Animal Rights & Pornography by J. Eric Miller
At a hundred pages long AR&P is not a record breaker by any means. It’s a collection of short stories that range from a page to a few pages, a quick read, faster paced than his other book Bloodletting and Fruits of Lebanon. When I first read this…ummmm…around five years ago, I was completely blown away. It was brutal, graphic, disgusting, I fucking loved it. On this second take I was hoping to convey that original thought to you. I can’t. I don’t know what my 21-22 year old mind was thinking. I remember discussing the book with one of my creative writing professors and he asked me what I thought of it. I told him I thought it was fucking hilarious, he gave me a look, and said he thought it was sad. I couldn’t understand him then (I guess I hadn’t grown up enough) but I can understand that perspective now. The book breaks down into the following stories. I’m also giving you this list because the book itself doesn’t have one.
You Marry a Stripper
The Space Between Us
Mercy Killer II
In The Pride of Lions
Prince Pusser Taren
Every Mother’s Son
The first story, “Food Chain,” deals with incest. Not just your normal incest though, that comes in another story. It starts with the dad fucking the daughter, then gravitates to him fucking his sons. It doesn’t stop there. It then goes to the sons fucking the daughter and the sons fucking the other sons until eventually the youngest is fucking the family pig…no really. 13 of the 20 stories are about sex in some way. Maybe it was because I was a horny 22 year old that I loved the book so much. Even though one of them is about a guy getting raped by a Chinese man (“Broken Harder”). Of course there is also the one about the guy that wishes he wouldn’t get a hard on and gets one anyways (“Prince Pusser Taren”). Maybe I liked the book because it is in your face, honest, and graphic. Maybe I don’t like it now because I know the man.
In a interview I read about the book the interviewer asks him how many of these stories happened to him…he said none. While most know this isn’t true, all writers to some degree write what they know, I don’t really feel that is the case here. Here is why. Knowing the man I know that he is a vegetarian. Several of the stories, like “Worms,” “Invisible Fish” and “Fur Bearer,” deal with animal rights. While they are told from an interesting perspective (“Fur Bearer” discusses a man who steals a one night stands fur coat because it is repulsive. “Invisible Fish” a man who abuses animals at a pet store) sometimes it seems a little preachy (hint: “Worms”). Another example is at the time I knew that not only was he getting divorced from a stripper, but he recently had a child with her (“You Marry A Stripper,” “Every Mother’s Son”). From the fact that every woman who was in my class had a crush on him to the fact that I saw him at a bar one night with a 21 year old twit it explains the over prevalence of sex (“In The Pride Of Lions” is about a guy who meets up with an old lothario friend, proves himself better, then goes to sleep with the guys wife. “John School” is about a guy who attends a lecture of recovering prostitutes, talking to men who go to prostitutes, then takes one out and proceeds to get her to show skin for money). I would also say, using “Ceremony” and “Exploiter,” that he has a problem with his father. I don’t know…I may be pulling shit out of my ass. However almost every main male character in this story, in some way, seems to be a chauvinistic, self-righteous prick, who thinks they are better then everyone else (in “Hunger” a man deems his wife too fat and therefore un-fuckable so he forces her on a diet…it ends well though). Then again maybe you are supposed to see the men as such. Maybe he is making a commentary on why he doesn’t like the “sexual” aspect of men. Perhaps the goal is to see these men that use women basically only for sex as a “what not to do.” Maybe he is disgusted at himself.
What I do know is this. With fresh eyes this collection of short stories will take your breath away. Several of them still linger with me all these years later (“Broken Harder,” “Mercy Killer II,” “Invisible Fish,” “Hunger”), and yet some of them when I reread I almost forgot just as quickly. If you don’t like brutality, sex, and an animal as people mentality, you probably won’t like this book. However, as I said at the beginning, the book is also sad. Much like the character in “Broken Harder” I can understand the need for someone to find themselves. Someone who feels lost. Someone who doesn’t feel like they belong. I think maybe that was Millers problem…he’s still trying to find where he belongs.