116 pgs. | $9.95
Lazy Fascist Press
It was late in the August of 2013 when weather-borne sharks descended upon us.
It was a hot summer (but aren’t they all, these days?), and by the time the rain came, we were already simmering in one of those states of mild hysteria—a result of the heat, lack of exercise, dehydration, and excessive rage at, well, everything on the internet.
What else could explain the success of Sharknado?
I hesitate to say that Sharknado was a “product of its time,” because even that descriptor brandishes a heightened distinguishability reserved for people like Twain and his regrettable racism. It also acknowledges that Sharknado was actually a product and not some cynical attempt to exploit our love of shows like Shark Week and our collective desire for memes over culture. But it worked. The shark storm raged through the internet. It trended. We rolled our eyes back and chomped blindly at an incoherent film that made more sense as a series of disjointed GIFs (http://www.vulture.com/2013/07/syfys-sharknado-in-five-gifs.html).
Then, the storm was over; the movie was relegated to the instant streaming landfill, where it will no longer benefit from being an event. And such are the products of our time: swiftly made, appealing to the collective (instead of the individual), but ultimately innocuous and easily discarded.
A couple months later, Brian Allen Carr’s Motherfucking Sharks dropped on us like the fin of God.
To think that Sharknado has any bearing on Motherfucking Sharks would be as foolhardy as trying to predict the destructive paths of tornados, or the intervals/patterns of shark attacks—both unwieldy tasks, indeed. Sure, both stories involve destructive storms that carry ravaging sharks, but that’s where the coincidences stop. And anyone who has even the most superficial knowledge of the publishing industry knows that the mere months between the two projects is not enough time to write, edit, and publish a book. In truth, Sharknado merely set the stage, cleared the path, and allowed Motherfucking Sharks to motherfucking bust through. Those seeking comparisons and context will have to do so in the murky red.
Doom laces the first pages of Carr’s book like a bloody handshake. Crick, the novel’s protagonist, shambles into town with a mule pulling a cart of harpoons and shark teeth. With equal amounts of chivalry and vulgarity, he sings the warnings of the motherfucking sharks while juggling the skulls of his kin—no doubt, the sorriest Shakespeare chorus to ever exist.
“These dastardly creatures are made to kill and fit with some magic that enables their swimming through the same air we now breathe.” As he spoke, the skulls clapped Crick’s hands in the juggling, the sound of bare feet dancing on tile to despicable tunes.
Just like the stories in his collection Vampire Conditions, Carr wastes no time infusing his book with sullen bravado and the economical wordsmith of Cormac McCarthy: an equal mix of decorative violence, masculinity, cowboy poetics—all bordering on the edge of hysteria.
After the grim introduction, we can pretty much track the plot’s trajectory with a narrative spike rather than curve. When the simple townsfolk ignore Crick’s prophecy, opting to lock him up instead, it’s not a question about when the sharks are going to come, but how nasty it’s going to be.
Good lord, it’s nasty.
Unlike the blindly chomping monsters thrown around by torrential winds, Carr’s sharks incubate like homunculi in puddles after the storm has passed, and emerge when defenses are down, during the sun-soaked celebrations. They fly through air as phantasms and eat until there’s no one left to eat. They are merciless. These aren’t misunderstood products of nature, but rapturing harbingers of death to punish everyone for the sole crime of being human.
But to talk about the motherfucking sharks would be impossible without talking about the Brian Allen Carr. He’s an outsider in many respects: a talented, wild-card writer who doesn’t seem to give a fuck about the shallow community of internet literature, who favors an abrasive social media presence (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tCN2bz8kTC4) when most writers vie for approval. Even his choice to publish Motherfucking Sharks on Lazy Fascist Press—alt-lit’s chained-up-in-the-basement, Bizarro cousin where writers with ideas outside of themselves go to get published—seems intentional in upholding Mr. Carr’s outsiderness (his residency in a Texas-Mexico border town doesn’t deter this quality either). Frankly, Carr is unhinged and threatening in a way that makes the book crowd nervous. I can’t help but think he feels more of a kinship with the terrible creatures in his novel than any of his characters:
If a human is a molar, the shark is a fang, but both creatures are just instruments the mouth of the world uses to chew its prey. The shark hunts in bursts and bites, the human hunts in endless stroll. Forward, the shark screams. Forward, mutters the human.
It’s not just the unflinching carnage that makes Carr feel dangerous, but the way he implicates the reader in his joyride. During the storm that precedes the sharks’ vicious attacks, there’s a sequence of chapters of what the rain means to each of the characters—symbolically, literally, poetically, narratively. Then there’s an empty, lined page titled “Rain According to You,” and just like that—because you’ve now thought about it—you’re complicit in the ensuing violence, even if don’t write anything down. It’s Carr’s grisly trick of mind control.
Once the slaughter begins, Carr uses this control during a terrifying, hysterical sequence where a child becomes chum. To say that the author breaks the fourth wall would be an insult to walls and their original, structural purpose. It’s more like that wall wasn’t even there to begin with:
Now listen, I’m serious here, I’m willing to sacrifice my spot in Heaven to make you feel bad while reading this… because after I kill this toddler out of your imagination, God will think me reprehensible. I want this all to occur inside of you. We’re a team, okay? We’re going to kill this kid together.
Kill this kid with me.
Put it in your mind and let’s kill it.
Just you and me.
Just you and me in our imaginations.
Just two people. Taking a kid and killing it in our hearts.
And we do. And it’s fun. We laugh while Carr unleashes that shark onto the child. We laugh because he’s taken our emotions hostage, and we fear what happens when we don’t comply. We also laugh because it’s the only thing we can do after realizing he’s turned us into sharks as well.
Any author can fling a monster at you; a true talent turns you into one.
Ryan Bradford edits BLACK CANDIES, a literary horror journal. His writing has appeared in Quarterly West, Paper Darts, Vice, Monkeybicycle and [PANK]. He lives in San Diego. Find him at ryancbradford.com or bug him on Twitter: @theryanbradford.