REVIEWS OF "EVIL"
Zak Mucha, Gallery Magazine
"...Most of these thirteen stories are threaded along certain psychotic thought processes that are buried beneath, and buried by, the mundane duties of life. When these thoughts surface to overtake an individual, it doesn't appear as bizarre behavior as much as an extension of people trapped by their own manias or their own lives. Sparks closes the distance between the seemingly distant points of homogenous suburbia, delusional paranoia, homicide, and isolated urban living while evoking rarified spaces in the everyday world. Some of the connections and details make these brief tales initially seem surreal, but the details noted are true to humans and nature; Sparks makes them her own, as if some of her narrators live on a level where the obvious is not noticed and the oddities of the world are taken for obvious truths. The narrator in °·Web of Gold° admits deadpan: "I drifted from job to job-- selling lightbulbs over the telephone, offering samples of sausage in shopping malls, watering plants in hospital waiting rooms. Eventually, by eavesdropping on the interviewees before me at a temp agency, I figured out what I needed to lie about in order to secure myself a position as a receptionist for a plumbing supplier. Mostly I did less than nothing, dropping staples out the window and feeding unopened mail through the paper shredder." The tedium of office work turns leads the narrator to steal coworkers' lunches before parlaying itself into brazen heists and impersonal sex until the narrator decides to poison the retarded girl who lives in the hallway. Not many psychological reasons, or excuses, are given by Sparks for the plethora of sociopathic behavior. This transition between the mundane and the extreme isn't made with any sort of logic that would support, say, the maxim: "Marijuana is a gateway drug, leading to heroin and crystal meth..." Instead, Sparks shows us how horrifyingly easy it is to commit monstrosities. These stories are Polaroid snapshots of human lives, with bits of Goya and Hieronymous Bosch creeping in under the emulsion. Girls who prowl suburban shopping malls looking for babes are propelled by the same self-loathing and dread of the world as the businessman contemplating suicide after cheating his partner. Suicides bulemics, voyeurs, born-agains, drunks, and obsessive compulsives all make sense in the world as Sparks presents it. Before the book turns its bleakest, Rennie Sparks leaves us with hope in the last story, "A Song About Sausage," as Emily Gold, another of the author's isolated humans, provides the smallest moment of human contact and the most promising question one human could pose in an evil world: "Do you want to hear something funny?"
Danbert's review from The Good Culture page at www.chumba.com
READING: "Evil by Rennie Sparks (Black Hole Press - 1375
Ave, Chicago, Illinois, 60622 USA.) We had the supreme pleasure of
seeing Chicago,s The Handsome Family play in Leeds last September, which
was truly, truly inspirational and I picked up this from the CD stall
... a book of short stories by their full time lyricist and
multi-weird-instrumentalist Rennie Sparks.
Imagine living inside the apartment building that forms the storyboard
for James Stewart in Alfred Hitchcock,s "Rear WIndow, but the only
trace of that illusory fifties Grace Kelly niceness is showing on a
crapped out TVin the corner that no longer even works. Look into your
own darkest recesses and laugh nervously with the aliens who dare each
other to tune into the earth channel, unable to comprehend, but
strangely compelled by the malignancy which humans inflict upon each
other. Be a voyeur on your own worst unwanted sex experiences and relive
the impossible concoctions of alcohol and over the counter drugs which
should have closed down your mind a long time ago. Rediscover the time
you danced the the night away with an old gin queen called Muriel to the
strains of "King of The Road, and you will find that this is the book
... A woman makes her living by returning goods she has previously
stolen from other branches of the same chain ... she sees her lover
violently abducted and presumably murdered ... and with a hole in her
heart committs murderous euthanasia by feeding shards of broken mirror
to the retarded girl downstairs ... in an attempt to rediscover the lost
equilibrium of cockroaches tickling her arm.
... Meet the obsessive compulsive who live next door, "as if every juice
glass lined up a centimeter off from the other juice glasses along my
shelf of juice glasses was responsible for train wrecks and plane
crashes and chipped teapots far into the next century!
