Satan Burger by Carlton Mellick III

Satan Burger by Carlton Mellick IIIReview: Satan Burger by Carlton Mellick III (Eraserhead Press, 2001)

“The main thing that keeps the gun away from your head is thirteen hundred bottles of bourbon, eight hundred bottles of vodka, three hundred bottles of gin, two thousand bottles of rum, six cups of everclear, and twenty-two bottles of southern comfort during the course of a lifetime; but any more than that and you’ll be considered an alcoholic. Richard Stein was considered an alcoholic.”

Not that this has anything to do with anything. Richard Stein is dead. The above quote comes from his life diary, the only form of history left since the walm. You see, sometimes I’ll just dive into a book with no idea of the content, entranced by sublime cover art or, as in this case, snickering at a title. Sometimes the reaction is boredom and swift rejection. Sometimes there’s a pleasant surprise. Sometimes, just sometimes, it opens up a family-size can of WTF and smears it all over my brain. Satan Burger falls firmly into the latter category.

The scene is Rippington, New Canada. The world is a boring place, boring because it is full of new and amazing wonders, enough to make human life so mundane as to be near worthless. The Earth is a sentient being (Satan’s fault) and we are its toys. Now it’s grown up and bored, needing new playthings. These are delivered by a portal known as the walm, situated in Rippington, through which all manner of new creations from the lust-ridden blue women to terrifying scorpion flies materialise to wreak havoc. Humanity is in trouble, from malaise as much as physical danger. To make matters worse, God is lazy. He’s announced that heaven is closed to new business and departed souls will either go downstairs or, if not sufficiently impure, get sucked into the walm to provide the sillygo energy it thrives on, leaving their former bodies as soulless husks.

“God finds being called a fuck-o or a fuck-face an amusing performance: after all, these are very fun words to say when you’re angry. They launch off your tongue like fists.”

Satan, for his part, has decided to open up a burger franchise – the titular Satan Burger. This isn’t the typical biblical Satan; this one is bestowed with the power to grant life to everything he touches and also happens to be a flaming homosexual. His miraculous touch granted sentience not only to the Earth itself but to everything else in his vicinity. When we first set foot in Satan Burger it is staffed by shuffling cigarette machines and toasters. Satan has no control over his power you see, meaning that a sly fondle of a new colleague’s junk can have unintended consequences. It’s a trait which runs in the family, his brother Death’s touch having the opposite effect. Death is on hiatus as well though. The soulless, shambling corpses are massing rapidly.

“Satan is drinking a beer from a living bottle – the bottle’s beer is its blood, so Satan is bleeding it to death – but the bottle can’t complain. Satan is its master, after all.”

The protagonists of this tale – narrator Leaf and his friends Nan, Christian, Mort, Gin and Vodka (seriously) – are disaffected punks, passing their time in Rippington with alcohol and the occasional electro-noise music show. Leaf is either blessed or afflicted with God’s Eyes, the ability to leave his body and wander afar, checking out what his friends are doing and providing a handy narrative link. Despite this, he and his crew are crushed by ennui, their lives losing all significance in the shadow of the walm. Pretty soon they’ve been hustled into working at Satan Burger but by then they have more pressing problems, namely the impending end of the world.

“BUTT ROCK = PUNK”

Satan Burger is odd. You may have guessed that. The atmosphere reminds me overwhelmingly of the classic punk sci-fi movie Repo Man but with even more weirdness added. It has nowhere to go, no purpose, so it revels in becoming as messed up as possible. It’s not all insanity though, there are attacks on the emerging hipster culture, celebrations of individuality and a stark refusal to dress the real world up as any more than it really is. Was it inspiring? No, that’s the wrong word, we need a new one. A word which encapsulates the feeling when an artwork makes you simultaneously want to triumphantly shake a fist in the air, celebrate life in any way possible, sit back and laugh sarcastically at the clamouring masses out the window and annihilate yourself with alcohol, bullets and punk rock.

This book has its detractors. It’s juvenile, they say. It’s weird for weirdness sake. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s confused. You know what? They’re all correct. They just don’t realise that it’s a good thing. And they’re all wrong, because it’s a remarkably mature, polished and focused work at the same time. They’re just jealous. They’re jealous because they’re bored and because Mellick figured this out before them:

“There’s always something to do. You just got to figure out what that something is.”

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