Thursday, February 07, 2013

Review of Weasels Ripped My Flesh

Or actually a review of half of it. I wrote a review of this collection of stories from vintage men's magazines for a Finnish cultural magazine and I asked the published if I could see a PDF of the book in advance, since I wouldn't have had time to buy the book via web and wait for the copy to arrive. And I haven't had time since to read the rest of the book, but I definitely will when I've got some extra money to order the print book.

Okay, to the book. I posted the table of contents earlier, now I read the first half of the book and some extra stories. My reaction to the stories was somewhat mixed: the concept of the stories is often better than the execution. (Well, who didn't know that already..?) The idea of half-crazed Nazis torturing gorgeous and half-naked women in the castles of Germany is always good fun, but as far as the stories go, I'm not sure whether I'd care to read lots of them. One here and there is passable, but dozens of these...?

There are some good writers and good stories in the bunch, make no mistake about that. Robert Silverberg's crazy "Trapped by Mau Mau" (Exotic Adventures 1959) is a very good hardboiled adventure story, even though it's racist as hell. Robert F. Dorr's "Bayonet Killer of Heartbreak Ridge" (Man's Magazine 1964) is very well told, a snappy true-war story set in the Korean War. Harlan Ellison's "Death Climb" (True Men Stories 1957) is just a crime story, there's nothing about it to claim it's a true story, but it's pretty good - noir set on a mountain!

There were some disappointments: Lawrence Block's "She Doesn't Want You" (Real Men 1958), which is a rather bland account of prostitutes who are really lesbians. This wouldn't do as journalism anymore, even though I'm willing to admit that today's journalism at times resembles the vintage men's magazines very much. They might only do it better today. Same goes for Walter Wager's "Please God, Help Me Break Out" (Male 1958), which just tells what happened to a famous soldier (forgot the name already, sorry!) during the WWII. Jim McDonald's (real identity unknown) story has a great title: "Grisly Rites of Hitler's Monster Flesh Stripper" (Man's Story 1965), but it's actually a quite bland "re"-telling of odd incidents. You would think a writer would want to pepper these stories with some narrative hooks, but that clearly wasn't the case. And it has not enough sadism! By 2013, the teasing element has somewhat worn out. (Someone might say of course that's sad, but that's the way it goes.)

There were also stories by Bruce Jay Friedman (oddly humorous piece about a tiger in a zoo trying to eat another tiger in another cage) and Walter Kaylin (weird story about an exotic dancer acting as a tribal chief in the darkest Africa) that were of interest. The book is also spiced up by interviews with Wager and Mario Puzo, but unfortunately no story by Puzo. Wager's interview is more interesting (albeit too short!) than his story.

There are more books coming out from New Texture and I'm all for it, though I was a bit critical on this. I'll be reading the rest of the book one of these days and I'll also blog about it. Meanwhile you can take a look here.


New Texture said...

Thanks for a considered review, Juri. Men's adventure mag stories are definitely a different stripe of pulp - for me, more strongly tied to their setting (the mags) and era than many other varieties in the genre. Jim Thompson is Jim Thompson, whether you read him in paperback or e-book. But I find a story like Block’s “She Doesn’t Want You” is significantly enriched when taken in the context of the mags, what they were and their (original) target readership.

Juri said...

You're right about that, Wyatt. As I already said on Facebook, I might come off as too critical on the book, since I still think it's a great piece of cultural history and you've done a lot of good work unearthing some of these stories. I might be reading the stories too much as "stories", i.e. wanting more narrative hooks and strong voices from them. But of course in any anthology there's bound to be some lesser stories.