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Craig's Book Club
Book Recommendations

Spotlight on: It Came from Below the Belt by Bradley Sands


To arrange to have products considered for review, send an email to craigsbookclub@yahoo.com.


It Came from Below the Belt by Bradley Sands Bradley Sands, It Came from Below the Belt

"Listen carefully and no one gets hurt.... I've always thought an oft-repeated phrase contains more power than an ordinary 'or I will hurt you'.... There is a gun aimed at your head, a gun that I purchased for the singular purpose of making you do exactly as I tell you.... Are you with me so far? Good." -- from It Came from Below the Belt

Contrary to what I had originally thought, reading a novel at gunpoint is not an entirely unpleasant experience. It Came from Below the Belt -- the debut novel of Bradley Sands, editor of "the journal of absurdist and surreal fiction," Bust Down the Door and Eat All the Chickens -- is a fine example of the burgeoning genre known as bizarro. The writers known for this style embrace weirdness for its own sake, while still retaining the primary goal of telling an entertaining story (like David Lynch does for film). The relatively inexpensive Bizarro Starter Kit is available for those wishing to test this fascinating subgenre further.

It Came from Below the Belt is only the second bizarro novel I have read. The first was Gina Ranalli's Chemical Gardens and while it gave me a good taste of the genre, it by no means prepared me for the level of oddity I was to encounter in Bradley Sands' novel. (The two authors share a publisher, Afterbirth Books.)

Grover Goldstein is not a stalker! He's just misguided, literally misguided into the future after being eaten by a giraffe that turned out to be a time machine. There in the United States of Moonsylvania ("The name had to be changed due to a copyright infringement."), he meets his clone and, in a bizarre auto-fellatio accident, the clone's penis is severed, becomes sentient, gets irked at never having been named (an unforgivable slight, apparently) and having to go around as The Unnamable ... and then ... well, once The Unnamable expresses its newfound Hitlerian aspirations, it's kind of hard to summarize what happens after that. Sands throws every offbeat tangent possible at us -- It Came from Below the Belt contains enough weirdness and absurdity for six novels.

If the purpose of a bizarro novel is to make the reader go "WTF?" at least once a page, then Sands succeeds and then some because It Came from Below the Belt had me doing that about once a paragraph! The frequency of startling weirdness did hinder my getting caught up in the story, but it is definitely an ambitious choice that lends the book a certain indefinable charm. After all, if Sands wanted us to follow along easily, he would have written a different book.

Not surprisingly, it took me a while to get my head around what Sands was trying to accomplish. His particular style seemed, on the surface, to eschew the traditionally felt need for a coherent story in favor of pure strains of oddity. I see now, however, in hindsight, that there was a discernible narrative thread there all along that kept me reading in the face of interminable outlandishness -- it was just covered with every bit of strangeness that Sands could get to stick. You could maybe say that It Came from Below the Belt is the Airplane! of bizarro.

I originally thought it was going to be a horror novel due to the freaky cover art by Lucas Aguirre, but It Came from Below the Belt is probably more rightly termed science fiction due to its involvement with time travel. But there's not all that much of that going on and, in any case, any novel where the protagonist's penis gets severed is instantly branded horror in my book. And as if the narrative itself weren't bizarre enough, Sands also plays with the novel form, changing it to suit his needs. He makes the plot interactive by including a Choose Your Own Adventure–style chapter, a recipe, a TV sitcom pilot script (complete with laugh track), an actual drawing of The Unnamable working its way up the career ladder, and even a reference to a possible alternate-world audio version available on cassette. I can't wait to get to Moonsylvania for that one!


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