Critical Reception

“The final section of Appearance is transcendant and transforming, insomuch that this recalls personal parallels of emotional states long buried to reveal recognitions of what youthful and vital longings once dormant, now revealed to a man face to face with the youth he was.

I had a lot of fun with this book – a very good book.
I will read it again.”

–John Dickson

Review 1:

2021Robert Peterson rated it five stars on good reads. «Life was everywhere, as the book had become an obsessive, constantly expanding universe in my head.»

I had the honor of being one of the very first readers of this book thanks to my proximity to Izola, Slovenia, where the publisher of this book, Rick Harsch, lives and has set up Corona\Samizdat. A few weeks earlier, I, too, had ordered a copy of The Manifold Destiny of Eddie Vegas, almost as if I wanted to emulate the epiphanic spark of creativity that had come over author Phillip Freedenberg as he awaited his copy and began communicating with Rick Harsch, which served as catalyst for the inception of this opus. But upon reading the Book, I realized only Phillip Freedenberg could write a work of this magnitude, scope, and ambition.

At times, you’ll wonder if he isn’t on some LSD-induced, exotic, transcendental-meditation-enforced transhumance throughout every wrinkle of his brain, and reporting his own hero’s quest underneath the gallons of ink he’s spitting out on an inhuman, self-imposed schedule, or if he isn’t simply an AI in righteous writer’s clothing, hiding behind a beard and white glasses. But regardless of this marvelous man’s real identity, you’ll know the Book in your hands is real, and unlike anything you’ve ever witnessed.

If I had to prove to someone who doesn’t read that literature can be extremely fun, engaging, gripping, riveting, heartwarming, heartbreaking, and any other synonym you can find for roughly any available human emotion, this is the Book I’d pick. Because this is all of the above, and more.

To read America and the Cult of the Cactus Boots: A Diagnostic is to expand your consciousness beyond your bodily confines, to finally be heard, to not be frightened to put your hand out for someone to guide you through this broken world that feels like it doesn’t belong to you, and to meet likeminded individuals as you collectively ascend to the Unified Field.

This Book is Phillip Freedenberg’s love declaration to words, language, writing, reading, fiction, and nonfiction.
Read this Book if you’re looking for a postmodernist narrative that doesn’t insult its readers, but rather deeply cares about them, and makes them feel their own importance they have forgotten.
Read this Book if you’re looking for brilliant, intelligent, hilarious, absurdist humor.
Read this Book if you’re looking for a deeply philosophical, psychological work that challenges your beliefs, and what the world wants you to believe.
Read this Book if you’re looking for thoroughly researched, unusual subjects such as neuroscience and pataphysics that teach you new information you would’ve otherwise never stumbled upon.
Read this Book if you’re looking for a work that is brilliantly interconnected within itself, with an adventure that travels the book around 360 degrees, inside and out.
Read this Book if you’re looking for an author’s earnest dedication to his work, a perfectionist working against the clock, a writer who has in mind all of his readers because he, too, is one of them; one of us.
Read this Book if you like sci-fi, or cyberpunk genres, but are rarely satisfied with the deeper meaning of what you’ve read in those fields.
Read this Book if you’re burned out from your readings, if you’ve lost all hope for contemporary fiction, if you’re disgruntled with all the rules and structures that govern literature.
Here you’ll find the most liberating, refreshing, idiosyncratic writing in the form of an amalgamation of styles and substances from the golden days of what we love, and the days that are yet to come, that will inevitably feel new, even to the most well-read people out there.

I say this as a reader who went into this with absolute objectivity, and fell in love along the way. Phillip Freedenberg has been waiting 20 years to write this book—and you can see that in the creativity oozing out of every single page—and has found the perfect moment in time, with the perfect partner in crime, Jeff Walton, and the wonderful illustrations that will ensure you are deep inside this possible world, as well as the work of art that is the cover, which will become a collection of checkpoints for when you’re looking back at this wonderful reading experience. It’s absolutely criminal that we had never heard of these two bags of brilliant beards before. And sure, there are a handful of typos here and there, and the dialogue feels a little stilted at times (though one might argue it fits the tone of the story), but it’s all fairly negligible in the shadow of all the madness it contains. Believe me when I say I hadn’t read a book of which I’ve loved every last page in a long time.

The aim of this novel is gigantic, and it comes from an independent, non-profit press. The least you could do is give it a try, let it into your life, and never look back because, trust me, you won’t need to. I really hope this Book gets to do what it wishes to do. Hats off to you, Freedenberg/Walton/Harsch, word/symbol/thought. I thought my falling in love days were behind me.

Review 2

Josh Doughty

Jun 23, 2021Josh Doughty rated it five stars on goodreads.

 I have never read a book quite like this. Never have I felt so involved in a narrative. This must be how Bastian felt when reading The NeverEnding Story.

An epic quest against the TICI and bringing the completed manuscript to Rick Harsch. There are many unforgettable characters along the way while facing many dangers (word tunnels, Steven Segals, word wars riots, WORD FEVER, etc).

