will not be offended if they choose the randomly selected book.  I will politely assume they already have FIRES.)

Thanks to all who participated, may they die peacefully in their sleep.

All else, you can pick up your copy from Word Riot Press, and really should: it’s a wild book.

Now, to counteract the psychic violence of the photo that accompanied the original contest post, here is a ‘compromise’ video accompaniment: cute meets curdled. It’s as far as I’m willing to go.

Win Nick Antosca’s MIDNIGHT PICNIC

You may have heard by now that Nick Antosca‘s brightly anticipated new novel, MIDNIGHT PICNIC, is coming out this month from Word Riot Press. It’s been through some kind of phantom haunting of its own but now in the firm hands of Jackie Corley and company, it will soon available for your eyes (and is now out from preorder on the site, if you are so inclined, and should be.)

I really loved Nick’s first book, FIRES, and having read MP already I can tell you it is like a mix of Cormac McCarthy’s CHILD OF GOD on too much Kool Aid and full of magic, phantoms, surreal shopping malls, those shots from Lost Highway where it is just the car going into the night, etc.

To celebrate the coming release, Nick and WR Press have hooked us up with two copies of the book for to give away to HTML Giant readers. Entry to the give away is simple:

What is the way you would least like to die?

Answer this question in as little or as many words as you need to best elucidate the exit method. Bonus points have been promised to those who illustrate their deaths with pictures or drawings in MS paint. Whoever most effectively, creatively, disgustingly, or whatever other adverb seems good as deemed by Nick will take home what I can guarantee is a book you will not soon forget.

Another thing I won’t soon be forgetting is the picture the author requested to be included in this post, which I will now bestow up you in all good faith that it will lead your mind to the gory end that gets you the book prize.:

Contest closes Monday night. Let’s hear it.

MLP: 3 Reviews

I got the second batch of Mud Luscious Press chapbooks today, and read them excitedly. J.A. Tyler (editor) chose bright neon colors which, for me, reflected a certain kind of synthetic violence I found to be a unifying factor.

Rat Beast by Nick Antosca

[Spoil alert] This piece starts off fairly ‘normal,’ a first person narrative about a dour kid turned teenager having trouble at school. A Huxleyian counselor enters with treatment alternatives, the final of which takes a rather grotesque Kafkian turn (two name-drops, sorry), towards the eponymous animal. The ending is even more evocative due to the well-handled restraint in the writing.

Patience by Brandi Wells

A man carves the female reproductive system in the rind of an orange, creating a fetus in place of the fruit. At one point he “carves a fist beside the labia,” an allusion (in my sick mind at least) to fisting, or at least the manual ways women’s bodies are altered by patriarchal ideals (I’m so gay). Wells describes fallopian tubes wrapping around blades of glass and ants eating them; a kind of abortion detritus. J.A. Tyler plays well with the physical page break, embracing the most precious (bad word!) moment of the story.

In the Rape Year of the Ghetto Toddler the Houses Will Awaken by Blake Butler

To try to understand the title is to try to understand Butler’s writing, and I mean that in a good way. Butler is concerned with ideas, themes, and language–and how those three things cook down into meaning. He doesn’t explain it; but describes it, and he trusts the reader and himself enough to know that, through the thick confusion and minor nausea, his writing will be intuitively understood, and more importantly, viscerally manifested. Herein, rabbits live in bacon-greased arm sockets, wallpaper patterns dent cheeks, and a man is on vacation his whole life. Unabashed controlled chaos. Through the surrealism, I always get the feeling that Butler is talking about something less metaphysical, and more actual: an America today that might cause one to dry heave.

On a formal note, J.A. Tyler is marking MLP chapbooks with a signature ampersand in place of all ‘and.’

& it rocks.