The Unholy City
Charles G. Finney
The surreal adventures of Captain Butch Malahide of Abalone, Arizona, and his chance-met companion Vicq Ruiz in
the city of Heilar-Wey, a tongue-in-cheek sarcastic funny-house mirror
reflecting modern morals and mores. Charles G. Finney's Circus of Dr. Lao has long obscured this equally bizarre -- and
ultimately profound -- gem.
This elegant little pastel work is radically different from Gormenghast. Set in modern times on the curious
isle of Sark (where Mervyn Peake had lived), it is a witty, satisfying
parable in which well-intentioned Mr. Pye discovers the wisdom of cleaving to The Golden Mean as he passes from
angel to devil and back, while much hilarity ensues.
Rain in the Doorway
Thorne Smith wrote a lot more than Topper. This, his most fantastic tale, has the flavor of a madcap R.A. Lafferty
tale, as Mr. Hector Owen passes through a peculiar doorway into a
Marx Brothers world in which, amid non-stop shenanigans, he learns certain important
lessons. Chapter XVIII: The Partners Purchase A Whale.
It's like that.
The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr
E.T.A. Hoffmann, best known for his numerous Tales, also produced two novels. In this remarkably modern and stylistically
sophisticated tale, he alternates the vain, bourgeois memoirs
of the tomcat Murr -- whose peculiar literacy is simply a given -- against the disjointed notes of his owner, the musician Kreisler.
Three to See the King
Magnus Mills's sparse, taut prose tells a surreal tale of people living in tin houses scattered about a windy, dusty plain. Their
eventless lives are disturbingly altered when a charismatic
"king" initiates a vast communal endeavor drawing ever more of them into it; the anonymous narrator finally is
himself drawn in; but shortly thereafter, things change dramatically.
The Stirk of Stirk
In this work, one with no clear parallel, Peter Tinniswood gives us a strange, skewed view of the world of Robin Hood -- a view that
swings between screamingly funny (but dry) humor and a
weird sense of mysticism. As in most true medieval tales, the strangeness never really has a cause or makes sense; but the
Stirk, stoic supreme, remains ever himself throughout.
Descent into Hell
This powerful modern fantasy portrays, with surgical exactness, the decay of a soul. Steadily, willingly, blindly, Lawrence
Wentworth commits evils -- not supernatural but pedestrian -- each
stripping more of his personhood, till we arrive at a freezing vision of figurative (or literal?) Hell.
A Billion Days of Earth
Doris Piserchia urgently needs and much deserves a revival. In this dry, wry tale of the far future, humanity has
become "the Gods," and the role of humans is played -- very well -- by
evolved rats. When the mysterious and unstoppable Sheen arrives on Earth, only Rik cares enough to resist his
dominion. Witty, amusing, thought-provoking, and ultimately quite
moving -- this is a book to savor.
Quin's Shanghai Circus
There is little of the overt fantastic in this great, bloody sprawl of a novel, in which tortured souls follow twisting
paths through WWII Shanghai; rather, there is a gradual
stretching of the ordinary to the extraordinary. And eventually all those twisted paths converge at the final,
dreadful performance of Quin's Shanghai Circus.
Not often can one say of a book, without hyperbole, that there is nothing else quite like it. One cannot say much about
this sadly neglected wonder without spoiling some of its
effect -- the bleak, weird world of the jogs is not what it seems to be -- but it is densely full of all the emotions
that count, that frame for us what it means to be human.