Think the opening of David Lynch,s "Blue Velvet where we get the
bugs,-eye view of beetles grappling in the forest that is the suburban
lawn, panning out to reveal the dad crashing out with a heart attack or
a stroke, and the little dog yapping and trying to catch the jet sprayed
by the fallen water hose. Think of the perspective of the anti-heroine
Wiener Dog, in Todd Solondz,s "Welcome To The Dollhouse. And think of
Raymond Carver any which way you want and you will get a feel for the
genius that is Rennie Spark,s ability to find the twisted strands of
humanity in a world that is otherwise dark, nasty and thoroughly
The coffee is black as if the cows that produced milk are long since
extinct, but there is some small mercy to be found in the idea that the
foulest tasting powder known to man (creamer) has never been invented.
And then when it rains, it rains creamer. All this and much more. Go get
Hell Is A Cold Parking Lot
Reviewed by Gene Gregorits
Sex and Guts Magazine
Evil consists of thirteen stories of pure American suffering,
by the songwriter of one of my favorite bands, The Handsome Family.
And like all of their recorded output, Rennie's stories blend
revulsion and wretchedly dark humor with such precision it's impossible
to see the seam. I've spent a lot of time listening to The Handsome
Family throughout the last year, and it seems fairly obvious to
me that the formula which explains much of the inexorable comedy
of Sparks' horror stories lies just as much in her literary talent
as it does in the very lives she writes about. The joke is already
there, and like any good cinematographer, she knows exactly what
angle gets the most out of any given image. In Evil, that
also means the worst.
The mundanity pervading the days and nights of your average working class sub-citizen (in this case, Midwestern working class sub-citizens specifically) would seem to be Sparks' greatest inspiration. She does things with junk diet detail placement, for example, that bring her closer to Charles Bukowski than to any other female writer I could name. Sparks' jarringly intimate voice is at times a formidable match for Bukowski's, yet her work somehow retains a discernible femininity, which I find to be hugely refreshing.
The grim smiles she's so good at provoking in her songs are plentiful in this collection. And those surrealistic narrative hooks she weaves into her descriptions of both urban and rural domestic calamity are here also, in great abundance.
Yet, these are oftentimes not hooks at all, nor may her intention even be to make you laugh. I think I have a pretty good sense of humor, but the first time I heard the Handsome Family, all I heard was the ennui and psychosis. Now, sometimes I laugh. But more often than not, I find that the two opposites cancel each other out. I've come to believe that the closer you feel to the words of Rennie Sparks, the more likely you are to respond only with acceptance and resignation. Even when a chuckle escapes, you almost wish you hadn't found that certain bit amusing, for it's almost always a telltale sign of your own familarity with emotional or environmental squalor. It's nice to pretend you've risen above that. And it's hard not to see the truth in work such as this when you've already endured far too much, like nearly every slave-wage American has. Sparks' words and tragically informed sensibilities strive to remind you of everything you know about falling apart slowly. Another reason for her insidious comic timing is to make the stuff bearable. To be honest, it's hard to take even with the real-time/real-scene slapstick, often assembled with grimy medicine cabinets, empty soda cans, furniture cushion stains, and the detritus of commercial zone landscapes.
The stories in Evil, which range in theme from poverty, depression, and neurosis, to suicide and cold-blooded murder, are startlingly accurate renderings of the cruel and unusual things that happen to us all every now and again. Or, as I would imagine to be the case with many fans of her songwriting, all the goddamn time.
After reading Evil, you'll start to notice the little things, a little more often. You'll start to add up the broken pieces of you which lay scattered among the rest of everything else, and which collectively form your present circumstances. When you drop your keys during a blizzard at the gas station, having coasted in on fumes with a song you hate blurring your late-night reflexes on the half-busted car radio, think of Rennie Sparks. Think of the little agonies. Think of slow death and muted hope and dark alleys and cigarette holes in the carpet. Think of boxes of Wheat Thins and the IHOP across the way, of dentists' needles and cut-rate six-packs and cold smiles and spilled milk and chain smoking and hungry kittens and when you notice that your shoelaces are floating untied in an oily puddle, try not to laugh. (Available from www.handsomefamily.com)