Carlton Mellick III, in an essay, says that you shouldn’t force meaning on a story. Sometimes, a story about a cat who is a cyborg ninja is just a story about a cat who is a cyborg ninja, not some examination on whether we create our own meaning or meaning is bestowed upon us by unseen, abstract forces, like God, or even historic processes that shape society and the individual.
In Tiffany Scandal’s latest book, SHIT LUCK (which is not about a cat who is a cyborg ninja), you can feel meaning permeating the absurd plot and the crisp prose. And it’s not something bad or forced at all. Quite the contrary.
The unnamed protagonist is having the proverbial shit day. Her boyfriend breaks up with her via text message, she’s mugged, her car breaks down, she is fired from her job to make way for her bosses’ lover promotion.
Her friend Kelsey, in an attempt to cheer her up, takes her to a frat party. Feeling detached from the younger people there, she decides to drink her blues away. She spots a stranger in the party, someone who looks as alien as she does, but he shows her little to no attention.
And then she dies.
End of story.
Well, not really.
What happens is that she spawns in a new world. And she learns the rules of the afterlife: Every time she dies, she spawns on a different, random world. There are infinitely many worlds, so the chances of meeting a loved one are basically zero. She retains her physical form, and she keeps getting older as she live her lives, until she’s dust, and then she is no more.
Learning to adapt in her new world, a place where you can only leave places by sidestepping through doors, otherwise you end up back in the room you’d just tried to leave. Our then protagonist meets the same strange man she saw at the frat party at her old life. But that shouldn’t be possible.
And then he kills her.
Still not the end of the story.
So, a chase throughout multiple worlds begin, with the protagonist being chased by the ultimate slasher killer, a man who will literally follow you into the afterlife.
Tiffany Scandal’s prose is so crisp, so fast-paced, you feel like watching a movie. And, as I said before, there is meaning in this simple slasher movie parody.
Philosophically, this vision of the afterlife reminded me of the writings of Allan Kardec: When you die, your soul goes to a ‘colony’ where it has to work, sleep, eat, drink, go to the bathroom, help new souls arriving who are too disoriented to do anything, some not even knowing they are dead. That previous knowledge augmented even more the connection I felt reading the protagonist comes from a shit home growing up. Not only she was having a bad day, she had a bad life as a kid. But that life shaped the person she became.
‘He’d said something about love, and you’d believed it. You always believed it when they said stuff like that, because it’s easier to pretend you’re living it than it is to keep wishing for it’.
This is oddly deep and personal for such an absurd prose. And you can feel the human being that is the protagonist popping out of the page, and that is Scandal’s biggest achievement here.
There is gore, there is bodily fluids, there is a lot of absurd ways to die and create uncomfortable sensations in the reader. But we connect so much with someone we never know the name of.
‘He continues to say nothing.You picture an eternity sitting in awkward silence with a man you want nothing to do with. You shudder’.
This is some great, meaningful writing. And it’s not forced at all.
I can’t recommend this book enough. Great, solid work.
Pedro Proença writes, plays Magic: The Gathering, is a bassist, and works at an hospital (but try not to remind him of this last one). His first book is BENJAMIN, part of the 2015-16 New Bizarro Author Series from Eraserhead Press. He has been published by Fireside Press and Dynatox Ministries, as well as having stories appearing in Bizarro Central and Flash Forge. He lives in Rio de Janeiro with his girlfriend Sarah Sindorf (who did the cover art for BENJAMIN), his family, and their assorted pets.