Matt Forney
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Black House Rocked by Paul Bingham and Emril Krestle

Black House Rocked is the literary equivalent of sleeping with a girl who has a huge, hairy mole just above her upper lip. She’s cute in every other way, she knows how to use her tongue, and you really shouldn’t be complaining, since she’s out of your league anyway.

But Jesus Christ, that mole is so hideous that you can’t stop staring at it.

The “mole” in this analogy is Emril Krestle’s short story “Twilights,” which forms one half of the “split single” that Black House Rocked is billed as: the other half is a novella by Paul Bingham, author of last year’s short story collection Down Where the Devil Don’t Go. As thrilling as Bingham’s portion is, bundling it with Krestle’s comparatively amateurish work is like ordering filet mignon and duct-taping a bag of pork rinds to the plate.

I’m not knocking the book as a whole: Black House Rocked is worth your money. But Krestle’s contribution is completely unnecessary. His story details several episodes in the life of the vampire Salvatore, his prose crackling with a bleak, Sadean eroticism:

He tugs her shorts off easily, for at this age they’ve barely begun to develop any hips. The trees toss her screams about themselves. Go on and cry, little sister, he coos into her ear. No one can hear you now, dearie. Her porcelain-white buttocks momentarily blind him, making it so his eyes water, and it takes him a moment to see through them clearly again. He presses her face into the dirt to quiet her hollering, and presses his own, teeth bared, into the supple flesh of her behind. That dewy fragrance! He sniffs. The odor of sanctity! She kicks harder when he bites in, shrieks again. Ah, yes—Salvatore’s shaded heart blossoms into its sickly flower—this one’s from a good home. They feed her right. She attempts another holler but Salvatore hits her in the back of the head with the knuckles of his fist and again she screams so he hits it again and it falls to the ground with a thud and stops.

It’s not that Krestle is a bad writer: far from it. It’s that his prose is decidedly inferior to Bingham’s, lacking the gritty intensity and in-your-face realism of his work. The stylistic clash between “Twilights” and Bingham’s “Save the Last Bullet for Me” further accentuates the gulf between the two writers, and makes me think that Krestle’s story was only added so that Bingham and Ann Sterzinger (who published Black House Rocked through her Hopeless Books imprint) could pad the book’s length out.

“Save the Last Bullet for Me” is where Black House Rocked redeems itself. A continuation of the themes Bingham explored in Down Where the Devil Don’t Go, it revolves around Jackson, a particularly pathetic white trash loser who is falsely accused of diddling kids and sentenced to hard time. With nothing to look forward aside from being gang raped in Cell Block B, he starts doing dirty jobs for the FBI and the like, since he’s already lost everything:

“Yeah.” She seemed incredulous at his amused unbelief. “Fuck yearrr. I’m gonna drill him a new asshole between the eyes. Had enough of the son of a bitch comin’ around his place. An I can jus’ claim self-defense. Maybe he’ll be made anyhow, when he gets out and it’ll be, you know, he was gonna abuse me and beat me and I’ll have something to tell Riley.”

The first half of the book is an exploration of Bingham’s usual milieu: the sorry lives of modern white trash, the wretched refuse of globalization’s teeming shore. And while watching Jackson mete out justice to characters even sadder than him—such as the half-retarded Leann—is entertaining, things take a turn for the strange(r) when he runs into the Watcher, a not-quite-human benefactor who’s somewhere in between Bertram from Sterzinger’s Talkative Corpse and a shoulder angel from a Bugs Bunny cartoon:

“Venturing into his basement, the shocks will be continuous. Isn’t that right, Al? Volumes on Tantric sexuality, incense, and enough vampire pornography to qualify as a collection. And there was the smell of corpses, but it was hard to tell as I was looking from afar. There’s that new body-spray for men, the Kiss of Death, which supposedly smells like a rotting body.”

“Save the Last Bullet for Me” is propelled by Bingham’s judicious use of ultraviolence and unsentimental depiction of his subjects. In contrast to Down Where the Devil Don’t Go, which was somewhat hamstrung by both the brief length of its stories and their differing subject matter, Bingham is his element discussing the nasty, brutish and short lives of America’s white underclass. There are no lessons to learn, no morals to impart, and no heroes to root for.

His is a world where there’s no good: only evil and more evil.

Even with Emril Krestle’s story weighing the book down, Black House Rocked is a damn good read. If you enjoyed Down Where the Devil Don’t Go, Bingham’s contribution makes this volume worth your time; if you haven’t read that book, it’s still a good place to start.

Click here to buy Black House Rocked.

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