Die, You Donut Bastards is the latest collection of short fiction and prose poetry by Cameron Pierce. The whimsical title and cover art may suggest a mostly humorous approach to Bizarro, a genre which can range from arty surrealism to shock-focused extremity, and also at times encompassing more conventional storytelling with a subtler twinge of the surreal. While many authors focus on a single approach, Pierce here shows himself capable of covering all the bases.
Most of the pieces are just a page or two, and focus on wild invention and playful absurdity. I detect in these shorter works the influence of Russell Edson, the master of surrealist prose poetry, though Pierce is less oblique, less blatantly symbolic, and more confrontational. Readers approaching this book from outside the Bizarro realm can expect a lot of zany humor and intentional absurdity, but will also discover a great degree of subtlety and sensitivity. In fact, those seeking a full-on Bizarro blast may be surprised by the restraint and emotional honesty present in the longer stories.
The lengthiest of these, “Lantern Jaws,” is a lovely tale of wonder and emotion, both subtle and graceful, reminiscent of something Kelly Link might create. In it, a teenage boy falls in love with a girl schoolmate who carries a vaguely Lovecraftian doom or curse. It’s a gentle, touching story, characteristics which may seem at odds with some of the extremes on display elsewhere in the book, yet it’s also quite dreamlike and surreal.
Another longer story, “Death Card” shows a couple, Tristan and Emily, shifting from youthful, carefree obsessions, such as Tristan’s comics and his collection of vinyl figures, to more adult concerns now that Emily is pregnant. Tristan goes along, half-reluctantly boxing up his collection to make a room for the baby. The story focuses the feelings of impending loss and disconnection from self, arising from Tristan’s recognition that life’s simple freedoms and youthful pleasures are soon to change.
In “Pablo Riviera, Depressed, Overweight, Age 31, Goes to the Mall,” an odd outsider catalogs an endless stream of pleasures, mostly fast food, during a trip to a shopping mall. This litany of cheeseburgers, taco corn dogs, and other excessive treats could be seen as Pablo’s attempt to numb the pain of his solitude and isolation, or perhaps simply exhibits the weirdly alienating effect of our obsession on grotesque, commercialized pleasures.
“Disappear” is the weird story of a pregnant woman’s baby disappearing right out of her belly. It turns out the fetus was stolen by horror author Stephen King, who apparently steals unborn babies and installs them into his typewriter as fuel or grist for new stories.
In “Mitchell Farnsworth,” one of the more transgressive pieces, Katie recollects once having sex with her boyfriend, the Mitchell Farnsworth of the title, while watching the movie Alien. After Mitchell moves on, the story recounts Katie’s long string of boyfriends, forming a detailed catalog of explicit sex acts, foods and drinks consumed, and the movies she watched with each — often Alien, sometimes The Exorcist or other horror films. Katie is increasingly stuck, unable to stop and reflect on this pattern, until she hears news about Mitchell Farnsworth.
In Die, You Donut Bastards, the shorter, weirder stories are greatest in number, and seem more geared toward a Bizarro audience. The longer stories, comprising about half the collection’s page count, exhibit greater emotional realism and even a bit more seriousness mixed in with the strange pop surrealism. I enjoyed the provocative range of styles, moods and approaches on display in Die, You Donut Bastards. It makes me eager to check out more Pierce’s work.