"Now That We're Alone" Book Review
Written by Shane D. Keene
Published by Bizarro Pulp Press
Written by Nicholas Day
2017, 167 pages, Fiction
Released on August 1st, 2017
When I think of Bizarro Pulp Press (BPP), I think, naturally, of bizarro, the relatively young genre that has seen a healthy amount of growth over the last few years, both in readership and in production on the part of several key publishers, including that previously mentioned. So, when author Nicholas Day approached me with his latest collection published by BPP, I naturally assumed it was a collection of bizarre, off-the-wall tidbits from another delightfully creative but zany individual in the genre. But, as I’ve since discovered, Day is not an author who can easily be placed into a category, and presuming to do so was, albeit an honest one, a mistake on my part. His newest book, Now That We’re Alone, is packed with a cornucopia of greatness that draws on virtually every niche imaginable in the realm of dark, speculative fiction.
Beginning with the brutal little vignette, “This is Why Johnny is in Therapy Now,” a small celebration of violence and insanity in the form of a prose poem, Nicholas Day wastes no time demonstrating that he’s an author writing at the top of his class, delivering strokes of brilliance right out of the starting gate with powerful, emotional, and disturbing works like “The Ghosts in Winter’s Wake,” a tale that seems like an old-fashioned ghost story at its outset but turns out to be anything but, and terrifying, brutally violent creature features, such as "Chomp Chomp," which starts out with the completely unenigmatic lines:
A turtle the size of a small car is about to kill me. Figure I’ve got a minute, maybe two.
With that simple, short beginning paragraph, he does what authors like the great Jack Ketchum do: starts you out right in the heart of the story, tossing you immediately into the fire, sans protective gear or preparation of any sort.
Every story in the book has the effect of immediately engaging the readers; dragging them, willing victims, straight into the madness, the hook set so deeply they couldn't escape if they wanted to. But they won't want to. Nicholas Day is a master of action, pacing, and raw, bleeding edged emotion like nothing you've experienced. And he's also got a brilliant grasp on descriptive visuals, often evoking involuntary, visceral responses to his tales, sometimes pleasant, most often disturbing, and once in a while difficult to get through. Try not to catch yourself going, "huk, huk, huk" in the back of your throat as you endeavor to hold your lunch at the stomach-churning finale of "Bright Red Mess." Or not to tear up just a little with emotional little needle pokes like "Negative Space," in which a mourning husband struggles with the death of his unfaithful wife, holding a macabre discourse with the lover she left behind.
In spite of all I've told you so far, I haven't even gotten to my favorite stories in the book. Though every tale between the covers is solid gold, and I mean that emphatically, these next few I want to talk about really held such strong fascination for me, I read each of them at least twice. First up is a sad little gut punch of a story. “Snow Like Lonely Ghosts,” though being easily the quietest piece in the collection, is such an achingly unflinching look at the human condition, taking on the subjects of solitude, obesity, and suicide with an eye that feels like it wants to turn away but forces itself to look directly into the flames of loneliness and desperation. While containing nothing violent, gory, or supernatural, it still manages to be the most haunting entry in the collection, and the one with the greatest staying power. Emotional and linguistically perfect, it’s the best demonstration of Day’s devotion to and love of the English language in the entire collection:
“In the city of Alton, you can walk snow-slick cobblestone streets and watch the Mississippi choke on ice, and if the clouds see fit to separate then a thousand dull reflections serve as a reminder that there is a sun still hovering above the earth, but warmth and sweat will have to wait, because the cold isn’t done killing. Snow falls thick, like meat, and covers damn near everything but the persistence of man, his lights and cars and shopping malls where the older folks in town go to power walk, to distract themselves from their own advancing mortality. The cold outside is patient, aches bones, like the pain of being lonely.”
Next up on the roster of must-talk-about works, the story I thought would be my overall favorite in the book—I read it three times in a row—is the shockingly violent tale, “Beast Mode.” At its onset, we have a woman who has been kidnapped by a gang of outlaw bikers, having left her lover, Bram for dead on the side of the road and taken her for the purpose of selling to a human trafficker. But Bram is more than what he seems to be and when he comes to rescue her, the shit hits the fan in fine, monster movie fashion, with vivid flashes of gore and breathtaking brutality, it’s got splatter written all over its pages and yet, even in light of monstrosities both human and otherwise, also manages to be as—or more so—poignant as the rest of the tales in this selection of beautiful darkness from the mind of Nicholas Day.
You may have noticed in the previous paragraph that I only thought “Beast Mode” was my favorite tale in the bunch. That’s because I had yet to read the anchor piece. The final story in the collection, “GG Allin and the Final Flight of the Chrysanthemum Byzantium,” is probably the purest nod to bizarro fiction in the entire collection. It’s kind of a science fiction/bizarro/horror piece with a healthy portion of raw, sardonic humor that starts off with GG Allin piloting a massive starship as he endeavors to save the world. But it turns out to be so much more than just a canned military sci-fi. Quickly jumping back in time, GG, a former rock icon, first comes into the story when he is rescued from hell by none other than the earthbound spirit of Harry Houdini. Now, given that there’s no good, introspective or intellectual way to describe the work to you, let me just say that this story is a fucking blast. It’s a warp speed bizarro vision of heaven, hell, and rock-n-roll that will leave you clinging to the edge of your seat, unable to decide whether to laugh, scream, or do both.
One final, very important point I want to make about Now That We’re Alone, one that I rarely see talked about, is the structure of the collection. Bizarro Pulp Press Editor Vincenzo Bilof works closely with his authors to determine the final framework and layout of works like this, and in the construction of this book, the job they did turned out nothing less than perfect. The stories start out fast, ramp up in speed and action as they go, take a short little breather with “Snow Like Lonely Ghosts,” and then run balls to the wall, hurling the reader through the final pieces with such breathless, reckless abandon they might find themselves reaching for a brake lever that doesn’t exist. When you read this book, make absolutely certain that you read it in the order it’s presented in. Anything else would be doing a great disservice to yourself, robbing yourself of the ultimate impact the book has when consumed in the intended sequence
With Now That We’re Alone, author Nicholas Day has wormed his way into my heart like an insidious blood infection, becoming, within the space of just a few stories, one of my five-star short story authors and, if he stays true to form in the future, will likely end up being one of my favorites of all time. The stories here are brilliant, thoughtful, emotional, and often disturbing and outright terrifying in the true existential sense of the word. If you haven’t read his work yet, this collection is definitely where you want to start. I’m fairly certain your response, bizarro fan or not will be much the same as mine. Day is a true artist, a wordsmith working at the level of some of the best in the business, and one who deserves much recognition and adulation, and I hope to see much, much more from him in the future.