j. l. navarro

Reviews: The Blood Cake Vendor

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J.L. Navarro’s latest book is an outstanding collection of speculative fiction that features a diverse medley of stories.   Vivid, insightful, graphic and provocative, these stories fall into a number of genres and recall the fiction of Barthelme, Kafka, Borges, Gogol, Schultz, Beckett and other proto irrealists.  Unlike these authors, however, Navarro’s fiction has a sharp, bloody, unapologetically irreverent edge---the kind of edge David Lynch fans will find insatiable.  As a disclaimer on the back cover of The Blood Cake Vendor and Other Stories forebodes: “Some stories may not be for the faint of heart, squeamish, or prudes.  Not recommended for immature readers.  Be warned.”


The title story establishes the metaphysical scene for the entire collection.  Set in a vaguely mystical wartime city, it is narrated by a self-employed businessman who owns a small shop that sells religious and spiritual mementos alongside heavy artillery including grenades, hand guns and automatic rifles.  He resides above his shop in an apartment with his wife and her sister’s ghost, an arrangement he describes with a dreamlike matter of factness.  “I don’t mind her ghost living with us,” he says.  “She was always quiet and did not strain our resources in the least.”  Then there is the blood cake vendor, who uses the “ingredients” of dead soldiers to bake his cakes.  As the narrator explains, these cakes are “an acquired taste” that “some people refuse to eat . . . on religious grounds.”  Overall, the story expresses the absurdity of human relations, which, contrary to all knowledge and intellect, are inevitably subject to various forms of literal and metaphorical violence.  This is one of the book’s overarching themes, and Navarro never fails to articulate it with flair and perspicuity.


Navarro’s prose oscillates between a Hemingwayesque simplicity and a Henry Miller-like lyricism.  Like Hemingway and Miller, too, he often employs beat, shady, down-and-out characters.  These characters are uniquely subjected to and constructed by their diegetic mediatized universes.  Hollywood and the streets of L.A. recurrently function as a stage for the sordid, schized masses, who, the narrator of “Baby Hulk” says, represent “a zoo of humanity’s caprice and necessity reflected by the rags that draped them” and “a cacophony of world tongues streaming by with as many varied world faces.”  Other, shorter stories like “A Parable,” “Remembering the Crucifixion” and “The Ancient City” probe the vicissitudes and consequences of religious mania---another dominant theme in the text.  There are also stories that treat drugs and hallucinations, Internet occultism, incest, vampirism, zombiism and UFOs, among other oddities.  What makes Navarro’s narratives effective is his sheer originality, attentiveness to detail, darkly satirical wit and bionic writing style.


The Blood Cake Vendor and Other Stories is suitable for leisure reading as much as pop and scholarly criticism. Read it for a laugh, read it for a wild ride, or read it to plumb the depths of the human condition.  There’s something here for everybody, especially if your interests fall into the horror, science fiction and fantasy genres.  But this is not genre literature.  It is a tall postmodern sandwich containing an eclectic highrise of meats, veggies and exotic spices.

D. Harlan Wilson, author

of The Kafka Effekt



A hefty short-story collection on par with the underlying themes of war, hell and humanity's lowest denominators, as we found so well-defined in the title story. Navarro takes on the more grim and corporeal aspects of death. It may seem obvious, but a good place to start in this journey would be with the story, "Strange Things Happen." Gabo fans might enjoy exploring the more sinister turns of events in Navarro's "The House of Gabriel Goez" or "The Colonel's Execution," from which we are treated with these lines:
"On any given day of the trials, men, women and children who had survived the former regime packed the gallery. Many of them were already dead and had begun to sprout twigs and showed green leaves growing from their neck or hands."

This book is not for the faint-hearted.

