MP Johnson’s Berzerkoids (review)

I just got done reading MP Johnson’s Berzerkoids anthology, and I feel like my brain is going to crawl out of my ears to get a hot girlfriend and a hip new job, like a barista for orphaned stars or maybe a fluffer for alien pornographers. Wowzers.

Berzerkoids is high-energy and wryly zany. Its plots are largely dream-like, often feeling improvisational until the details fall into place and a fuzzy outline of the story’s logic emerges. Like a good joke or serial killing, Berzerkoids is rarely predictable, yet each piece feels inevitable in the after math.

The prose is crisp, at times even melodic. Reading Berzerkoids out loud is a delightful experience, rhythmic and percussive, like Tae Bo for your lips and glottis. At times, I’d have to re-read silently after getting sucked into Berzerkoids’ phonetic fury, consciousness disappearing in the wet bellows of my mouth.

MP Johnson’s monsters are truly beautiful, in language if not in visuals. Bodies become their own kind of vocabulary. MP Johnson warps and wields the human body like a sommelier enabling winos. Maybe deep down you’re just a sadist with a loose grasp of reality- but when you read Berzerkoids, you see everything that can really be! The people of Berzerkoids are unlovable, doomed, misbegotten and messily mutated… yet even as they’re torn to bits by the jaws of reality, there’s a sense of triumph in hearing their stories.

Occasionally, through all the anus-faced action figures and otherworldly caterpillars, real melancholy bubbles through. Most of the perspective characters in Berzerkoids are bent inside, and Johnson pulls you into their viewpoint just enough to cringe in recognition. At times Berzerkoids goes along for several pages, crafting a character so sympathetic you actually just want them to get the boy/girl and settle down somewhere nice, as if you were reading one of those boring books where people are well-adjusted and nobody gnaws off any of their own appendages. At other times you’ll find yourself rooting for the characters even while their shortcomings rage around you. “Sure, he turns small mammals inside out,” you might find yourself saying, “but I want him to be the best at turning small mammals inside out.”

Berzerkoids is a taut, cleanly articulated hellscape of hideous beasts and heinous shitbirds. More than anything- more than gore-glee, sexy eyebrows, or refined appreciation for a well-realized demon, Berzerkoids sucks you into the space between nostalgia and promise. Its characters are haunted, hungry and trembling. The past is inaccessible, the future obscure, and guts pulsate in the middle.

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