Krall, Jordan. Piecemeal June. Portland: Eraserhead Press, 2008. 92 pp. $8.95. ISBN 1933929634.


This is the story of a love doll.

Having said that, I will now take you back to the sun-drenched Golden Age of Latin Literature. Let me dip your head into the marble purity of Ovid's narrative style, as he tells the tale of Pygmalion, who—

... with consummate skill, carved a milk-white statue and gave to it exquisite beauty, which no woman of the world has ever equaled. She was so beautiful, he fell in love with his creation. It appeared in truth a perfect virgin with the grace of life, but in the expression of such modesty all motion was restrained ...

A wholesome, milky Augustan love poem, to be sure. But recall that Ovid's was the original Metamorphosis, not Kafka's. And if Kafka was a great grandpappy of the Bizarro Fiction Movement, how many times more than thrice-great does that make Pygmalion's creator?

We would do well to peer under the surface of Ovid's classical loveliness, and prod and poke about for the rank bowels of bizarrerie beneath. Then we will see how his gorgeous fuck doll and Jordan Krall's Piecemeal June are sisters. Twins, in fact—no, alternative coats of skin draped over a single soul: a mutually parasitic Abigail and Brittany Hensel, separated by the negligible space of a couple thousand years.

From what stuff does Pygmalion mold his life-sized girlie-shaped screw toy? What is the occult nature of the material that gets the Roman sculptor so hot when—

... he lifts up both his hands to feel the work ... because it seems to him more truly flesh ... he kisses it and feels his kisses are returned ... and, speaking love, caresses it with loving hands that seem to make an impression on the parts they touch, so real that he fears he then may bruise her by his eager pressing.

All profound narrations are Buddhist at base, at least unconsciously. And who is the greatest and most conscious Buddhist in the Bizarro pantheon? Why, of course, it's none other than The Great Beast 666 himself, a.k.a. Baphomet, a.k.a. "the wickedest man in the world": the most gargantuan magus, and the most magickal Gargantua, of post-Medieval times; the most terrifying writer of Bizarro stories—which is triply supernatural, seeing as how he died fifty-eight years before that name was even coined for the genre. But to an adept of Aleister Crowley's high and deep attainments, linear time, like death itself, is a joke.

Like all magi, Aleister Crowley was consummately versed in the more esoteric tenets of Theravada. And only in a Theravadic context can we begin to understand the bizarrerie of Ovid, and of Jordan Krall. Only through Baphometic eyes can we see the grotesquery that lurks beneath the flawless skin of Pygmalion's graven image.

Grotesquery not only lurks beneath, but comprises her skin, and her bone, and her organs and connective tissues. Krall's crawly dolly, on the other hand, hasn't the social skills of a patrician Roman debutante, and cannot flitter about concealing her true nature. But never doubt that Piecemeal June wears the identical grotesquery, uncamouflaged, on her sleeve. It drips off that sleeve and is woven into the fabric.

She can only hide her monstrosity under a big hat and scarf when she goes out for a walk, Meanwhile, her Italian sister is more than presentable in the sunshine, smooth and zitless, no split ends, no boogers or earwax under her fingernails. But be assured that Pygmalion's fuck toy, no less than Krall's, is born of monstrosity. As we will see, both have been yanked out by the same pulpy, decayed, impacted root.

Think, now, of a bloated monster. Sticking out of the middle of its oversized face is a prehensile dick, floppy and wrinkly. Merely breathing, it makes noises that, if they came from a person's asshole, would be considered the depth of rudeness. A couple of behemoth fangs have outgrown their sockets in its diseased gums and have stabbed through this monster's cheeks, a megalomaniacal orthodontist's wet nightmare.

I want you to consider this unlucky elephant, whose teeth got ripped off and reamed out to furnish pale flesh for the Bride of Pygmalion. Ivory's what she's carved of, in the same way an Ethiopian cannibal might eucharize your marrow for dessert. Ponder your fellow mammal with that universal compassion which characterizes a buddha, that fellow-feeling nonetheless disinterested for being unflinching in its appreciation of the exquisite gradations of agony.

The Great Beast 666 (who was born with no fewer than three of a buddha's distinguishing marks) can teach us to see, hear, smell, taste and feel what this other, literally great, literal beast, had to suffer, in order to birth a pretty white wop debutante. Remember that in this Buddhist world, all sentient beings have spirit, pachyderms no less than primates.

Crowley begins our instruction by introducing a notion which has always served as the hell-hole from which the greatest horror can be drawn—but only if it's understood thoroughly, as a notion, and absorbed, as a sensation, into our central nervous system, till it seeps clear down into the sacred bone coiled at the base of our spines. It is the notion that personality and consciousness are no less, and no more ephemeral than the skull which houses them. As The Great Beast 666 writes in his Autohagiography:

Since thoughts are the accompaniments of modifications of the cerebral tissue, what thoughts must be concomitants of its putrefaction?