To me, the book is written in a way that keeps the reader out of a state of a lull. The reader is constantly put in and out and back again into different types of narrative which really keeps the reader involved and makes for a quick read.

Can we really give five stars or more to books that you do not think about after the book is put down? I think not. I could not stop thinking about this book while trudging through the daily monotony of work.

I can’t really put into words as to why this book is great if you haven’t already read it yourself. This is a type of novel where everyone will have their own take from it. I look forward to hearing what others think about this one.

This book is immortal and now a part of me and you whether you know it or not.


review 3

Jun 29, 2021
Christopher Robinson rated it 5 stars on good reads.

The feeling of being lost inside of a book, unable to get my bearings—for me, there are fewer greater pleasures. I love it when my feeble attempts at comprehension are undermined—playfully or otherwise, it doesn’t much matter to me. Simply, I love being surprised. The surprises need not even be conventionally pleasant. I’m a massive sucker for well-done metafiction.

Does any of that sound good to you, are you like me
in those ways? If so, then you NEED to read America and the Cult of the Cactus Boots: A Diagnostic. It ticks all of those boxes and more and more and many many more—indeed, it somehow keeps topping itself, outdoing itself, daring itself to go farther and farther out, accepting the challenge and succeeding. Its boundless creativity and the resultant sea of surprises will boggle your mind in the best way, and its energy is infectious. Your head will swim during the bouts of Word Fever; you’ll feel disoriented and lost in the Word Tunnels and the Rick Harsch Brain and the supremely mysterious network of (((the)))’s… your readerly equilibrium doesn’t stand a chance. You’ll love it.

I’ll cite as an example one of my very favorite scenes: Phillip and Jeff are in their office at their workplace. Just then, the wall is gone and they’re looking out onto a vast movie theater audience, all eyes on them. The ceiling is gone too, and the eyes of readers are looking down on them. The room starts turning into words on paper, themselves included, and they run to the exit but the exit isn’t a door anymore, but rather a door-shaped-and-sized sheet of paper that reads DOOR. The rest you’ll have to read and see for yourself, but rest assured that what follows is one of the most astonishing things I’ve read in quite a while. I was quite literally smiling so hard while reading it that my cheekbones began to ache. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I still can’t. I’ve gone back to this section several times since finishing the book, just to look at it more closely, admire its construction, its execution, and on every occasion the result has been the same: incredulity, amazement, cheekbones inevitably aching from a sustained wide smile. This is not an exaggeration. Such is the power of this book’s effect. Certainly I’m not alone in this.

The visuals by Jeff Walton are gorgeous and amazing things to behold, and they are seamlessly woven into the novel; essential to its structure and functioning in a way not often seen, if ever, within a non-graphic novel. They heighten and sustain the wonderful feelings of sensory overload and total absorption while reading. (Seriously, combine the reading of this book with a fitting soundtrack and some incense or a scented candle and the outside world ceases to exist until you look up from the page). I sincerely hope that some of the illustrations are printed as posters at some point, because I’d love to have a few of them hanging on my walls (namely the peacock-feather-fingered gentleman on page 76… what a lovely thing that illustration is).

To sum up, America and the Cult of the Cactus Boots: A Diagnostic is many things in one: a massive(ly) metafictional dystopian head-spinner adventure tale; an amorous missive to literature itself, to the power of the (well-)written word; a grand testament to what can happen when an author barrels full-steam ahead into the great creative unknown, relentlessly pursuing their vision with no regard for conventionality, no brakes or safety nets, plumbing its depths and mining it for every last speck of gold, completely unwilling to compromise… it’s a supremely inspiring, invigorating, marvelous read. A true achievement.

(As if it even needs saying at this point—)

Highly recommended.

America and the Cult of the Cactus Boots: A Diagnostic

Review 4

Zachary Tanner rated it five stars on goodreads. 

What if Laurence Sterne wrote an episode of Adventure Time? This book is but a vibrational mirage of some higher dimensional happenstance which just happens to have revealed itself to the human consciousness as a novel, but just as readily have I traveled to the glass fractal in the schema of a casual mushroom-chocolate-induced holotropic romp in my backyard, various near-death OBEs, or perhaps a few careful months of lucid dreaming with Cumulative Purpose, if only I could master it.

I am a person in a green shirt and green glasses in green mountains with a copy of a green book in my hand which is a book about writing a book while waiting for a book to come in the mail (as well as a book about America written in America but published in Slovenia) that was written in the intervening time between now (in the green mountains) and then, a year ago, June 2020, what a month: finding Rick Harsch through Chris Via and immediately beginning to receive electronic voice transmissions from the eccentric ex-pat author who, after thirty years of writing the lonely old fashion way, was wildly recruiting collaborators for The Assassination of Olof Palme.

