Bong-Ripping Brides of Count Drogado
By Dave K.
Mason Jar Press, November 2017
254 pages, $15.00
Reviewed by Bailey Drumm

“It is pleasant, your life, in the same way that decay smells sweet at the edges.”

Dave K.’s Bong-Ripping Brides of Count Drogado, out now from Mason Jar Press, is an unnerving adventure full of morbid curiosity. Both disturbing and tempting, the book is dark at the edges but somehow still inviting. What is real? Who is Thomas Carey, the novel’s hero? What is his purpose? While the narration can become heavy with many existential turning points, spurts of dark humor keep the story moving. Prepare for an obscure and unsettling journey.

The novel is written in a second-person narrative. Therefore, when the main plot begins, the reader becomes the one-armed Thomas Carey, a well-spoken, homeless alcoholic who finds himself captured by none-other than Count Drogado’s brides – three stocky girls garbed in gentle white dresses, lace garland around one’s head, another’s hair completely covering her face. And yes, as noted in the title, they carry a bong everywhere they go.

Carey comes-to in dark lit room, naked, unsure of his whereabouts, and the reader becomes part of Carey’s nightmare as the brides toss him around and force him into the unthinkable. They handle him roughly, “more like farmhands than ladies,” and have no sense of personal space as they hover about and dress him, being gentle only around what would have been his other arm. They move between fluid, practiced motions and harsh aggression. They work together as one entity throughout the novel, though Dave K. does draw them differently. Their actions often contradict their advice, while at other moments their advice comes off wise and meaningful. In fact, sometimes they seem to not make much sense at all.

Once the brides have dressed him for the party, Carey is sent off into strange quarters to play bizarre games. He is stuffed with food and drink, until he is repulsed by his typically extreme desires. The party never ends. Guests lean against walls, sloppily falling around, looking like they haven’t slept in years. Around him, maggots squirm through food on tables; the floor sticks and stinks underneath his feet. When he asks the brides to introduce him to the host, they take him without apprehension.

Count Drogado is a stark contrast to the other characters. He is well groomed, put together, and seemingly calm, though there is a mischievous look in his eyes that flashes with warning not to cross him. When Carey suggests leaving his party, Drogado says to him campily, “What’s the matter? Gotta go home and help the missus clean the dishes?”

Dave K. builds tension with hints of urgency through his descriptions, making the reader suffer with Carey. “Your lungs and throat feel like a burlap as you cough up more food. You can still taste the hands that forced open your mouth.” He is broken, mentally and physically, more and more. Delirium heightens his eagerness to leave. Through his pain, he begins to discover what he really wants, though his desires are constantly shifting and altering.

Neither Carey nor the reader get a break. Though the book has two interludes, there is no place to stop. The interludes weave in other short stories that help give nods to theories about the brides’ histories, as well as how they came to be a part of Drogado’s life. They add context to the main story and raise the stakes of what is to come if Carey cannot escape.

Through it all, the reader constantly struggles between feeling pity for Carey, and experiencing the stress of being him. Living in Tom Carey’s head makes the reader consider something he asks himself at one point in the novel: “Are you calm, or just numb?”