This begs the question written by yet another proto-Bizarro word-warlock:

... To die, to sleep;
To sleep! perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause ...

The horror is that our mortal coil does not just get shuffled off, willy-nilly. It's not that easy. Rig-mo must come and go, followed by the Conqueror Worm's leisurely mastication, then the bacterial gang-rape of once supple connective tissue, then the liquefaction of cells. Each crumb of the late organism formerly known as us must remain sensate all the while, sentient, self-conscious, with sensorium and character wedged inside each of its tiny, harried, scattering, miserable bits.

This is the most horrendous notion entertainable by a yet-unputrefied human brain. People have wound up in insane asylums just from a momentary realization of a tiny fraction of its enormity. The idea merely amuses demons like Crowley and Krall. For fun, The Great Beast 666 took it up like a pretty ball, and dashed off the greatest horror story of all times: "The Testament of Magdalen Blair," which presents conscious decomposition as only a truly damned writer could:

... he was not only disintegrated mechanically, but chemically ... his being was loosened more and more into its parts, and these were being absorbed into new and hateful things ... he stood immune from all, behind it, unimpaired, memory and reason ever more acute as ever new and ghastlier experience informed them.

Now I'd like you to remember poor old Jumbo, whose dentition Pygmalion laid hot hands upon. Place dear old Jumbo, bloated, grotesque and gray, in the postmortem hands of Crowley, also gray, grotesque, and bloated. Kill old Jumbo dead. But remember that his sense of Jumbo-ness, both psychological and physical, must continue posthumously, in the Theravadic manner. Jumbo must feel each of his tusks slowly torn out. He must sense each scrape and gouge of the chisel as it coaxes the lovely lineaments of the new Mrs. Pygmalion. Listen with big floppy wooly mammoth ears, and you might hear an extended trumpeting blast of agony like this—

As each body limb, organ, and orifice was hacked away, [Jumbo] retained all sensation in each inch of flesh ... he yelped in pain through his mouth which was several feet away ... His nose was three feet to the left of where his scrotum was being chewed, and through it he could smell contaminated pus ... [Jumbo]’s consciousness waned until he was shaken awake by the sensation of his nose being violated.

Change our rotting elephant's circusy nickname to that of a character in the novel presently under review—and only then will you come to realize that paragraph of sheer masterly horror came not from Crowley, but Krall.

Piecemeal June is a Crowleyan retelling of Ovid's wholesome tale. With an artistic sociopath's courage, Krall amplifies upon the Great Beastly undertones that only glint under the Latin's dactylic hexameters. He unsublimates them, dredges them up like intestines large and small, and drapes them in plain sight across the pages of a book that does not funk to follow the example of Bard and Beast. But Krall treads barefoot, as it were. He concretizes the corruption; he delectates in rot's propriocentrism; he moves us with decomposition's kinesthetics. Pacing his tale briskly in the best Bizarro fashion, Krall doesn't settle down and wait for natural putrefaction to take its course; he won't defer to disease, but delegates the deconstructive chore to crab-like demons with razor claws and horrifying genital configurations, and tells them it's a rush job. No need to hang about for rig-mo to come and go. Just dig in, like so—

A small, thin penis entered his left nostril, splitting it open ... He knew that if he cried out, the owner of the penis would not hear him, for his mouth was far away in another room.

The book from which I have razor-clawed the above passage eponymously features a Frankensteinian female, cobbled and rigged together of scattered bits, mouths and tongues and teeth scrounged randomly from other rooms, materials every bit as gnashingly gross and necrophilic as Pygmalion's toothsome tart. Jordan Krall even gives us the sound of eyeballs being inserted into Piecemeal June's severed head: "... a sexy, whispery pop." Can you read that and doubt he's writing from personal experience?

Ovid neglected to tell us what sort of noise his effigy's eyeballs made when being inserted. But, like Piecemeal June, she does come to life. And, of course (you knew this was going to happen all along), both Fair Ladies bear their respective Henry Higginses' children.

Pyggie, Jr., even goes on to have the City of the Love Goddess named after him. Quite an honor, on the gleaming surface, right? But Venus is a working girl. We all know the gooshy underbelly of Whore Town, and have driven, with all four windows rolled tightly shut, through the alleyways and red-light sloughs of Aphrodite's red light district. Fuckville is the hometown of us all. Thomas Wolfe was being sarcastic or sentimental or stupid (probably the latter) when he whimpered that line about not being able to go back again. We all wind up there. Poets and novelists give us preliminary tours.

