Bookshots: 'Cartoons in the Suicide Forest' by Leza Cantoral
Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review
Cartoons in the Suicide Forest
Who wrote it?
Leza Cantoral is a writer of bizarro, horror, erotica, and weird literature. She is an editor for CLASH Media and is currently editing Tragedy Queens, an anthology of stories inspired by Lana Del Rey and Sylvia Plath.
Plot in a box:
This is a collection of short stories that range from bizarre psychotropic trips to weird, erotically charged reimaginings of classic fairytales.
Invent a new title for this book:
Sunday Morning Porn
Read this if you like(d):
The most twisted tales the Grimm brothers had to offer, William S. Burroughs, literature akin to exploitation films.
Meet the book's lead(s):
Too many to list.
Said lead(s) would be portrayed in a movie by:
I'd love to see Helena Bonham Carter play a few of the characters in the drug-filled tales. For a few others, especially those where Cantoral uses Spanish or talks about her roots, Sara Ramirez would be a great fit.
Setting: Would you want to live there?
Yes and no. Sign me up for the psychedelic trips and visions, the fun and sex and new experiences. Don't sign me up for the death, turning into a flower, anal probing, heroin nights, and Nazi mirrors.
What was your favorite sentence?
For the second book in a row, it was a whole passage:
I feel dazed and hollowed out to my core like someone took a melon baller to my soul. I am awake and I want to see the tangerine dream bleeding on the trees outside. I rub my eyes and look around through my melting lashes at all the happy drunken babies glittering in yesterday's glamour, drool caked on their painted lips, eyeliner smudged over raccoon eyes. Party animals snoring off yesterday's cocaine apocalypse.
In just a dozen short stories, Cantoral has managed to communicate her message: she's a new, explosive voice with a knack for dream/nightmare imagery, and she's far from done. These are tales that walk an interstitial space between bizarro, horror, erotica, and uncategorizable weirdness. There are a few highlights here, and they are all memorable for different reasons. My personal favorite is "Dope," which, besides being the most poetic story in the collection, is probably the only piece of fiction out there that brings together drugs, alien abduction, and unicorns (yes, the preceding sentence does a good job of offering you an idea of what Cartoons in the Suicide Forest is all about). Other standouts include "Siberian Honeymoon," which starts like a strange love story and eventually morphs into a tale of death reminiscent of H.P. Lovecraft's "The Cats of Ulthar"; "Cosmic Bruja," in which the author deals with identity and heritage seen through a hazy, kaleidoscopic drug filter; "Eva of Oz," the best example of Cantoral's talent for reimagining fairytales and packing them with enough sex and violence to make them wonderfully pornographic; and "Last Dance with Heroin," which is perhaps the most serious narrative in the book and one that offers a gloomy look at the idea of love and moving on.
First collections tend to be a mixed bag because, usually and understandably, the author is still trying to find her voice. That's not the case here. Cantoral has a unique style that blends colorful visions and the world of dreams and unicorns with brutal sex, abuse, depression, drug use, and the kind of hyperviolence that can usually be found in hardcore horror and the grittiest crime fiction. Cartoons in the Suicide Forest contains a bit of everything, and it proves that Cantoral is unafraid to tackle classics in order to make them new, as well as bring her own flavor and ideas to the table in a commanding way. Ultimately, the best thing about this short collection is that it feels at once fresh and mature, like the work of an author who has already gone through the process of finding their voice, their strengths, their rhythm. If you like your fairytales with a side of heroin, a bit of death, and heavy doses of bodily fluids, this one needs to be on your shelves.
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