--Margin: Exploring Magical Realism

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There are a few hooks in The Blood Cake Vendor and Other Stories; few of those literary phrases that catch us in the first few lines, like a fish, into reading a story.   J. L. Navarro simply slips us into his narratives.  The titles are the hooks.  Take the title of the book and the first story, for example.  One feels the warmth, the taste and color of blood cake.  I was trapped into reading further, to find out more.  On the back of the 512 page book is a warning, "Some stories may not be for the faint of heart, squeamish, or prudes.  The book is not recommended for immature readers."  I agree.  It is heavy, not for the dim-witted or frail.  This author knows the streets.  He knows the language and its culture.  The tales are well crafted and based in what he perceives to be true.  He does this in color presenting character and environment like few others I have read.  With ingenuity, he takes us into places we might not otherwise go.  Like an urban taxi ride, or through the eyes of a wayward dog, the author lets us know that obscenities and sexuality are not the same thing and that death is inevitable.  Although I sometimes wanted to close the book, and wanting to write a bad review because of the graphic language, I did not; I could not.  This is a good collection of short stories, rendering social-political insight, never losing sight of the human and inhumane.  Bravo!


                             --Dr. Irene I. Blea, Ph.D, author of The Feminization of Racism: Promoting World Peace in America


Does the Devil make Navarro do it? Lucifer's fingerprints are all over these pages. The horns of the Master of Darkness pop up in every other story. He is quite the evil gent. -- Of course meeting the Devil is not easy. Such as in, ‘Infinity’, "It takes years to get an appointment …" -- And these meetings are as serious as a Donald Trump conference. As in ‘Never Know What You're Gonna Get’, "Sell my soul … You must be joking." "I never joke … when it comes to business."  -- But once you get the Devil's attention he sets you straight. As in ‘Where the Devil Lives’, our hero is informed, " … you should have been a serial killer of some notoriety years ago …"  --And a special for you history buffs. Aleister Crowley meets both the Devil and Pancho Villa in ‘Wind and Sand’.

The Blood Cake Vendor has the usual quota of three eyed monsters; ladies with real wagging tails; men with two penises growing out of their head and even an eight legged vagina. Could it get any better? Navarro’s themes include: human taxidermy and tattoos; butchering and snuff movies; UFOs and time travel; dogs and karma … and oddly enough he has a real fondness for taxicabs. 

The Blood Cake Vendor has an audience. It has an affordability and rough charm that not a few enjoy. …Navarro shoots words and ideas out of a shotgun. He presents the reader with pieces of a puzzle. And in most of his stories the reader has to take these irregular parts and fashion them into a plot of choice. It's the stuff of dreams … knitting pieces of a cloud into the whole.

illy O'Kane is a writer and poet

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From the January 7, 2005 AB Bookman Editorial:


A Bad Year for Readers and Dealers

Billy O'Kane's review of Blood Cake Vendor by J. L. Navarro and its subsequent discussion got me to thinking (and possibly slicing my throat with this editorial). Blood Cake Vendor fits wonderfully with the titles below. In fact, of the group it is one of the better ones. Never once, since I began selling books in 1973 have I failed to sock away at least one book by a major publisher that I didn't expect to appreciate, until this year. So, J. L., get your negotiation skills together and get your hardcover price down to $26.95 so you can compete, because Blood Cake Vendor has a better shot at becoming a collectible than these godawful insults to human intelligence, otherwise known as the output of major publishers in the United States in the year of our Lord 2004.


For the complete list of books mentioned, click here.

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The Blood Cake Vendor and Other Stories is definitely not for the faint of heart or squeamish reader.  J.L. Navarro's collection of short stories is a visceral collection that is simultaneously eerie and engaging and simply bursts with skullduggery and mayhem.  This book will definitely ignite the urge to squirm in your seat and look over your shoulder.  
If you have a mind willing to explore all that is humanity and its darkest intentions, then 'The Blood Cake Vendor and Other Stories' will leave you pleasantly satisfied and delightfully uneasy.  As much a snapshot of suburbia as a comment on the dark, twisted nature of man, this collection is definitely recommended for the probing mind.
Sensitive souls and those who shy away from the dark side are advised to leave this one on the shelf!
--Bonnie Kay Florea, writer/poet,
author of Shades of Grey

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About The Blood Cake Vendor: "…typical Navarro."

--Clyde Torres, former editor of El Torque &

fatal victim of Hurricane Katrina