"Fungus of the Heart" Book Review
Written by Jeremy C. Shipp
2010, 158 pages, Bizarro Fiction
Released on November 15th, 2010
About two months ago, I reviewed Dr. Identity, or, Farewell to Plaquedemia, my first major foray into the world of Bizarro fiction. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, which was a surprise to me seeing how I'm not a big fan of science fiction. But it was well written and, as such, genre preference became irrelevant. There's a point to this, and it is the same applies to Jeremy C. Shipp's Fungus of the Heart, another book I really dug, even though the genre is not one I generally read, which in this case is (mostly) fantasy.
Fungus of the Heart isn't strictly fantasy, though. It's 13 short stories of varying genres: science fiction, horror and fantasy, but it's the latter that populates the book for the majority. However, there is one constant theme residing throughout, and that is relationships. You have the bond of a childlike being and a Styrofoam cup in "The Boy in the Cabinet". Or maybe a man and his droid in "The Sun Never Rises in the Big City." And then there's Shanna and the sprite, Roan, in "Spider House." These aren't the stereotypical relationships you'd expect. This is Bizarro fiction, after all.
The stories in Heart are depressing as hell, almost every one of them. Even those with 'happy' endings leave you saddened on some level, because it seems even if they win, the character loses, be it part of themselves or something they were pining after. Yet that does not mean the tales aren't fulfilling, because they are. Shipp is an extraordinary writer, not only capable of providing a satisfactory ending even if it's not the one you want, but also able to quickly make you care about his characters in these stories, one of which, "Ula Morales", is only four pages. And in just those four pages, Shipp has you empathizing with the title character, the "...ordinary 10-year-old girl with antlers..."
Shipp also shows an expertise with a variety of genres and I enjoyed them all. Yes, some more than others, but on the whole, the entire novel is quite solid. Of the stories, the one that frustrated me the most was the first, "The Sun Never Rises in the Big City". Ironically, it's also my favorite. A sci/fi hardboiled tale in the vein of Blade Runner, the piece was just too damn good to be constrained to a mere 19 pages. In addition, hardboiled crime is one of my favorite genres to read, and Shipp writes it extremely well. From the opening line of "Adeline positions herself in front of the Venetian blinds, and the blades of light cut her body into thin slices," I knew I was in for a treat, and I wasn't disappointed. Shipp nailed that 1950s film noir flavor, and I was a bit saddened when it ended. I would love to read a pulp fiction-esque novel from him. To get such a small taste of something potentially great led to the frustration mentioned earlier.
For sheer fun, the best story in the bunch is "Monkey Boy and the Monsters". I just do not know how to describe this tale in a way that will justify it. It follows Monkey Boy and his friend Soapy (a bar of soap) on some wacky adventures. Zombies, werewolves, vampires and poo populate this story, and it's simply laugh-out-loud funny at parts. This is probably the only piece in the novel that completely light-hearted, from beginning to end and it even manages to have an amusing anecdote on life in its final sentences.
Fungus of the Heart's $13.95 price tag may seem just a bit steep for an oversized paperback of just 158 pages, but it's money well spent. You get 13 great stories, you are supporting an independent publisher that is delivering a quality product and you'll have a book that has a high re-readability factor. I should know, I've read it twice since I got my hands on it. As bleak as many of the stories are, Shipp injects some humor in each one. Sure, it's dark humor, but, really, that is the best kind anyway. Some of the tales are surreal (which seems to be the the calling card of Bizarro fiction), some outlandish and some just straight what the fuck and, at the end of the day, all are original and terrific.