Book Review – NOTHING UNTOWARD by Clay McLeod Chapman

To me, good books contain several of the following: an engaging writing style, characters I can empathize with (or at least wanna spend time with), interesting thoughts condensed into a line or two for easy quotation, some good humor, a story or stories that bring me back for more and constantly wanting to know what happens next, to put me in a world I’ve yet to see and would like to stay in for a while (or elucidating the unseen corners of this world), and just all-around entertainment to help whittle a few hours away. Now, think of the complete opposite of each of those points, and you have a good idea of Clay McLeod Chapman’s Nothing Untoward: Tales from the Pumpkin Pie Show.  (Note: I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)

The Pumpkin Pie Show was a show put together by Chapman back in 1996. The goal of the show was to “foster an intensely intimate relationship between the performers and the audience, which meant doing away with the fourth wall that divided one from the other” (from the Introduction). This book collects the stories Chapman himself wrote for the show, each taking the form of a soliloquy, which ranges from the heartbreaking to the horrifying to the humorous – rather, they’re supposed to.

Reading like a series of third-rate pastiches of Chuck Palahniuk, the real intention of Nothing Untoward seems to be boring the reader to death with emotionless writing, uninteresting characters, unfunny humor, and unengaging stories. Readers will find themselves feeling completely indifferent to the fates of each and every character – who, in terms of development, are little more than words on a page. While it cannot be denied there are a few gems here – such as “Diaper Genie,” “Mama Bird,” or “B-Side” (probably the best in the collection) – each gem is followed by about ten duds, which makes reading Nothing Untoward a more unpleasant chore than mowing the lawn or doing the laundry. No joke, the more I read, the more I dreaded having to read it.

Now, the book is marketed as a series of horror stories, but there is hardly anything horrific about them. Granted, they’re not meant to be conventional horror stories, but Chapman is unable to do much to horrify the reader in even the slightest degree. In fact, the only people who might be horrified by the contents of this book are those whose closest experience to horror is being unable to find organic food, or reading the synopsis of Salo; and it seems to be aimed at pompous college students whose diet consists of low-grade pot, PBR, bad vegan food and/or Top Ramen, and whose biggest problem in life is trying to decide whether or not to disclose their dislike of the Criterion Collection’s release of Michael Bay’s Armageddon lest they be seen as a fop. Sorry, but most of us horror fiends need more than just a cracked character, an unhorrifying situation and a little O. Henry twist at the conclusion of a tale.

I would recommend picking up Nothing Untoward only if you can find it very cheap – I’m talking one cent on Amazon with free shipping – so you can read the few gems mentioned above before using the book to prop up a table leg (I’m actually using my copy as a mousepad, so it does serve some purpose). However, those readers looking for a book to whittle away the time as opposed to their entertainment, best give this volume a wide berth and spend their money on something else. Like drugs. 

About Evan Romero

Evan Romero has been a horror fan since watching “Leprechaun” at the age of five. Aside from watching and writing about horror flicks, he delights in torturing friends with Z-grade movies. He’s also an unabashed Andy Milligan fan, God help him.

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