Tag Archives: Pulp Fiction

Bizzaro Book Review: Frank Sinatra in a Blender by Matthew McBride

Let’s start with the obvious, okay? This is a book called Frank Sinatra in a Blender. I want you to let the pure wonder of that sink in for a second. I am a massive sucker for a catchy title. This probably has something to do with being raised on science fiction short stories with titles like “Mimsy Were the Borogroves” or “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”. You don’t often get titles like that in novels, which right off the bat had me rooting for Frank Sinatra in a Blender to knock it clear on out of the stadium.

And from the outset things look very promising indeed. Matthew McBride commands a powerful and distinct voice, and his hard-boiled prose sucked me in immediately. There’s a kind of magic in this style of writing, a kind of siren song that calls out to the writer in me and says, “Maybe you should try to write like that.” By this point I know such forced emulation can only end in frustration and fakery, but this powerful and evocative style wielded so fearlessly still excites in me a certain awe and perhaps the slightest tinge of envy.

But then the other shoe drops. Actually that’s probably not the best metaphor to use here. For me the problems in this book became visible, not in a single flash of insight, but instead crept in like shadows cast by a slowly sinking sun, a sense that there was something off here. I tried to shake the feeling at first. By this point, I was more than a little invested; I was enthusiastic even, but something kept nagging at the back of my mind refusing to let me give myself over wholly to this story.

Why? Well, for a proper explanation it might do to examine what Frank Sinatra in a Blender actually is. Frank Sinatra in a Blender is crime fiction. And when I say crime fiction, I’m not talking about the kind of story where a crime is committed  and someone is trying to solve it (though there is some of that present in the narrative.) When I say crime fiction, I mean this is a story about criminals. Both protagonists and antagonists are decidedly bad guys.

Now let me be clear here: this kind of story can work. As a reader I am perfectly capable of rooting for someone on the wrong side of the law. Bad guys fighting against worse guys make for some great stories. Probably the best known example of this in popular culture would be Quentin Tarantino’s film Pulp Fiction, which follows a couple of hit men and other assorted criminals through a twisted and unpredictable series of events. Very few of these characters are dudes you’d want to sit down and have tea with. And yet, Tarantino goes to great lengths to show us that these guys aren’t wholly defined by their work. He paints them as characters rather than criminals, giving them long tracts of meandering dialogue, prodding us to remember that these aren’t caricatures defined by their crimes, but real people with deep layers of personality. He helps you to connect with these bad guys.

This connection is what is missing in Frank Sinatra in a Blender. The protagonist is a coke-snorting, stripper-loving, corkscrew-crooked P.I. and all of his friends are worse. The lack of likability here is frankly staggering. The only attribute you might argue gives him a twinge of humanity is his relationship with his dog (who happens to be named Frank Sinatra, and —I don’t want to give too much away here, but— it turns out the title is functional as well as aesthetic.)

All of this means that by the time the novel was over, I wasn’t invested in what happened to anyone (except perhaps our eponymous canine cutey). Who will get the money from the bank heist? Who will take the rap for the turd on the mob boss’s pillow? Who will survive the ensuing carnage?

Who cares?

However. This complete failure of likability wasn’t enough to make me stop reading, which says a lot for McBride’s impeccable style and twisted plotting. But by the end my excitement about this book had waned considerably.

I’m not going to make a recommendation one way or another on this one. Obviously these kinds of opinions are highly subjective at the best of times; I’m fully prepared to consider the possibility that this story just wasn’t for me. After all, Charlie Sheen liked it. So if you’re looking for a fresh an interesting writer with a powerful voice, and you can stomach a despicable protagonist, then you could do worse than giving this one a look-see.

Madman Maverick vs. THE BABY FROM HELL

[This week’s challenge over at Terrible Minds is to write a flash fiction based on the prompt “Pulp Babies.” For those of you who are not aware, “pulp” is a form a fiction which is meant to entertain and and nothing else; it is the literary equivalent of the popcorn movie. Or, barring that, think of it as the dude’s equivalent of the cheap romance novel.  In that spirit what follows contains not an ounce of nuance nor a shred of subtlety. Enjoy.]

“What’s the situation?” Maverick growled.

“It’s bad, Maverick,” the commissioner said. “Real bad. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.”

“Stop shakin’ and start talkin’. Couldn’t make head or tail out of what dispatch was saying. Kept blithering on about some mutant baby.”

“That’s exactly it Maverick,” the chief said. “We’re not sure how or why, but…see for yourself.”

The chief handed Maverick the binoculars and Maverick looked down from the top of the parking garage to the windows of the hospital below. At first he didn’t see anything, but then there was a flicker of movement and something skittered by one of the windows.”