Meanwhile wholesome buddy duo Phillip Freedenberg and Jeff Walton are up in Buffalo eating Chinese food and watching FLCL, and something snaps when that Rickenbacker hits the kid’s forehead and the giant robot grows out and changes his life forever. It could be a giant robot if this were an anime, or if it was simply a Tuesday afternoon, it might be a beautiful crystal cordyceps fungus anchoring a maniacal wasp forever to a branch, bizarre sprouts of deathly beauty reminding us of the rebirth of galaxies.

Thus, we begin







at Zarathustra’s (Harsch for Zoroaster) mountain commune and launch a SpaceX rocket toward a nebula that looks just like Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche—how the Virgin might sometimes appear on a piece of French toast—and once it’s reached escape velocity, that baby’s just gonna go, and keep going, and on, and on, and on, and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on AND ON itself now sounding something like the hum of the total universe and somewhere beyond the cosmic background radiation, the distant bounds of the universe have snapped back toward us, and perhaps this book, our crumbling Western empire, the self-destructive paradoxes of human globalism are all simply a gamma echo of our self-manifested end.

Review 5

2021Klaus Hauser rated five stars on good reads.

During an interview, author Rick Harsch (The Driftless Trilogy, Skulls of Istria, The Manifold Destiny of Eddie Vegas), once expressed his disgust with great US writers’ fascination with the assassination of JFK: »In Portugal you have Antonio Lobo Antunes putting out one masterpiece after another about fascism and colonialism, matters of global historical import, while there they write trifles about an assassination that changed nothing. I threw DeLillo’s Libra into a ravine when I finished it, and along with my colleague, friend and fellow anti-fascist author Sesshu Foster pelted Mailer’s nonsense with a potato gun.«
As of a moment ago, having finished America and the Cult of the Cactus Boots: a Diagnostic by Phillip Freedenberg, I am pleased to announce that fiction in the United States appears to be catching up with that of the rest of the globe. Published by Harsch’s fledgling press corona\samizdat (begun in April of 2020), Freedenberg’s book comes on the heels of Sesshu Foster’s History of the East Los Angeles Dirigle Air Transport lines, from City Lights, as well as two monsters of anti-fascism by the late Chandler Brossard published by corona\samizdat, Wake Up. We’re Almost There and As the Wolf Howls at My Door, as well as Harsch’s own unique The Assassination of Olof Palme, an anthological novel, volumes 1 & 2, and The Manifold Destiny of Eddie Vegas by Harsch himself, and, while I am at it, Harsch’s baseball diary Walk Like a Duck, a season of little league baseball in Italy, perhaps the only anti-fascist baseball book ever written, and definitely the only baseball book I have ever read—most engaging in its fasci loci elements. What all these books have in common is a thematic concentration on the disastrous political climate of the United States today and a strong anti-fascist thrust.
Cactus Boots seems to me destined to become the most famous of all these books, and while there is no sense in ranking them (if that were my task I would include Harsch’s Skulls of Istria in the above paragraph), the excitement of receiving a great fat novel ahead of US readers (I got mine straight from Slovenia on Friday and read it intensively until a short while ago, not resting to absorb the pure experiences of the book as the notion of this essay about a much needed convergence began coursing through my mind as I read) perhaps part of that notion, but also judging from the extraordinary inclusiveness of Freedenberg’s novel and its pointed focus on perhaps the most metaphorically frightening organs of the fascist mentality—destruction of the word. In the baseball book, Harsch’s son is playing baseball in the near environs of Trieste and Monfalcone, the very region that fueled the Italain fascist—and colonial—irredentist movement, and where up to this very second Italians of modest and well-behaved aspect unquestionably live amongst a terrain of lies marked by monuments to a valor that never amounted to anything but horrific death to Italians and a victorious Italy that glorified military involvement on the terrain they could not hold but were granted by their allies despite their military failures, always at the expense of indigenous peoples, mostly Slovenes and Croats. The immediate result of post war mania was D’Annunzio’s bizarre assault on Rijeka, staging near Monfalcone (where three little league teams play, one of them, in Redipuglia, in plain sight of one of the most grotesque fascist monuments ever built), marching to Trieste and beyond. The extension of D’Annunzio’s mania was the realpolitik of Mussolini’s fascism, which attacked the Slovene word, the Slovene language being outlawed for virtually the entire span between the world wars in all territories in which Italians ruled Slovenes. It’s no news that fascists (let us not require this puny author to list what are essentially synonyms, like dictatorship) require censorship, and it is right that they do so if Phillip Freedenberg is onto something, for the ultimate triumph in his novel is saving the word, both within his book, and if I am onto something, in the reading world of an increasingly fascist United States.
