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Lance Carbunclesloughing off the rot book cover

Sloughing Off the Rot

Vicious Galoot Books, Florida, 2012

Review by Kent Manthie

Lance Carbuncle is back. His third novel is probably one of his most poignant stories yet. Sloughing Off the Rot is a wild ride from page one until the very end, punctuated by a few R. Crumb-meets-Maurice Sendak illustrations by Williams Kelly.

John is a guy who wakes up in a cave after having plopped down in his oh-so-comfortable bed, blacked out after a healthy dose of Ambien and single malt scotch. In the morning his memory has been wiped clean and he has no idea where he is, except that it isn’t his plush, king-sized bed.

The only thing that John has left is a disembodied voice, a cryptic entity that, during initial contact, explains to John what lies in store for him:  vague instructions that spell out a long journey ahead with trials, obstacles and pitfalls.  This metaphysical demi-dimensional alpha-omega-man keeps popping up along the way; for encouragement, to fill in some of the vague points and to remind him of the importance of the outcome.

During the trek John runs into many characters, including Alf the Sacred Burro, who will be remembered by readers of his past books as the nonchalant, scruffy donkey that is always loyal and always there for John. Besides Alf, there’s a whole gang of crazies, zombies, giants, stoic Apaches and others who join the circus that becomes John’s posse.

One of the things that is consistent in Sloughing Off the Rot is the freaky humor, the far-out situations that are difficult but not impossible. It’s also filled with myriad pop culture references: everything from song lyrics (there are at least two lines from “I Am the Walrus” and one from “Come Together” for you Beatles fans), a couple of Zappa references and a smattering of usage of that lingo from A Clockwork Orange.

Along the Red Brick Road John must stay on and never veer away from in order to get to his destination, he collects a wild band of strange types who, over the course of the trip turn out to be incarnations of his missing mind. His first encounter is with a crazy loon who turns out later on to be John’s own id. The big, strong, slow but reluctantly intelligent “giant” is a superego of sorts for John and the rest of the band are the other missing emotions and parts of his consciousness which is drained out of him just before he starts on the road to a better John. Also, we can’t forget the return of Alf the Sacred Burro, who, readers of Lance’s previous work will remember as the dirty, old, rundown donkey from his earlier novels. Alf is a loyal, but stubborn, old and feeble-looking, but strong and fastidious and generous beast to have on your trip.

It also turns out that he’s going to need every bit of help he can get along the way as John encounters all sorts of obstacles, temptations, forks in the road, formidable foes and don’t forget the crazy “slunkies” – roving bands of zombified freaks who got that way from tweeking out too much by huffing slunk worms. A seeming metaphor for crystal meth, “slunk worms” rot out the user’s brain to such an extent that they devolve into monsters who will either eat you, fuck you in any and every orifice or both.

The ultimate destination and final trial and tribulation comes when John and company get to the end of the Red Brick Road. After a long and twisted journey, never veering off of the safety of the RBR, they come to its end at an ominous castle, wherein a fiend by the name of Android Lovethorn awaits John to come. He can’t kill him, though, as that would mean the death of both of them. Lovethorn is, in fact, the incarnation of all the evil and rotten things about the “former” John, who, it is made known, is lying in a hospital bed back in this dimension – barely gripping to life, due, no doubt, to the near-suicidal cocktail of CNS depressants he on which he blacked out -the last thing he can remember before being transported to this desert purgatory wherein he must go through a labyrinth, a cross between the biblical and the surreal, an ordeal wherein Pilgrim’s Progress meets Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

In fact, per the instructions of the disembodied voice who periodically shows up, as a voice in John’s head, usually but occasionally in a more colorful way, such as talking through a burning bush, he, John, is supposed to get to this Lovethorn and, even though Lovethorn doesn’t (and won’t) want to, John must, by any means necessary, not kill Android Lovethorn, but make him, however he must do it, but he must make Lovethorn “send John back” to his “real” self – the dying shell of a body that’s lying in a hospital bed “on the other side”, waiting for John’s “spirit” to return to it, which only Lovethorn can do.

Well, I’m just going to leave it there and not spoil the great big raucous meeting the two have towards the climax and the denouement.

By all means, get this book and find out exactly what it’s all about. The only drawback to indie books, put out by small, independent publishers is that it’s not always easy to find them at your local chain bookstore. It may be at some Barnes & Noble someplace, it may not. But I would first check on Amazon.com for it- they seem to be able to get anything for you – music or book-wise. Failing that, go to Lance’s website: http://www.lancecarbuncle.com and you’ll be sure to find your way to this or any of the other books in his small but soon-to-be growing catalog.

Happy reading! And, for fun, see if you can pinpoint all the embedded song lyric samples and/or pop-culture references. I did – and it made reading the book that much more interesting. -KM

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