December 14, 2011
Matty Byloos is an internationally recognized painter, the renowned publisher and editor of Smalldoggies Magazine and Press, and the author of Pushcart Prize nominee Don’t Smell the Floss: a unique and experimental collection of short stories written through a male stream of consciousness.
In this neurotic, humorous, and fascinating collection, Byloos presents indiscriminate topics such as “perfect coffee,” bukkake, even apotemnophilia (desire to self-amputate body parts) and scatters them across fourteen stories split in two uniquely titled halves: Kittied to Death: Love Stories for a Contemporary Audience and Nagasaki & What Not: Post-Traumatic Dreamscapes.
Byloos opens his collection with an engaging and endearing story titled Ghost Leg wherein the narrator provides a detailed overview of facts, medical statistics, and case studies surrounding amputation, even going as far as to admit his failed attempt at severing his own legs.
Throughout the story, I wondered if the subject (quite possibly the writer) has a personal fetish for amputations, or if this is his way of conveying that he’s suffering from an identity crisis of sorts. Perhaps he feels as if he’s missing an integral piece of himself, and it’s driving him to seek solace in the act of physically deforming himself:
“In the bathroom, I brush my teeth, rinse, spit, and towel off my tingling mouth. I stand in the mirror with my teeth clenched until I can hardly recognize myself anymore, cheeks hardened and white in the middle, small apples turned inside-out, eyes bulging, froggish. Several seconds go by. Maybe minutes. I ask the toothbrush why this has just happened. What could it mean to be a person alone, holding my breath in the mirror? I hear the toothbrush mumbling something incoherent. I never bother to clarify.” – excerpt from Ghost Leg
Passages like this hit hard, and all at once I understood what it’s like to feel disjointed, confused, and deeply flawed. This is also exhibited in the collection’s seventh story Ohne Titel (der Punkt). In this piece, the narrator finds himself plagued by a pigment discoloration on his foot. The subject goes through life haunted by this “spot,” detailing his shyness, his aversion to social situations, avoiding serious conversations with his coworkers and engaging himself in bland chitchat with junior office administrators.
“…I can then see it clean through my shoe, why I see it constantly in dreams, why within minutes of meeting any woman, the spot is there, plainly reflected in her face, calling my name, naming me. No, the color of the spot on my foot cannot be described in terms of the visual; instead, it is best understood by proxy, through another sensate experience; it is the taste of blood in my mouth: foreign and independent, though at once inherently connected.” –excerpt from Ohne Titel (der Punkt)
Take Jeff Kass’ dark humor and cross it with Murakami’s dream-like prose, throw in a little existential questioning, endearing quirks, and somewhere in all the avant-garde chaos emerges Byloos’ masterwork. Byloos holds nothing back in this tell-all book, whether during two characters’ graphic (and/or violent) description of their writing process in We Control The Plot at Dangersby, the protagonist rambling on about bukkake in Letter to my Ex-Wife, or the ironic dialogue about reality between a pornographer and a soft-spoken observer:
“When I walk her to her car later, after it’s all over, we are alone, and I ask Candy for her phone number. I don’t know what that means about me, but I know I have to do it. I started thinking about it when I was watching her shower, after all the sex. I had to protect her from the snake, which was asleep with its tongue in its mouth on the shelf just below the green towels. That part felt normal to me, even though she said no when I asked her if I could wash her hair…I really want to hug her, even more than I want to have sex with her, which I don’t even think I want at all. She has the sexiest back I think I’ve ever seen, which is a strange thing to think about a person, especially when it’s true.” –excerpt from My Friend the Pornographer
There were times that I found myself wondering what the hell Byloos was smoking when he wrote stories riddled with such eccentricity; however, the strangeness only adds to the book’s charm. Despite the obvious abstract touches inserted here and there, Byloos never needlessly rambles on; his points are always concise and delivered with crisp flair.
A definite must-read, Don’t Smell the Floss is available for purchase through Write Bloody Publishing, a small press that plants a tree for every book it publishes.