In the United States, readers now more than ever celebrate a period of literary blossoming that occurred from, say, the mid-1950s when Gaddis’ The Recognitions was published, through the emergence of writers such as Barth, Hawkes, Gass, Pynchon, Wallace, and Vollmann, that they speak of in the past tense even though many, even Alexander Theroux, are still alive. Recently, more than once, I have read critics who were discussing excitedly the state of the US novel in paradoxically pessimistic terms as one question persists: who is next? Anyone? Rikki Ducornet? Too old. Vollmann? If he mitotes. Pynchon? Even he will die one day. Through excess of love of a generation of writers, it seems to me, the US literary community, already a survivalist phenomenon in and of itself, is humming along to a long dirge, expecting nothing. And they are right that Murakami Haruki will save no one.
But the question occurs to me: who did Pynchon save after Gravity’s Rainbow? Who did Gaddis save in his Recognitions? Granting that novels that are written to recurrently delve into the mystery of the ‘human condition’ will not always have an historical or political sheen, and that Gaddis’ JR is insuperable political satire, the general thrust of the books of this period, or, at the very least, the critics who rightly laud them, is stylistic mastery. Thus do these books cohere and rise above others and meet the books of previous literary movements. Yet, to my mind, a movement is only as good as its autonomous desire to persevere. The greatest failure of the English literary conglomerate of the 20th century has been the persistent refusal to bring James Joyce’s Finnnegans Wake into the practical canon, or, say, the toolbox of the workshop.
Luckily, Finnegans Wake still exists, as do Dadaists, Surrealists, Symbolists, and masters of all eras, epochs, movements, all of which, it seems, are instinctively, as is only perhaps obvious, anti-fascist—Rabelais more than any in my estimate. But the engaged world literature of recent years has been far from an exalted US literary feature. Sebald and the too little known Daša Drndić are perhaps the most well-known in Europe, but the Gaddis-Vollmann continuum features only Vollman as a dedicated engaged writer. Yet as a novelist, he lacks the esprit of most of his compeers. What America and the Cult of the Cactus Boots: a Diagnostic, particularly as it is published by the press that Harsch has used to bring out his own Manifold Destiny of Eddie Vegas, reprint Skulls of Istria—as pointed a work of anti-fascism as any I have read by a US writer (if I may still call him that)—along with the utterly original Assassination of Olof Palme, which Harsch told me was in large part his apology at not going far enough into and after the derangement of the United States in Eddie Vegas, what Freedenberg’s opus represents to me is the moment when great US modern fiction becomes definitively engaged. This is where the apology fits in, where I pat some oblivious genius on the back and say it’s okay to write brilliantly about grandma and your traumas overcome, yet there is an urgency that this time seems to be screaming, an urgency to Phillip Freedenberg’s refrain: ‘This is a possible world.’ And this is where Sesshu Foster comes most brilliantly alive as little known as he is, for each of his utterances in one way or another is rage enwrapped and alive for the sake of his own children and all the other children to come or not to come. Foster writes informed by all those who informed the Gaddis-Vollmann continuance, and remembering all of their predecessors, and he writes every word for the sake of real, living children throughout the world, and if he does write funny books, he is not laughing deep inside, and he is not reading Gaddis through Vollman—he’s reading history and its vomitus lived in today. His books are, combined with the others of the post critically lauded authors mentioned herein compelled by the need for the children of his species to survive; while Freedenberg’s is written in the faint hope that they will thrive. Harsch’s books are meant to ensure that readers remain on their toes, that they not backslide, that they learn what crimes are sludging their minds and remain stuck under their fingernails.
Perhaps this is the mere raving a man excited upon finishing a book. If that’s true, let me say this: I feel something akin to this quite rarely, and even if I was thrilled similarly when I read Harsch’s novels, I was not optimistic. Far from it. Right now I am extremely optimistic, and ‘This is a possible world,’ and there, right there! Is page two of America and the Cult of the Cactus Boots: a Diagnostic.

