{Book Review} Invaginies: Joe Koch

Invaginies: Joe Koch

Released – 25th June 2024 (Clash Books)

Reviewed By Giles Edwards

You can listen to Giles’ Invaginies review HERE

O criticorum Deus!, da eloquentiam.

(Nemo autem melius erat hanc foramen interpretari.)

Above everything else, a story must entertain—otherwise, at best, the tale is forgotten; and at worst, recalled with disdain, no matter how valuable its message may be. I love stories. I inhale their moving images from the screen, and the sounds of words and music. In the case of Joe Koch’s Invaginies, I was obliged to absorb the narrative and imagery the more old-fashioned way: text on a page, sparking my brain to render guided hallucination. I’ve done this for years, of course, but only am now writing about it outside of an academic setting. It was quite the experience, and it makes a promise even before you reach the table of contents.

“To the weirdos and queers,” Joe begins. This pair of impish archetypes are broadly underserved, both separately and that lucky bunch who are a bit of both. So there are two items to consider here before diving more deeply: are these queers and weirdos (“queirdos”, if you will) being catered to, and does each item on the menu entertain the reader? The ensuing eighteen tales honour the writer’s promise, some being more queer, some being more weird. As for my own entertainment—initial amusement, or interest, coupled with memorability—I can assure you that they are successful. I read Invaginies over the course of a month, and gazing over the table of contents now, each title brings either a smirk, a nod of the head, or a grimace to mind as I recollect the tale. (Indeed, a number of them elicit all three—looking at you, “Oakmoss and Ambergris”…)

Many of Joe’s stories are meditations on a particular theme, and if I may be allowed a semi-informed presumption, they pertain to his own experience of queerhood. The opening story, “Invaginies”, as well as “Leviathan’s Knot”, “Chironoplasty”, and “Oakmoss and Ambergris”, among others, focus heavily on transformation and the fluidity of human meat contrasting with the certainty of the human mind. All very trans and very intriguing. The undulating super-theme here is poked at from different angles: dark dystopian fiction, drug-fueled cyber-adventurism, and mythic levels of passing time, like Koch’s chewing on their ideas first from one frame of reference, then another. An undercurrent of ancient religiosity runs almost throughout, fusing the stone edifice of time-immemorial with plasticity, as the characters’ bodies and selves re-form, but all the while chained to an anchor secured in the deep planar subconscious. There is myth-making, and myth-breaking. In contrast, there are stories which explore mere transient episodes of human lives – sometimes just minutes of some afternoon.

Having become distracted by the scope of many of these narratives, I will take a moment to remind myself: Oh yes, this is a horror anthology. While I was more intrigued by the grander, sometimes existential, manoeuvrings, it bears noting that there is a lot of grisly goo. (If face rat-cages à la Room 101 gives you pause, perhaps you should skip over “Bride of the White Rat”.) To make an overdone, but altogether apt analogy, Joe’s prose often reads like Burroughs suffering indigestion. My familiarity with the eminent Beatnik’s output roughly begins and ends with Junkie and Naked Lunch, but that second, dreamy volume seems to weigh juicily on Koch; but Joe makes a quarter-turn from Burroughs’ “What the…?” whimsy into a series of nasty venues, many of which involve organs in various places they oughtn’t be, in various states of decay.

But! Let us not forget reading is fun. “Beloved of Flies” tickled me especially, and was a refreshing change of pace. The revenge of the protagonist in “Oakmoss and Ambergris” plays just right. And littered throughout the mess of human waste, bloated and shrivelled skin and organs, and near-constant narrative dismay are just enough splashes of hope—or if not hope, then at least humanity. Things aren’t black and white in Invaginies, but on a spectrum from Suede Beige to Charcoal. In a horrorful collection of rot and mental decay, I left the volume hating none of the characters, even if I greatly disapproved of just about everything some of them got up to.

Taking a peak at the publication acknowledgements, I can piece together Joe’s progression as a writer, and the trajectory is clear enough. I may be mistaken, but it appears “The Wing of Circumcision Hands” is their latest work, and by far the most comprehensive. The themes and stylistic forrays from the preceding stories have synthesized into something larger (it is by far the longest story in the volume), and “The Wing” would do well with its own separate remarks from we professional review-types (Hah, yes). Amidst its sprawl of salt and ooze, there is a tightening—one I hope to see more of in future Joe Koch works. But having been guided by their slickly handiwork through Invaginies, and been gifted a string of novel hallucinations, all I have to say in closing is, Thank you kindly.

You can listen to Giles’ Invaginies review HERE

Invaginies

The Shirley Jackson Award-nominated author returns with a new collection of literary horror and weird fiction that glitters with startling prose and tortured souls.

Invaginies is an invasion, it is a perception that is bodily and transcendent creating holes, paths, or pockets of alternate truth—and not always voluntary—enlightenment.

Every line sings and strikes like grotesque poetry of the possessed. With 17 disturbing tales exploring plagues, possessions, gender & corruption, set in apocalyptic eras not much unlike our own, Joe Koch brings the terrors of a postmodern world into vivid focus.

Haunting and beautiful, Koch takes their place among the great names of the weird like Brian Evenson, exploring the queer perspective in horror as Billy Martin and Clive Barker, and contemporary rising voice, Eric LaRocca.

Literary prose meets the grotesque in this collection of stories to galvanize lovers of horror and weird fiction. With a growing cult audience, this collection is sure to shoot to the top of readers’ tbr piles.

You can buy Invaginies from Amazon UK & Amazon US

Giles Edwards

Film major & would-be writer.

Follow Giles on Twitter: @gilesforyou

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