Some time ago I wrote a review of Jasper Bark’s horror anthology Stuck on You and Other Prime Cuts for the website Ginger Nuts of Horror. Jim Mcleod, the proprietor of Ginger Nuts of Horror, deleted all my reviews from his site and called me, a Jewish man, a Nazi for expressing, in my own space, opinions that millions and millions of other people share. It was a good review of a great book, and in honor of my recent review of Bark’s Quiet Places, I reprint it here for your reading pleasure.
You never forget your firsts.
Not long ago I was sitting on the sofa, reading Jasper Bark’s Stuck on You and Other Prime Cuts.
My wife looked over at me and asked, “What’s wrong?”
“It’s…it’s just so horrible,” I mumbled without looking up. Apparently, my face had been making some pretty spectacular expressions on its own.
“Another bad book, huh.”
“No. This one…it’s great. Amazing. But it’s just so…horrible.”
That’s how I first encountered Jasper Bark’s talent. His breadth of imagination, knowledge of human nature, and power of description in Stuck on You and Other Prime Cuts are breathtaking. He knows exactly where to put the alligator clips for maximum effect, and never lets up. There’s no mercy here, no appeal to a higher power. And no shallow end. Once you’re in, you’re in deep. Oh, you could try to pigeonhole tales like Haunting the Past into “ghost story” and The Castigation Crunch into “political satire”, but they go way beyond their categories, surprising you with not just their depth, but their narrative intent. Bark means to put you right there, completely out of your comfort zone, and he succeeds wildly.
The first story, Stuck on You, begins with an unbelievably awful situation that becomes even more horrible as the narrative progresses. Just when you think it can’t possibly get worse, you realize that you’re in way over your head. The flashbacks not only add context to the narrative but also increase the horror, especially with a graphic sex scene that, considering its placement in the text, is unbelievably discomfiting.
Taking the Piss is more than a clever title: it’s a meditation on brutality and payback served up by a narrator you’d cross the street to avoid. Sordid, horrific, and in the end, deliberately pointless.
The dry humor in The Castigation Crunch emphasizes its political/economic underpinnings in Swiftian fashion, with laugh-out-loud lines like, “They didn’t even get to stop off at the first level of Hell (otherwise known as ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Heaven’) where the virtuous non-believers usually landed.”
‘Ill Met by Moonlight’ uses clever Shakespearean wordplay in both title and substance; I won’t give anything away by describing it further.
How the Dark Bleeds is very hard to read; the building tension includes an appalling crime that you hope against hope doesn’t get committed. The Anglo-Saxon mythology underpinning the narrative is uniquely, atavistically disturbing.
Mouthful is a brief, horrific transcript of a conversation you never, ever want to be part of.
Bark elevates the collection with Haunting the Past, a terribly sad tale of ghosts, death, and imprisonment. The narrator’s physical predicament is a perfect mirror of his spiritual condition, and Bark somehow manages to make us sympathize with him. This one sticks with you a lot longer than you’d think.
My favorite story was End of the Line, both for its original premise and the macabre touches throughout. Because I liked it so much, I won’t spoil it for you.
Dead Scalp is a Western tale that goes so far off into left field that it may take you hours to find your way back. Despite its incredibly bizarre setting and events, it all makes terrible sense. I dare you to run right out and get a haircut after reading it.
If you haven’t read Stuck on You and Other Prime Cuts, you are very, very lucky, because you’re in for a treat. And if it’s your first time with Jasper Bark, just be warned: he’s not going to be gentle, and he’s going to be staring into your eyes the whole time. Good luck.