Sex Dungeon for Sale! isn't what you think (and by the way, shame on you for thinking it). It's a collection of short stories; the title story concerns a real estate agent trying to sell a house with a *cough* unique selling point.
The author, Patrick Wensink, contacted me on goodreads, suggesting I might like it because I had also reviewed (and oddly enough, rather enjoyed) a similar book by the same publisher, Help! A Bear is Eating Me!. I have to commend Mr. Wensink for having an effective marketing strategy, as his personal pitch did lead me to buy a copy of the book, but I would suggest that his method may be a bit too labor-intensive for the book to ever reach the New York Times bestseller list.
Although I think, given the subject matter, that may not actually be the author's goal here.
SDFS! contains 12 short stories, several of which are only two or three pages long, covering a surreal assortment of subjects including:
• "My son thinks he's French," about a mysterious beret-wearing, croissant-eating toddler
• "Wash, Rinse, Repeat, " which concerns a washing machine released onto the market with a "Kill" cycle
• "Jesus Toast," about a woman whose gift is seeing images of religious figures and dead celebrities in food, and makes her living auctioning off the items
Each of the stories has an interesting, surreal spark of an idea, many of which I thought a good graphic artist could make into an excellent, if somewhat nauseating, Far Side style cartoon. For example, one of the stories, "You can't blow yourself to smithereens on an empty stomach," envisions a young suicide bomber at breakfast with his parents. Not quite enough to carry a short story, but a good illustration and I could see it on the cover of a magazine*.
In other cases, I felt like the story would do well if the idea were expanded with better character development and narrative. One of the longest stories, "Pandemic Jones," concerned a plot to overthrow the government by sending in people infected with deadly diseases. Great idea, except that the story throws in a number of elements that don't quite jibe: the narrator starts off working for a pharmaceutical company, at the end it turns out he's a homeland security spy, which could have worked if the narration was less disjointed, but instead the surprise twist ending (I think), left me confused. Actually, the whole thing kind of confused me.
The writing, particularly the dialogue, fell flat; inadequately developed, all the characters sounded like the same person, with the same terse style as the descriptive sections. I had difficulty visualizing the scenes, as not much time was spent developing the settings.
Wensink can turn a memorable phrase, without question. In "The Many Lives of James Brown's Capes," a military commander takes exhorts his troops with the statement, "I trained a whole Serbian death squad to Cats. But if you guys don't want to be the best ..." Arresting, to be sure. Unfortunately, it crosses the line into poor taste without really serving much purpose in so doing.
In general, I found the stories to be weird for the sake of being weird, without entertaining or illuminating me quite enough along the way. This made me start nitpicking about things, like in "Pandemic Jones" when they plan to spread whooping cough as part of a plan to sell a drug that cures it - great idea, except that children are routinely vaccinated against whooping cough.
I think Mr. Wensink has potential: lots of clever and unique ideas, and I look forward to seeing more of them when his execution has more finesse.
Inner Pedant typo count: 5 (site for cite, Rivera for Riviera, malitia for militia, effect for affect, and Ronald Regan instead of Reagan).
*Although probably not The New Yorker.