Klaus Hauser, Stuttgart 

first review of Tendrilopolis, from goodreads:

Michael  [Tendrilopolis] was amazing, The spiritual (and sexual) successor to Spanking The Maid, albeit it a much more funny and scintillating gem than Coover’s fantastically lascivious little yarn. Tendrilopolis is a hilarious orgy of wordplay and riposte. 

Review by Zachary Tanner

Mar 18, 2021This is my favorite book from a magnanimous author who gifted me with a fine copy of the Slovene first edition (mine inscribed: SNAKE LORE GALORE) a few days after my rock bottom black out on family vacation. A book for anyone who has ever been drunk, divorced, beshitten, or quite likely a simultaneous combination of all three and now wants to revisit that trauma by the torchlight of a gifted novelist writing autobiographically in the dense fictional jungle of their mind. The bite of the poison is not something in venom, but in Nature…and alcohol. For Arjun’s sake, don’t waste your time with Eddie Vegas if you haven’t read the Good Snake! Then read Eddie Vegas.

João Reis

Feb 27, 2021João Reis rated it five stars.

“So, I want to tell you about Rick Harsch’s The Assassination of Olof Palme. Rick Harsch is indeed one of the greatest literary discoveries of recent years, and… OOPS, HARSCH DID IT AGAIN, HE PLAYED WITH YOUR MIND, DIDN’T GET LOST IN THE GAME… Shut up! What the hell is this crap? I want to write a serious review. But this is serious. You must pay attention to the connections, man, Rick Harsch would certainly appreciate your effort. What are you talking about? This song has a secret connection to Sweden and the mysteries surrounding Palme’s death. How so? You see, the guy who wrote most of Spears’s stuff is a Swede, he’s the one who writes most of these pop hits. Oh yes? I see, so what’s the point? It’s quite relevant! And there’s more. Come on, you read the book, who’s the CIA agent most often referred to in the text? Agent Spear. Exactly. And there are two Spear agents: Spear Senior and Spear Junior. That makes two SPEARS! Holy shit, now that’s something, there’s some kind of messy intrigue going on. You can bet! And… KAN DU SVENSKA, DIN JÄVLA IDIOT? Hey, now what’s this, can I just finish this review? Sure, go ahead, I just.. You’re always interrupting but you’re not even half amusing as Harsch, now there’s a writer who can mingle all kinds of text and somehow pull it off, you see, this novel was written by Harsch et al, and if you know your Latin you should know this et al refers to up to 50 other authors, who contributed with longer and shorter pieces that Harsch absorbed like a cannibal and made his own. You can feel his style all over the book, so far I had only read his Skulls of Istria, excellent stuff, too, by the way, the guy from Skulls of Istria shows up again, he and a lot of characters in a lot of places, and you can find Nancy Reagan and a moronic Ron Reagan and CIA agents, CIA is everywhere, Harsch is a critic of all things American when it concerns to foreign policies and military interventions, CIA and its preference for right-wing dictatorships above all, and so he mixes all these stories with a great sense of humour and lots of freedom and creative pleasure, one must envy Harsch his obvious freedom from commercial constrictions, he doesn’t give a shit, and he’s truly a master of English prose, you can only fully grasp his ingenuity if DU BEHÄRSKAR ENGELSKA… oh, sug av mig, be quiet, but yes, learn your English before you try to appreciate Mr. Harsch’s feats and his work as the mastermind behind this funny, witty, often hilarious, always entertaining, meta-fictional work of art, the proof novels can take any form whatsoever, as long as you do it right. And this is nicely done. Give Rick Harsch some recognition as a writer and publisher, go and visit Corona/Samizdat website. And kudos to all the writers who contributed to this novel.
“I’m now waiting for volume 2, let it be known.”

“This is the best book I’ve ever read.” James Adler

“One of the top five books that I’ve had the pleasure of reading.” Nathan Vetter

“Eddie Vegas was phenomenal, easily best new book i read in 2020.” Nikos Sotiriades

João Reis rated them five stars on goodreads.

Suddenly, this Summer / April is the Cruelest Month, by David Vardeman. A novel and a novella ingeniously combined in one flip-volume. Published by Corona/Samizdat.

In Vardeman’s novel SUDDENLY, THIS SUMMER we are invited into the mind of Roberta Sookey, a fat librarian in the 1960’s American Midwest. On the very first page, we learn what she did, but we won’t know how it all ended until the last page. A very dark character-driven mystery, this isn’t a regular thriller, but its narrative reads like one, as it is quite difficult to put this story aside. A dark, gritty tale, yes, but permeated with cynical, fun details. David Vardeman has a knack for dialogue, and his descriptions of a small town facing a scorching Summer, his psychological eerie wanderings, and his insights into all the fear and violence lying in the American psyche are top-notch.

In Vardeman’s APRIL IS THE CRUELEST MONTH Eddie P’Poole “strangled his crooked-headed momma and then shot himself in the head in a car at the bottom of Van Vechten Park.” And his friends gathering in their usual bar notice they never actually knew Eddie…
As in the previous novel, there’s a suicide, and then there’s a murder, too. Disguised as a dialogue-driven comedy (Vardeman is really good at writing funny, literary-but-still-realistic dialogues), this novella is darker than it seems. Vardeman is a great observer of these little things that either make us burst all of sudden, or lead us to a life of silent despair. Another excellent piece; it’s quite difficult to put it aside.

I will definitely read more of David Vardeman’s grimy, disturbing, and yet amusing works. 


Michael rated them five stars on goodreads

Crawl into the mind of one Roberta Sookey – fat, pig-eyed, murderess, Bobbi, to her likely only friend, as she descends, thought by bent and tortured thought, into madness – suddenly, this summer – and tells us all about it. It’s no secret, I’ve divulged no spoilers. On the very first page we learn what she did and to whom she did it.

Until the night I killed Mr. Grindler, I did absolutely nothing that affected the course of anyone’s life, including my own.

No well-worn hooks to drive this tale, this is not your grandma’s tea-cozy mystery; it’s all character that propels this tale, a character drawn from today’s nightmarish nightly news – it will ring plausible to anyone preoccupied with realcrime shows – Dateline, 48 Hours, 20/20, CourtTV. Can real life really be stranger than fiction, than Roberta Sookey?