Krall and Crowley, cruel and crawly, have both cruised Fuckville, and even bought retirement homes there. Crowley's bungalow seems to be near a park where citizens walk their, shall we say, pets. Here it is seen by the decomposing, yet acutely sentient protagonist of "The Testament of Magdalen Blair":

Crawling rivers of blood spread over the heaven, of blood purulent with nameless forms—mangy dogs with their bowels dragging behind them; creatures half elephant [emphasis mine], half beetle; things that were but a ghastly bloodshot eye, set about with leathery tentacles; women whose skins heaved and bubbled like boiling sulphur, giving off clouds that condensed into a thousand other shapes, more hideous than their mother; these were the least of the denizens of these hateful rivers.

Ovid, having written his clean and bright tale of Pygmalion, only discovered the proto-Bizarro writer he truly was, under the skin, as it were, after he wound up occupying a tenement in this mucous megalopolis, right across the street from the Beastly Bungalow. Due to poetic, possibly sexual, indiscretion, Emperor Augustus had expelled him from the sunshine of marble-sparkling Rome. Ovid never realized he'd come home, and mistakenly considered himself an exile, till the day he died and found out different, right there in Fucktown. He breathed his last in a neighborhood that happens to have been the site of yet more necrophilic dismemberment. We read this Crowleyan/Krallian bit of local history in a letter Ovid wrote to his folks "back home":

She quickly stabbed his innocent heart with a sword.
Then she tore him apart, and scattered his limbs
through the fields, to be found in many places.
And lest her father did not realise, high on a rock,
she set the bloodless hands, and blood-stained head,
so her father would be delayed by this new grief,
gathering those lifeless fragments, on a sad trail ...
It was here the sister cut up her brother's body.

Look here for the birth of Bizarro.

As we read Piecemeal June, we follow Jordan Krall in banishment to the very same city, that identical bad place where dead people like Ovid and Crowley, and eventually you, and soon I, must go—and Shakespeare, too:

The undiscover'd country from whose bourn
No traveller returns ...

Krall's slum particularly suffers from urban-blight. One shudders to imagine the nasal racket of his slum lord's cackling. The very civic engineering and infrastructure are composed of rotting body parts and pus and sewage. Never had your flesh Krall, literally? Just wait till you die and go home.

... within the city ... arms, legs, and genitals were bought and sold in the marketplace ... Men sat in alleyways, masturbating with severed tongues that still salivated and, in a way, still held a portion of the consciousness of their original owner. At the center ... was a small but formidable fortress with four minarets in the shape of uncircumcised penises ...

Such surroundings can affect one's mood, can't they? Crowley's story lets loose the heartiest cry of perfect despair in all literature: a sub-molecular scream. He comes, with astonishing persuasiveness, to the conclusion that, if we want to avoid horrors inevitable as they are unimaginable, the most intelligent thing any of us can do is to smoke a lit stick of dynamite, to atomize that coil of mortal brain tissue before it can begin to putrefy and bring on those Shakespearean dreams of sleepy death.

Krall and Ovid (or should I say Krall/Ovid?), on the other hand, close their respective tales with an initiation of precisely the opposite process, the same film, played in reverse: integration rather than dis-. Krall seems to end in the same patch of classical sunshine as Ovid, as both vivified sex toys make the same blushing announcement.

But, though he sends us on our way humming that most eternally affirmative note in the novelist's arsenal, pregnancy, we will close Piecemeal June unable to forget what has been done to our heads. Shakespeare goofed. Krall has discover'd that country, and taken us deep into its dripping bourn. And he has returned us travellers, for now, with most of our consciousness intact, leaving behind only those ragged bits sliced off and swallowed by this novel. He has taken our personality, our person, our personhood, stripped it layer by conscious layer like an especially stinky onion, and dropped us off at home in the seventh circle of hell, where—

Bags of teeth are carried around and used for everything from filling in potholes to the construction of sex toys.

Did you get that? Teeth used in the construction of sex toys? Sound familiar? If Aleister Crowley was indeed the incarnation of Satanist Pope Alexander VI or the magus Eliphas Levi, then Jordan Krall must be You-Know-Who Redivivus. No other explanation.

You tell me if it's coincidental that Ovid's nickname was "Nose," and that an Italian guy whose name I've forgotten wrote a story called "Gogol's Wife," in which he says that the author of "The Nose" was married to an inflatable love doll.

Long ago, in a previous coat of skin, a certain storyteller we all know and love wrote this legendary opening line: Of bodies changed to various forms I sing. In the two millennia that have passed since, a worldwide translingual competition has raged to see who can beat that. Listen to how Chapter Eight of Piecemeal June starts:

Kevin never knew fucking a sex doll could be so soul-shattering.

Never doubt it. Ovid is back from exile, walking amongst us, reanimated, writing better than ever, singing his Metamorphoses—but now in full-blown Bizarro style.

—Tom Bradley