Underground Reading: King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
Joey Hi-Fi's Weirdness Rodeo

Review Round-up: Roadkill, Wifey and the Second Lady

Three more reviews - one good new release and two vintage reads that are, well... kind of awful.

WifeyWell, Judy Blume's Wifey (1978) was a disappointment. I saw it on the "40 Trashy Novels to Read Before You Die" list, got it, read it and... I suppose I'm 2.5% more prepared for my eventual demise, but that's cold comfort. 

Sandy Pressman is a nice, suburban Jewish housewife with an ostensibly ideal husband, a good country club membership, two fairly decent kids and...why isn't she satisfied? The answer, posits Wifey, is in her fairly crappy sex life. Sandy experiments with experimenting, if that makes sense - this isn't Midwood Press-style adultery porn as much as a frustrated woman's attempts to break free. Mostly it is bawdy comedy as Sandy half-heartedly flirts with being naughty, but her upbringing, social circles and cultural 'training' prevent her from truly cutting loose.

I'm a fan of all suburban literature (I mention this a lot), and I do admire the way that Wifey tackles a lot of the issues of the 'lifestyle': the racism, the classism, the stress of fitting in and the pressure to fit an impossible (unfulfilling) ideal. The incidentals of Wifey - Sandy's experiments with social consciousness, her golf lessons and the struggles with the generation above her - are the most interesting part. Ultimately though, there's no real conclusion, and I was left dissatisfied - Sandy manages to provoke a response from her husband (not a nice one), and, apparently, that - the sense of being noticed - was all she really wanted. I get that as a premise, but it feels like nothing has been resolved, and Wifey could easy be re-read from the beginning: Sandy's life is stuck on a loop of inane misery. Perhaps that was the point?

Still, Wifey was better than the second book I picked off the "40 Trashy Novels" list - Irving Wallace's Second Lady (1980), which was so genuinely terrible I'm in a state of awe. Granted, it was never going to be good - given that the plot is that Soviet agents kidnap the First Lady and replace her with a KGB double. But the story is so ridiculous and fails on so many levels that the terribleness of this book reaches masterful levels. I'll spare the gory details, but in a world where the KGB are more concerned about making sure that their spy "fucks like the First Lady" than, say, dealing with her fingerprints, you get what you deserve. Imagine Tom Clancy fan fiction, turned into a low-budget porn film... then novelised by Piers Anthony.

Also, worst ending ever. All the period reviewers were like SHOCKING TWISTED CLIFFHANGER WOW! And... no. Spoilers! The First Lady and the "Second Lady" are in an explosion (don't ask, doesn't matter). One lives, one doesn't. BUT WHICH ONE? And the protagonists (our Jack Ryan type and the nubile young secretary he's schtupping) are all like "WE'LL NEVER KNOW" Curtain!... except... they will. I mean, first: the whole plot of the book is based around the fact that the "Second Lady" couldn't actually imitate the First Lady for a week, much less "the rest of her life". Second, you could just... ask her questions about that week where they weren't in the same place? Or third, FINGERPRINTS. FFS. But, you know, at least she's convincing in the sack.

Anyway, don't read this book. It was actually so bad that I immediately bought another of Irving Wallace's books just to see if he'd made a career out of being, you know, this bad. Halfway through The Fan Club, I have now drawn the utterly scientific conclusion: "Yes. He is that bad."

RoadkillJoseph D'Lacey's Roadkill (2013) follows the driver of a stripped-down-but-kitted-out car, a steel box with wheels and a mighty engine. He's driving to an unknown destination at 180 mph. His goal? Beat his opponent and make it... there. As one moment clicks into the next, the reader receives fragments of the broken world - an enslaved childhood, dark heroes, lost cities... But, more importantly, the driver begins to connect with his nameless rival. As the two jockey for position at breathtaking speeds, skimming past impossible obstacles, they not only reach a point of mental singularity with their cars, but also, just a little, one another...

Roadkill isn't horror in the conventional sense. Certainly it is a disturbing landscape, but there's almost a sense of optimism and an infectious air of purpose to the narrator's actions. I associate Mr. D'Lacey more with a sort of visceral, physical style of thriller, but Roadkill is much more, well, New Wave SF. I could see this fitting in to Harlan Ellison's Dangerous Visions, and, again, that's no bad thing at all... The mysterious masterminds over at This is Horror are quietly building one hell of a series with their chapbooks, and Roadkill is my favourite so far.