Ever since reading Gabino Iglesias’ Gutmouth, I’ve been more and more interested in the New Bizarro Author Series (NBAS for short) put together by Eraserhead Press. Without beating a dead horse, what they do is give a chance to promising new authors who haven’t yet published their first novel.
With five to seven releases each year, we get a fresh taste of weird and wild writers we may or may not have already been familiar with, writers who, depending on their success, might just become household names as part of the Eraserhead family. The most recent wave of new authors has been a great one, and I’m proud to bring my thoughts to all of you kind readers. We’re gonna start with an absolutely amazing first effort by Tiffany Scandal, her debut novella, There’s No Happy Ending.
Put together the cover image (more great artwork by Jim Agpalza) with the ominous and depressing title, and you can guess that the book you hold in your hands isn’t full of sunshine and puppies. Rather, it is one of the more eerie and hopeless apocalyptic tales I’ve read. Take, for example, everyone’s favorite zombie show, The Walking Dead. Now, in addition to the people slowly deteriorating, make all of the surrounding buildings and infrastructure also suffer from the same crumbling decay. I mean, the opening line of the book is “Smells like they’re burning bodies again.” Again! Nonchalant, like it’s a regular thing. Images of Vincent Price’s The Last Man on Earth come to mind, images that don’t have happy connotations. We’re talking bleak with a capital B, here.
But amongst all the chaos and despair, we have our heroes. Isobel and Dresden are a young couple who have managed to find true love, despite all odds, something that the author shows very well throughout the book. They are our post-apocalyptic Jim and Pam, our bizarro Shaun and Liz, and we find ourselves as readers completely drawn into their relationship. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, I’d go ahead and say There’s No Happy Ending is a love story. Now, don’t get scared off by my vocabulary, but think about this: some of your favorite horror movies, underneath the blood, gore, and entrails, could be considered love stories, or at least belong in the same neighborhood. In Dead Snow, amidst all the Nazi zombies, we have Vegard trying to find his girlfriend, Sara. In American Psycho, Patrick Bateman is always looking out for the one person he loves the most, Patrick Bateman. And in There’s No Happy Ending, Isobel is trying to find Dresden after he just kind of disappears on the day of their wedding.
The thing is, Dresden’s mom, Elise, doesn’t think Isobel is good enough for her son. She probably doesn’t think anyone is good enough, but definitely not the strong, independent woman that Scandal has written us, and so she has Dresden kidnapped and held hostage before they can get married. She even tells her son that his fiancée is dead. Isobel holds out hope that he is just meeting her at the wedding chapel, but soon she finds herself stuck in a (literally) crumbling city in a wedding dress with all sorts of horrors awaiting her around every corner. It’s no wonder that “Ring Around the Rosie” seems to be playing everywhere she goes.
The way Scandal writes would make Hemingway proud (if anything would actually make Hemingway proud). The book is only about eighty pages, but she manages to cram so much story in there by staying focused on a tight, sparsely worded delivery. There’s no extra adverbs. Yet we have a very imaginable world with a handful of well developed characters. There are parts where Isobel is making her way through town that remind me of scenes from 28 Days Later, and a part where Dresden stumbles upon a room full of display cases that makes me think of Ripley and what she discovers in Alien: Resurrection. It’s a punk novel that is a little bit sci-fi, a little bit horror, a little bit love story, and a little bit bizarro. In other words, it appeals to a wide audience. And it has a strong female lead, a detail I think we can all agree is something that we should see more of. And the most exciting thing about this amazing novella? This is just the beginning for Tiffany Scandal, our introduction to an exciting new writer. I can’t wait to see what come next!