Active Bladder Books
Trade paper $10.00
Reviewed by Nickolas Cook
There is something about reading a book like Johnny Ostentatious’ Afterlife Battlefield that makes you appreciate the true power of a good editor as guidance for someone so obviously in need of such guidance.
AFTERLIFE BATTLEFIELD attempts to tell the story of what happens to people who commit suicide.
Do they find a fiery Hell, devils and screams of the eternally damned waiting for them?
No, they actually find a pretty sparse landscape of rocks, populated by a particular species of monstrous Venus flytrap that likes to eat its victims.Â There’s also Anubis, Medusa, and a host of other oddities, such as giant flying tarantulas, skull faced demons, and albino anti-angels.Â All of which sounds very intriguing, and gets the reader’s imagination ready for some prime fantasy horror, something along the lines of Ed Lee’s Infernal Angel.Â Unfortunately, what we get instead is a bunch of pretty solid ideas, written with obvious talent, which, in the end, just don’t hold together very well.
The major challenges of Afterlife Battlefield as a story stem directly from the talented author himself.Â From the beginning, he commits one of the most unpardonable of writing sins.Â He gets cute, tries too hard to interject an adolescent brand of smart-ass humor into an already sluggish narrative.Â The other major flaw is the lack of objectivity about editing.Â The first few pages go on and on about the difference between Optometry and Ophthalmology.Â Why do we need to know this for the sake of the story?Â Short answer: we don’t.Â But for some reason Johnny O can’t see why we don’t and batters us with it.Â I suspect what it comes down to is that he wants to give his main character- a down and out Generation Z punk rock loser named Zack Fury- a chance to throw some clownish dialogue punches at his stereotypical rich prig.Â This equates to it feeling as if the author is sticking his head up and saying ‘HI, HERE I AM!’ every other paragraph.
Unfortunately, this goes on for most of the book.
And while I can appreciate the punk rock aesthetic of jaded cynicism when it comes to the triple headed demon of authority figures, big business, and government, there has to be more to make it a good read.Â Of the 250 odd pages of Afterlife Battlefield we see some sort of forward narrative thrust (to borrow a great term from the late, great Richard Laymon) less than 10% of the time.Â Much of that later action does nothing for the narrative, and it all comes off as a contrived mish mash of half coherent ideas about the afterlife.
There’s simply no story here.Â It seems to drag at a snail’s pace for anyone looking for something beyond the clever injokes.Â It makes it difficult to take the writer or his story seriously.
In one of the book’s seemingly disgruntled turns, Johnny O names his bad guys Knopfs and Bantams.Â Why?Â What’s the frequency, Kenneth?Â I didn’t get it.
And why waste so many pages giving the back-story of why each secondary character has committed suicide?Â If there was a point, I’m afraid I missed it.Â Most of them feel more like walk on players.Â None of them have anything resembling arcs.Â They come forth, perform their contrived actions, and move on.
Now, having said all of that, let me repeat that Johnny Ostentatious has some talent.Â Unfortunately, much of the time it remains buried under his tendency to overwrite and make flippant cultural references as jokes, which has already dated the story.Â A good editor could have streamlined the expository and descriptive passages, could have brought these grand ideas to fruition, perhaps, could have shaken the writer blinders from which we all sometimes suffer.
My hope for Johnny Ostentatious is that he takes a good long look at Afterlife Battlefield and learns from it.Â If he can manage to get past the need to splash his narrative with pseudo-Kevin Smith wannabe writing he might just be a damned fine author one day.