Today we have the second installment of Mark Tyree’s irregular (in more ways than one) review column. Enjoy!
How To Die Well, by Bill Breedlove
Bad Moon Books, 2013; 333 pages
Hey, all! Hope this finds you hugging all of life’s turns and sudden surprises, and balancing well enough to make “The Stig” weep.
First off, big thanks to Roy at Bad Moon Books. We go back a ways. Years ago, I used to offer my review comments on titles for various publications until, well, life got to be akin to rafting down a raging Tennessee river without the hillbilly enjoyment. Work was overwhelmingly busy. Eight to twelve hours a day, seven days a week were common and I had to tell Roy, and others in the small press field, sorry man, I can no longer do this. Which, in the case of Bad Moon, was particularly rough, as it seemed every single book Roy sent was a gem. The man had an eye for talent. Seriously, I do not recall an average novel — they all were great reads.
I told Roy I was back in the saddle… sort of, with an irregular column. He said thanks for the warning. Said he’d send me a collection called How To Die Well by Bill Breedlove to review via my Kindle.
Huh? Kindle? Collection? Bill Breedlove?
Long story short, I grabbed the Kindle app for my crank-start PC. As much as I loathe reading off the wide screen, being the cool, bend-over-backwards kinda guy that I am, I made an exception and told Roy, “let ‘er rip.” But maybe Roy could sense my reluctance because he says, “these Kindles are pretty nifty, Tyree, but would it be easier if I just sent the actual book to you?”
I replied, “Oh all right, if you insist, Roy, ol’ buddy.”
I know, what an asshole I am, right? So, again, thank you, Roy wherever ya be, laddy…
If I remember correctly, the way I worked an anthology was to touch on every tale between the covers. I figured the writers worked hard on their stories, so it’s only right I take a bite out of each and comment. There seemed to be more note-taking and rereading required for anthologies before I started to bang out my thoughts.
But…I have checked…And this is the very first collection I’ve ever reviewed, you lucky devils, and hell no, I’m not going over every story in this thing. That would be insane, borderline redundant and, well, pointless and beyond boring.
So. How To Die Well. Stories by Mr. Bill Breedlove. Since the name was totally unfamiliar, I went through the covers, bit of recon scouting: picture, good-looking fella, looks like he’d play guitar for the pigeon on his shoulder, rather impressive gigs including Chicago Tribune, Playboy.com, The Fortune News, Stoker-nominated editor of Candy in the Dumpster, and When the Night Comes Down among others…
Also, quite a few top-drawer blurbs, including one from a Mr. Gahan Wilson.
What I’m going to do, first off, see if I can grab him, is to have Mr. Breedlove speak first and…crap…hey Mr. Breedlove, any chance you can say something to these kind folks, let them know what goes on in your head, let ‘em see if it’s worth spending hard earned money on your collection? Thanks!
“I felt his balls begin to contract and the tube on the bottom of his cock start to pulse and I pulled my face away, still tugging on his member. He was moaning and making noises and I honestly do not even think he noticed when, with one smooth swipe of the Urban Skinner, I separated his cock from him entirely. Quick as I could, I brought it up to him, where his puzzled eyes were trying to deduce what exactly was happening. ‘Just like in the porn videos, motherfucker!’ I yelled and his still convulsing penis responded exactly as I had hoped it would, and shot a hot jet of cum directly into his right eye.”
Ahem. Now, sure, that was most certainly a goof. And I did not start this review with that quotation to create the impression that you’re going to be hit with a turd storm from page one. On the contrary. And yes, I’m being sincere. This tale, “For the Happiness of Pigeons,” features a literary device that I have always admired when I see it from male writers: putting on a dress and writing a first-person female POV. I’ve typically found that to be the sign of some real talent and confidence, and those trait were certainly on display in the early stages of this story — an incredibly realistic high-end restaurant seduction scene. It’s well written, I could visualize the room, the patrons; hear the quiet murmurs, the comforting clink of silverware. Could smell our femme fatale’s perfume, her sexuality radiating off the pages. Breedlove slipped me inside her devious mind with equally devious, portentous writing. Then it all, to put it bluntly, shit the bed and “Pigeons” turned into just a graphically filthy Tales From The Crypt-like revenge tale of little impact.
Getting to the section of the collection where this story appears, about midway through, wasn’t easy, either. The stories along the way, well…they’re not exactly duck-fat fries offered from a new, talented provocateur like, say, in Barker’s classic Books of Blood. Breedlove’s tales, for the most part, are more like rice cakes.
However, as with most collections, a few well-cooked noodles wind up sticking, and How To Die Well , thankfully, is no exception. The charming coming-of-age story “It Ain’t Much to Brag About, But It’s All Mine,” about a child and a new found f(r)iend dug up and kept fed — a little too well fed — is a keeper and a nice find. The ending is predictable but once again, Mr. Breedlove shows he works best in a first-person narrative situation.
The fact that I tended to admire Breedlove’s lengthier stories far more than the shorter works leads me to believe I would enjoy a Breedlove novel more than another collection. Case in point: the final story. This zombie tale, about an elderly man and his wife on their farm would fit perfectly into one of the Skipp/Spector zombie anthologies and there is nary a bit of gut munching to be found, just a sublimely-written gem. In fact, I could very well see this story, “Hospeace,” sitting comfortably alongside Mort Castle’s “The Old Man and the Dead.”
A couple other good stories in How To Die Well are worth mentioning but I’ve, as usual, ran on way past my word count and poor Morrish is probably banging his head on a door right about now. Suffice to say, How To Die Well is not a bad collection of stories, especially when the author isn’t trying to slip in some cutting humor, because, frankly, his attempts didn’t work for this reader.
Would I try more work from Breedlove?
Sure, provided that it’s over one page in length (there are a few stories here that would fit in the ol’ flash fiction category, which I never much cared for) and provided that Mr. Breedlove employs the first-person style that best showcases his skills…
So…next up for me? Netherworld, in which Stoker-winner Lisa Morton introduces her readers to one “Lady Diana,” little lady with demon-blasting six-shooters.
A babe with twin cannons? How’s she gonna make me a sammich and get me a beer with those pistols in her hands!?
– Mark Tyree