“What the…”

“It’s the thing,” the chief explained. “The baby.”

“How does it move like that?”

“It has…tentacles or something. Henderson was the only one survived the raid. He kept raving about…fronds. I didn’t know what to make of that.”

“Is everyone out?”

The chief nodded. “We evacuated them as soon as we could. But some…didn’t make it.”

“The mother?”

“She died trying to protect the thing from Henderson and the boys. Someone shot her.”

“Only a mother,” growled Maverick.

“We need your help, Maverick. I know you’re retired, but after that business down in Nicaragua…”

“Radioactive flying chimps ain’t exactly the same thing as a mutant baby. Besides, I’m no good with kids.” Maverick put the binoculars back up to his eyes. “Any intel on what that thing can do?”

“Some of the nurses said they saw it tear the doctors apart before it was even fully out of the womb,” the chief said. “If you can believe that.”

“At this point I can believe almost anything,” Maverick said.

“Can you help us?” the chief said. “Just this one last time? I’ve already lost five of my best men to that thing.”

“Right. But you’re perfectly fine with me sticking my neck out.”

“You’re my last hope. If you can’t do it, we’ll have to turn the whole place into rubble.”

“And that wouldn’t look good for your reelection campaign now would it?”

“Please Maverick. I know we haven’t been on the best of terms in the past, but-”

“Oh, can it. I’ll take the job, if only to stop listening to you whine. But first I’m gonna need some things.”

He started to make out his list.

Almost an hour later, Maverick strolled into the hospital through the front door. He put his hand down on the handle of his 44. magnum and traced the cool steel contours of the gun with his fingertips as if he were caressing a lover.

The elevators were still running, but Maverick took the stairs instead. He stopped somewhere around the third landing he felt a pain in his side, and he thought, You’re getting too old for this stuff, Maverick. Too bad you’re no good at anything else.

On the fourth floor landing he put his hand in his pocket to assure himself that the thing the whole plan hinged on was still there. The gun at his hip was just for show, a talisman of war that had carried him through the good times and the bad. But it would do him no good here. Shooting the thing wouldn’t work. Henderson and his men had tried that, and the baby had been too fast for them to see, let alone hit.

But the thing in his pocket…it would work. If only…

Maverick pushed open the door and stepped into the stark hospital hallway. He stepped over a dismembered arm and skirted past a spatter of blood on the wall.

“Come out, come out wherever you are,” Maverick called as he stepped slowly down the hall. At first there was nothing, but then he heard an unearthly scuttling noise from his right and he turned and saw the baby-thing was watching him.

It looked vaguely like a human baby, but its skin was green with splotches of black, and the back of it’s head was open somehow, moving and squeezing with folds like an accordion. But the most terrifying thing of all was the way the thing was suspended, almost floating, held aloft by wispy feather-like appendages that looked far too thin to support such weight.

“What’s up babe?” Maverick quipped. He took a slow step back and the baby-thing followed.

“You look like a baby, but I’m bettin’ you’re a lot smarter than that, aren’t you? You’re looking at me right now, trying to figure out if maybe I’ve got some kind of plan aren’t you. But maybe I’m just crazy. Maybe I’m ready to die tonight. Maybe I don’t have a plan at all.”

Maverick reached for his gun, and in an instant the baby-thing was on him and the fronds were wrapping themselves around Maverick’s neck like a noose.

The baby-thing looked at Maverick with demon-black eyes and opened its mouth far too wide to reveal hundreds of needle teeth.

Maverick reached into his pocket and pulled out the grenade. He yanked the pin with his teeth and spat it in the face of the baby-thing. The baby-thing screeched and retreated down the hall dropping Maverick to the floor like a sack of bricks. The baby-thing ran right into the tripwire Maverick had set earlier and the Claymore mounted to the wall exploded blowing pieces of the baby-thing everywhere.

Maverick set down the grenade and smiled. “Dummy,” he explained.


A little later the chief was slapping Maverick on the back. “I knew I could count on you,” he said. “You always come through for me. This city can breathe easy now that that thing is dead.”

“No,” Maverick said. “No we can’t”

“What do you mean?” the chief asked.

“Because,” Maverick said, “Somewhere out there, that thing has a father.”

[This thing was so much fun to write. By the time I was finished I was practically drenched in testosterone. I was ready to punch through a wall and yell, “I AM A MAN!” The most fun about writing this story was the fact that the story stretches out for so long in such a short space. The back-story implied between Maverick and the chief goes back for years and spans whole continents. These guys have been there and they have done that and they did not get the t-shirt. I know I’ve said this about other stories, but I could totally write more about these guys.]