It’s a sly tale, one that, after the initial shock to the reader’s system – the murder and a bit of other nastiness – settles down to a slow boil. It’s clever like that. Like the frog in the pot – you’re the frog. Still, like many of Vardeman’s characters, no matter how strange they are, how warped, perhaps even evil, there remains enough humanity, frailty even, to warrant our sympathy. Such is Roberta Sookey, the poor woman. The murderess.

I suggest you lock your doors, and you might want to read with the lights on real bright.

It was supposed to be a regular night of downing beers and shooting shots at Uncle Miltie’s Bar when in comes Allbelly with the news that their pal(?) Eddie P’Poole “strangled his crooked-headed momma and then shot himself in the head in a car at the bottom of Van Vechten Park.” Okay, so they weren’t going to let that ruin their evening; they were “Stunned. Bewildered. But not sad.” The stage is set for all manner of discussions, disputes, and digressions as the gang speculates on Eddie’s actions, reflects on their friend’s life and relationships, broods over death and dying, and arrives at fitting tributes. But this gang is far from what you would call ‘normal.’ They’re just a tad peculiar.

Ethel: But why strangle her? Why not do the humane thing and shoot her in the head? …
Bean: Maybe he only had one bullet. You know how frugal he was. In fact, he was a cheapskate. So he shoots her in the head. Then what? Where does that leave him and his own concerns? He’s shit out of luck.

Read it, enjoy it, and if you’re sick enough, laugh your ass off. And when you’re done, maybe clap your elbows together for Eddie P’Poole.

Slovenian publisher corona/samizdat has ingeniously – and economically – combined two David Vardeman novels in one volume, read one, flip the book over and you have the complete second novel.



Paul Dembina rated them five stars

Vardeman – you are a genius, I’m a new fan.

This book consists of 2 separate novels, both feature a suicide and a murder. In one of the stories the 2 events take place at the same time (this is not a spoiler since the narrative begins with this piece of information and it informs the rest of the story), in the other one event (eventually) triggers the other.

Some deeply black humour – just how I like it.

4. Christopher Robinson rated them five stars on goodreads.

April Is The Cruelest Month
A group of barflies are shocked by the sudden death of their friend Eddie P’Poole, who killed his mother and committed suicide on Easter Sunday. This prompts the (very entertaining) barflies to have a long, digressive and frequently laugh out loud hilarious discussion. A novella mostly in dialogue, and Vardeman has a real gift in this department. The characters simultaneously speak like everybody and nobody you’ve ever known. A real treat. Uproariously funny in places, devastating in others, several times both in tandem.

Suddenly, Next Summer
I’m not going to say much about this one, as the experience of going into it more or less blindly was absolutely wonderful. It’s a mystery and so much more. Of the two stories here, I’d pick this one if asked to play favorites. It’s a wild, tense, fast-paced ride.

There is a lot of darkness on offer here, as both stories are preoccupied with suicide and murder. But if you’re anything like me, there will be much laughter and you will find warmth and levity in quite unexpected places. Vardeman has a very unique voice and I very much look forward to reading more work from him in the future.

Highly recommended.

“David Vardeman’s prose bites. It bites, it claws, scratches and gnaws at our facade of normalcy, at our belief in superiority. It’s fresh. Surprising. It forces us to face the strangeness of the Other and see, by twist of nature, nurture, or quirk of fate, ourselves. Flawed. Absurd. The characters are strange, twisted, surreal, and more like us than we want to accept, for no matter how bizarre they appear, there is a despairing humanity there – and a great deal of humor — why else would we feel compelled to read. And as I turned the pages, story after strange and lovely story, I couldn’t help but imagine scenes from Waters, Cronenberg, and Lynch, with intimations of Beckett, Ionesco, Sarte, Burroughs and Kafka. These characters – Little Fur Baby, Poor Fat Jackie, Mr. “Pighead” Perlmutter, the Peroxide Bitches, Proust-obsessed Beryl Funk, or Mrs. “Spider” Box – they all dwell in a Vardemanian purgatory, a realm governed by bizarre logic, where God is distant, where this no longer follows from that, many seeking some form of redemption, like nasty Mrs Box in The Last Evil, suffering the horrific loss of self-identity, a literal body-snatching, or sad Patrice, disgraced nun of Tramp on the Street, who still talks to God and draws penguins.

Each story is unique, told in a fresh voice, all clearly residing in the only place that would have them, this one wonderful, eccentric universe of Vardeman’s design.” Michael Kuehn


L.S. Popovich rated it five stars on goodreads.

Primarily through comedy, Vardeman’s experimental stories run the gamut of human emotion, from hilarity to harrowing heartbreak.

From page one he offers an unflinching and unflattering view of the human animal’s foolish and various ways of tackling life. It is with a unique literary mastery of his chosen arguments that he depicts the often pathetically inept actions of his characters.

Above all, these are character-driven tales, taken to the very edge of believability. The conversations always take a turn for the bizarre, even as they touch on stunning human truths.

