The Terrible Thing that Happens: Carlton Mellick III

Carlton Mellick III is well known for his outpouring of books in the Bizarro genre. That said, The Terrible Thing that Happens isn’t a festival of the bizarre. There’s no television-headed crab people shitting out murderous fridges that look like Stalin while living in the navel of a overweight trumpet-playing Jesus look-a-like.

For those seeking the outright strange, indecent and wacky, The Terrible Thing that Happens isn’t the best place to look. It’s not the strangest book he’s penned. It’s not even in the top twenty of strange books he’s written, and looking at some reviews that seems to disappoint a small number of readers. However, to ignore The Terrible Thing that Happens is to miss out on what is one of his finest works.

The story is straightforward. There’s a grocery store, the world’s last one, in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. It opens every night, and the same scenario is played out: a deadly armed robbery resulting in the mass slaughter of the shoppers.

The survivors of the apocalypse have (mostly) learned the routine of the slaughter. They can get in, replenish supplies, and get out again without getting killed or caught in the vortex. Well, the lucky ones can, at least.

The novella starts slowly and, being truthful, had I picked it up in a bookstore, I might have read the cover blurb and a few pages before putting it down again. However, facing a 9 hour flight I’d ordered a few books on-line, and so it was a case of reading it or watching Mama Mia in Russian. That, it transpires, was a right stroke of luck, because The Terrible Thing that Happens is a revelation.

Even the tin foil dish of brown shit and the miniature bowl of withered fruit on offer from the stewardess with the wonky eye wasn’t enough to stop me reading. I sent her away with her tempting treats. I did, however, accept her miniature cans of beer as often as I could.

The end of The Terrible Thing that Happens disappointed me. It wasn’t an issue with the story, but the fact I wanted more. It is a novella, and it tells the full story that CM III sets out to tell, but it’s so fucking engaging I found it hard to accept it was over. I could have wallowed in the supermarket bloodbath for a lot longer.

If you dive into The Terrible Thing that Happens expecting a fuckload of weirdness, then disappointment could end up being your bedfellow. It’s better than that. Yes, it’s bizarre, but it’s also a compelling narrative that draws you in. That’s why it gets the full five ape heads from me.


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