Carlton Mellick III,
The Menstruating Mall
(Afterbirth, 2005)

OK, there is this really big suburban shopping mall, but ordinary really big, not biggest-in-the-world big. On a Friday afternoon, it is pretty crowded, with lots of different kinds of people, some more ordinary than others. One of them is a guy named John, and he is a bit lonely, a workaholic, a bit drab and very consumerismistic (probably not a word, so equate it with "yuppie"). When the mall is about to close, John goes to leave ... but cannot. He simply cannot get close to the door before he loses all ability to move forward. He does more shopping, tries to leave again and still can't. John really wants to go, so that he can work overtime and earn more money so he can buy more things. He just can't leave. John can't even find a security guard to escort him out. Not one. Frustrated and beginning to despair, John hides ... in the john.

The next day dawns, John eats at the food court and still cannot leave. He notices there are several people there that he saw the day before. As time goes on, it becomes clear there are 10 people who cannot leave the mall, and each is the epitome of some defining trait: the yuppie, the preppy, the gamer, the white gangsta, the cowboy, the jock, the goth girl, the retiree, the housewife and the devout. The 10 of them try to figure out how to escape the mall, but none of their ideas work. Then they notice that nobody else is in the mall anymore. There are many people outside, staring in, expressionlessly.

Then, the first person dies, possibly by suicide, but probably not. Is the killer one of the remaining nine? They try to piece is together, but no luck. Another dies, and it clearly is murder. The killer leaves a message behind -- that the remaining eight can survive if they can prove they are able to break out of their respective stereotypes. They act weirder and weirder, trying to prove they can go beyond their typical, mundane selves.

This sounds strange? It gets much, much more bizarre after that, ending up in what could be described as a suburban consumerist dreamscape. By the way, the title of the book is not symbolic, but literal. Does anyone survive? I will not tell. Would you want any of them to survive, by the end? I am not sure I did.

This is one of the most bizarre books I have read, and I am sure author Carlton Mellick III would take that as high praise. I have read two other books of his: Sea of Patchwork Cats and Punk Land, and those two are also among the most bizarre books I have read. This author strives (and sometimes strains) to be bizarre.

While very strange, there is also a very, very interesting story here. I often found it revolting and disgusting, but it was also riveting. I had trouble stopping, despite wanting to seek out the nearest incinerator in which to deposit this book.

By the way, this is not a novel by formal definition. While it has more than 200 pages (which are not numbered!), it also has very large print and is littered with illustrations. I used the word "littered" intentionally, as they were definitely the part of the book I liked the least. These pictures are on a par with public restroom (or high school bathroom) graffiti. I refer to both the quality of these line drawings and to the vulgar, profane and consistently scatological content of the drawings. They are parodies of advertisements of well-known franchise stores. I am surprised the author, illustrator and/or publisher did not get sued by many of these chains. I guess the drawings are so outrageously insulting they figured no one could possibly take them seriously. I did not take them seriously, nor did I find them funny.

I did not enjoy reading this book. I did not hate reading this book. I will never read it again. I will never forget it. I will try to, but I will fail. I could not stop reading it, either. When you were a little kid, and had a loose tooth, did you wiggle it, even though it hurt? That is a good analogy for reading this book. Wiggle, wiggle. Ow! Wiggle, wiggle.

review by
Chris McCallister

5 July 2008

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