The aplomb on display is equalled on by the control of his gamma-knife-sharp wit. What results, is an utterly devastating circus of dream visions.

The first story forsakes punctuation except full stops, which makes for a learning curve. Force your mind around his rhythmic style and you will likely get addicted to the surprises to be found within and around every unexpected word.

Several of the stories capture convincing perspectives of troubled youth seeking after a place to belong, employing sardonic logical fallacies, coupled with rude, salacious, and satirical narration.
These are characters who take dysfunctionality to an art form, stroking their Godzilla-sized vanity with absurdist fantasies, indulging in their incurable blindness toward common sense and everyday propriety by behaving in shocking and silly ways.

I sensed touches of bizarro-fiction, but this could have only been my perception – a result of the constant fluctuations of bewilderment. You might describe this work as disturbing, twisted, demented, riotous, or profound. Vardeman asks the relatable question: why doesn’t anyone take me seriously as a human being? Am I a joke? Can’t anyone see past my obvious flaws to the brilliant unique individual beautiful person inside? The most commonly posited answer is: No. Or if they can, they don’t care, and are too worried about themselves to listen to your whiny pity party soundtrack/ sob story – like, get over yourself, join the party, get in line, etc.

Flying in the face of society’s strictures, the characters find hope and consolation in resistance to the norm, the safe, and the boring. They seek adventure and excitement as a means to define themselves and assign meaning to their terrifying lives.

“A Young Guy and his Career” is a bizarro detective story. It is unlike anything I have ever read.

“Farm Girl” is an immersive story about a girl growing up on a farm, longing to become a literary immortal, who thinks running away to Paris is sufficient qualification to become the next Proust.

The title story is poignant, and bizarrely descriptive, easy to parse, fast-paced, intuitive, with integrated dialogue and a pervasive sense of grotesque humor. I laughed out loud on almost every page. Utterly ridiculous. But it operates within the confines of its established logical landscape, becoming miraculously readable through rhythmic stylistic thrusts, charming through blasphemy, wrestling with biblical undertones, sliding into the just-plain-weird, until the sheer outrageousness becomes entertaining in a reality TV sort of way, but far more condensed, unrepetitive and deep. Vivid description accompanies sharp dialogue, again, dependent entirely on quirky character facets, often bordering on insanity, full of quips and egregious cleverness, and morbid in the extreme. The commentary on art and idolatry, pop culture, the media, tourists, and the backwater residents of America’s heartland were pointed, affecting, and effective. Its delusional characters shed light on our times and foibles. In complete helplessness, their confrontation with harsh reality cannot but be the anodyne for the oversaturated postmodern literary landscape we face today.

“Perversion is only a lack of acquaintance,” one of the characters says. This is during an exquisite punk rock satire, suffused with a sense of lost youth, spoiled potential, an inescapable dejection, amid moral decay, within a bereavement for the nostalgic pastures of youth, grappling with a sick sort of logic – all of which provide motivations to propel the narrative.

The author’s sophisticated commentary on religion through creative blasphemy lends itself to a range of interpretations. No matter how susceptible you are to the uncanny and the odd, Vardeman’s debut is a forceful example of honed aesthetic principles. For the herniated metaphors, and the stomach-churning detail of a pork-themed restaurant debacle alone, he deserves five stars.

“Of the growing body of Vietnam fiction, this book has to be one of the most bizarre literary responses to the war and one of the most damning indictments of the American sensibility responsible for that war.” Steven Moore

“Bursey’s most entertaining novel yet.” Steven Moore

“I’ve been thinking of what to say about a book that, as of this writing, has only 1 other review. First, that’s insanity. This is one of the most incredible things I’ve ever read. It’s moving, heartfelt and poignant. It’s funny as hell. I was blown away by its writing but I was moved by its honesty.

I love a number of things in my life but 3 of those things are 1) being a father 2) books and 3) baseball. I LOVE those things and that’s another set of reasons why I loved this book. I’ve watched Rick’s ‘Master Class in Fiction’ posts. I follow him on various social media outlets. His books are gorgeous pieces of literature. Walk Like a Duck is not only that but one of the best things I’ve ever read.

Rick literally walks us through that summer with his son and the Ducks. This is not a “look how amazing my son is” recap of his summer in little league. He’s honest. He gives us the skinny on everything about the team and league. He clearly knows his shit on baseball and he treats every single person he encounters with respect. Even bunting, well, maybe not. With brilliant chapters named: ‘Where is the Center Fielder?’, ‘Revisiting the WAR war’, ‘Death and Baseball’ and of course…’Bunt!.’ This is as much about his love of the game as it is about his love for his son, Arjun. It’s insanely moving and it sits alongside the great baseball writers (Roger Angell, Mike Sowell, Roger Kahn…).

