Carlton Mellick III,
Punk Land
(Eraserhead, 2005)

When most people die, many organized religions say their souls go to Heaven or Hell, depending upon how well they have lived their lives. In this novel, we meet Goblin, a lonely punker who died after his mentally unstable girlfriend pushed him into the path of an oncoming bus. Goblin had been enough of a good boy to earn a trip Upstairs; however, he is disappointed because passing through the Pearly Gates greatly distorts one's appearance, and Goblin ends up with a spiky flesh mohawk and spine-like fleshy protuberances along his side. Heaven turns out to be a boring place, like an enormous shopping mall, but with less color; there are no erotic toys in Heaven, and Goblin is fascinated with artificial phalluses. He eventually discovers that one artificial phallus was given a soul, and resides in Heaven. He adopts it, calls it "Frog Strips" and treats it like his baby. Goblin eventually leaves Heaven and ends up in Punk Land, which is the alternative afterlife for punk-rockers and similar souls. Goblin becomes the gatekeeper for Punk Land, because he understands punkitude better than anyone else. Punk Land, by the way, has adopted Sid Vicious as its deity.

Goblin, I'll note, is actually somewhat geeky about rigidly adhering to the official definition of punkitude. Goblin's insistence that there is a proper and official way to be punk strikes me as farcical or satirical, as does the fact that the anarchy of Punk Land has a governing council.

As for the other key players: Shark Girl is an assassin by trade, with a very tall, bluish-purple mohawk. Nan is a semi-punk girl who ends up in Punk Land by mysterious means. She has her hair shaved very short and looks like a teenage boy. And Mort "Mortician" is a young Asian guy who does not really seem to fit.

The arrival of Mort and Nan begins shaking things up in Goblin's afterlife. You see, they somehow arrived without going through the one-and-only gate to Punk Land, and they might not even be dead! The search for answers to how those two got in becomes part of figuring out what the heck is happening in Punk Land. Apparently, the anarchy in Punk Land, that is supposed to create a harmonious alt-Utopia, is not working too well. It seems that the "corporate punks" and the "traditional punks" (uh, that would be an oxymoron, wouldn't it?) are at war, with the fate of Punk Land hanging in the balance. Poor Goblin gets all mixed up in that conflict, and the only way Punk Land can be saved is with the help of Shark Girl, plus a sperm donation from Mortician.

Are you confused? Good! I certainly was, and this review is very difficult to write. As I read this book, I kept wanting to either autoclave it, incinerate it or read it all the way to the end. I chose the most painful option. In all fairness, I found this to be a creative, original tale, and the author does know how to spin a compelling yarn. Carlton Mellick III was even creative with how the story was put together, with scenes and acts, instead of chapters and parts, plus the story periodically has drawings and black-and-white photographs interspersed.

However, the entire book seems very forced, as if it's motto were: "I'm going to find as many ways to shock you as I can, and anything that is not shocking and potentially offensive will be left out."

• 1. The girl on the cover not only has a purple mohawk, but is topless.
• 2. The book is dedicated to "this guy," followed by a picture of an overweight, unshaven guy guzzling a beer.
• 3. There is a page of juvenile drawings, showing Goblin's imaginings of what he'd like to be able to squirt out of Frog Strip's "pee-hole," including Watermelon Gatorade.

When a person tries, intensely and unremittingly, to shock and/or insult someone, I wonder whether the would-be offender might not have much else going for him or her, and being offensive is the only skill possessed. This book strikes me the same way, except there is a good story buried beneath the rubble of all that forced attempted offensiveness, with some interesting characters populating it.

One other point is that the anarchy of Punk Land (the fictional place, not the book) reminded me of Robert Heinlein's stories that mention Coventry. His version of Coventry is a walled-off territory, where criminals are sent to do as they will. The result is diverse, and often extreme sects developing, within Coventry, with internecine conflict aplenty.

In the end, I did not know if Punk Land, the novel, was supposed to be a Punk Manifesto, an ode to punkitude, a satirical lampooning of punkdom or just a very unusual story using punk as one of its themes. By the way, if you are not sure what "punk" means, you will not learn it by reading this book. I ended up looking it up on the Internet, to get a clearer idea of what Punk Land might be. What I found was that it appears that the main definition of punk is that it is a subculture, consisting of a group of sub-subcultures that are so diverse that a definition of the overall punk subculture remains quite elusive. And, maybe that is exactly why Punk Land is as strange a book as it is.

My only other reading experience with Mellick was the dream-like, possibly nightmarish but near-poetic Sea of Patchwork Cats, whichh I liked much more than Punk Land.

review by
Chris McCallister

6 October 2007

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