When I was 8, my mother found the sketchbook where I'd been keeping notes on the daily decomposition of a dead dog at the end of our street. In the middle of summer. In Australia! I had drawn all the maggots with fangs and sunglasses. Since then, I've discovered there are two kinds of people in the world: Some who read about maggots and quickly go to polish their shoes with toothbrushes, and those who read about maggots and laugh.
I love books that are dark and twisted — the kind that make me scream with delight and shudder with horror at the same time. Here are three of my favorites:
By Katherine Dunn, paperback, 368 pages, Vintage, List price: $15
Geek Love by Katherine Dunn has a passionate cult following, which is ironic since it's a book that is, in part, about a cult following. Unusual circus parents, the Binewskis cause their own children to be born as freaks by chugging arsenic and taking drugs. They end up with a boy with flippers, Siamese twins, an albino girl and one child — Chick — with gifts that the FBI would kill to have. Dunn writes some of the most quirky sentences in the English language. She describes a moist handshake as feeling like her hand is wrist-deep in a freshly killed chicken. Geek Love is a wickedly funny book, sick and perverted in exactly the way I like.
We So Seldom Look on Love
By Barbara Gowdy, paperback, 256 pages, Steerforth Press, List price: $22.99
Barbara Gowdy's collection of eight short stories, We So Seldom Look on Love, is an aching examination of love between oddballs, including a necrophiliac, an exhibitionist and conjoined heads that want to kill each other. Her story about a transgendered man's slow revelation of his identity to the woman he loves after he marries her is both tenderly funny and screamingly awful. While Gowdy has obvious affection and compassion for her characters, she never loses a chance to jerk their leashes, and as a result, We So Seldom Look on Love is not a collection you can read in one sitting. Each story is an event that you have to survive, laughing and gagging.
By George Saunders, paperback, 208 pages, Riverhead, List price: $15
I knew I loved George Saunders' writing when I got to the part in Pastoralia where dead Aunt Bernie disappears from the cemetery and reappears in a rocking chair, giving the narrator tips on how to be a better male stripper. In the middle of the auntie's harangue, her decomposing arm falls off. Pastoralia is a collection of a novella and five short stories. They are loud, in-your-face, cigar-smoking, vodka-drinking, stomp-all-over-you-in-hobnailed-boots stories. I suspect that if George Saunders were asked what he uses to write with, he'd say a chain saw.
Just remember: Don't read these books on the subway or while you are drinking milk.
Goldie Goldbloom is the author of the novel The Paperbark Shoe. She lives in Chicago with her eight children.
Three Books... is produced and edited by Ellen Silva with production assistance from Rose Friedman, Amelia Salutz and Lacey Mason.