Many thanks to Rick for writing this. It made this year and summer much better. Baseball is alive and well. Play ball. Read this. Enjoy.” Kevin Adams

Jan 28, 2021
David Vardeman rated it it was amazingThe three volumes that comprise “The Driftless Trilogy” were published separately in the late 90s, early 2000s in the US by Steerforth Press and have now been issued together by Corona/Samizdat press. It’s the shame of the economic forces that control the publishing “industry” here that these one-of-a-kind gems ever went out of print. Early Harsch is already unerringly confident, uncompromising in its individuality. No reader would mistake his singular voice for anyone else’s. He pays homage to some aspects of the noir genre in both literature and film but creates a twisted Main Street all his own. “The Driftless Zone,” the first book, begins with a failed suicide attempt, emblematic of the unconscious death wish infecting many inhabitants of this LaCrosse. The persons we meet can neither love the small city that limits their range of motion nor transcend and leave it. They barely endure it. Some do not survive it. The best of them are endearing in their states of perplexity, their eccentricities, their search for and adherence to the truth. No matter the cost to their own comfort and ease, even their own lives, they recognize and run afoul of the powers that manipulate this fallen world they inhabit. These persons challenge the fallen state in themselves and in the most powerful representatives of the place, “businessmen,” government officials, dangerous men and women: Spleen in the first book, Billy Verite and Gerard and Eddie in “Billy Verite,” the second volume, Spleen II in the third and, in my opinion, finest volume of the triology, “The Sleep of Aborigines” (though the amazingly engaging character of Billy Verite attains a mythic status by the end of his, the second, volume), along with the writer Rick Harsh in “Sleep,” who is found murdered in the Municipool at the beginning of the 3rd volume but whose last days and words cast a guiding shadow over Spleen II’s last movements. We also encounter incidental persons like transvestite Bette Davis, The Fag With No Eyebrows, Carly, Lola (more than incidental is she), Candida and Thrush Sickles (more than incidental as well), and monster children Max and Livia who are so incisively written that they loom as large as major characters. Harsch simply does not know how not to set the most fleetingly encountered character forever in one’s mind by some wholly original detail. The dialogue is pointed, sharp, funny. And the pause given for reflection, introspection is as involving and direct and seminal as the physical movements and entanglements of these people. Here is one example, from “The Sleep of Aborigines”: “He (Spleen II) had earned his rest without moving, for he had been busy for fifteen years. He wondered how such a life squared with the notion of natural man, so done in at the end of the day he built cities; or, for that matter, with his dead brother, whose indolence was legendary but never an art form, merely a condition that by a single bullet was exalted to unconditional. Spleen’s busy life was, after all, no better than a lower form of indolence. His brother had been thinking away his will to act. Spleen had been acting to avoid having to think. And now that he was suddenly free, dangling his feet in oasist waters, the two topics he had turned his back on had asserted themselves like patient deities: his moral vacuity and the more confusing problem of escape velocity.” It doesn’t get much better than that.

These books, sharing characters, having plot concerns spread across them unresolved, finally resolved, finally share one spine, thank goodness. The Spleen brothers form the two banks of the bridge that spans them cover to cover, as should be. Together the volumes form an epic consideration both funny and horrifying of the force of entropy that forms cities and entraps the spiritual nomads who inhabit them.

David Vardeman rated it five stars on good reads.

“The absurd must be presented matter-of-factly; that is how it is embedded in our day-to-day lives, where it predominates almost to the point of disappearing from our view, resisting detection and exposure. Bedraggling Grandma with Russian Snow is a novel that is in part about that very thing, the failure to apply rational thinking and observation to a dire situation in preference for invented observation that serves to expose an artificial “perfect plot.” Two detectives, each with his own peripheral ambitions, interrogate witnesses to and randomly selected suspects of the barely described murder of a young woman. With supposedly meticulous care, they fail utterly even to approach the truth. In hilarious scene after scene, facts elude detection because a monomaniacal interrogator works from the assumption that, according to Wittgenstein’s philosophy, anyone, just anyone sufficiently fulfills the role of perpetrator.
Reis’s flawlessly flatly wry novel uses that most popular and artificial genre, the police procedural, as a point of departure without heaping contempt on it, strangely enough, considering the degree to which his characters torture their faculties in grasping at uncertain certainties. For instance, the extended interrogation of Didier H. is a remarkable delight and alone worth the price of admission, though the whole does not fall below that level. I frankly covet this writer and his virtuosity and told a writer friend so as I was making my way through the novel. There is something remarkably gentle and gentlemanly about Reis’s use of the absurd. How he manages this, I can’t quite say. Perhaps the writer who can render a plush mechanical donkey (Bruce) of such innate charm and politeness as to put the crude and cruel human beings around him to shame can’t help but ennoble whatever he touches. As masterfully as Reis employs the absurd, he is capable of sudden but not jarring turns toward tenderness, as with the curiously heartbreaking image of an old Russian grandma, pelted by Canadian snow, being asked by her grandson, who considers this all just fun, to compare that snow beating her to the Russian snow of her former life.
“This novel is a perfect example of the negative capability described by Keats that would absolutely kill the police procedural from which it spins its web: it accepts the existence of “uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.”

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