Carlton Mellick III,
Sex & Death in Television Town
(Eraserhead, 2005)

A young man named Random and his new bride Typi are on a stagecoach being chased through the desert by evil creatures. Sounds like some unusual kind of Western, right? It gets much more unusual. The stagecoach has been captured by a band of hermaphroditic gunslingers, one of whom is called either "Death" or "Jesus Christ" and can perform "miracles" in how he shoots, including intentionally dislocating his shoulder so that he can shoot directly backwards. Oh, and there is a woman named either "Cry" or "Sex" who has full-body tattoos, metallic stegasaur-like spikes on her back and can catch glimpses of the future, but only during intercourse. Starting to sound pretty weird? The weirdness has only begun! Our little gang of characters jumps from the stagecoach, as the horses are tiring and the evil creatures are catching up. What do they jump on? An organic steam locomotive that resembles a giant caterpillar chugging down the tracks, of course. Where does the caterpillar-train take them? To Telos, or Television Town. There, the people all have television sets instead of heads, and express themselves by what kind of television show they display to you.

After that, things really get weird, and there is lots of carnage, not to mention carnality.

As with every book by Carlton Mellick III, this book is intentionally, deliberately and forcefully strange, weird and so far outside-the-box that the author probably lost the box. Besides the rampant violence and death, and the incessant and flagrant sexuality, there is sadism, masochism, fetishism and probably several other isms I do not even recognize. However, all that strangeness is piled into the very traditional framework of an old-fashioned Western, with seemingly invincible gunslingers, drunken brawls, a semi-inept sheriff, a damsel-in-distress and a big, this-town-ain't-big-enough-for-the-both-of-us shoot-out on Main Street. It is almost like John Ford or Sergio Leone made this as a film while experiencing a bad trip on LSD or mescaline.

So, what did I like about this quintessentially bizarre book? Despite all of Mellick's forced offensiveness and obsessions with violence and sex, Mellick is still a talented weaver of tales, and Sex & Death in Television Town might be his best-constructed tale of the four I have read. The author also took the idea of people with television-heads and ran with it to create something truly wonderful. By having the Telosians express themselves through what television program they display, Mellick makes fun of every coach-potato ever born, and he adeptly includes himself as a target of his own lampooning by showing off his knowledge of television shows going back into the 1970s, at least.

What did I not like about this tale? The author seems unable to write more than a few pages without returning to some mention of extreme violence or sex or, when possible, both combined in a single act. This extremeness starts looking less like anti-conventional rebellion, and more like obsession or fixation, after the 17th or 26th instance.

And, maybe this shows one of my own obsessions, but I hate that the pages are unnumbered! I like keeping track of my progress in a book, and Mellick effectively derails me on this.

Well, if you want strange, here is the place to look. Sex & Death in Television Town is as strange a tale as there is.

review by
Chris McCallister

2 February 2008

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