The Bighead – Edward Lee
Overlook Connection Press – 1999
Edward Lee’s The Bighead has a reputation for being one of the grossest books ever written. After reading it, I can confirm that it is truly disgusting. I had to put it down after certain chapters and wait a while before I read more. The ordeals faced by the characters in this book are so repulsive that the reader suffers along with them. This book literally made me squirm. It’s the kind of thing that you’ll be reading and then start to think “What kind of sick perverts read this stuff?”, only to realise that you yourself belong to that group of sick perverts. Honestly, if I saw someone reading this book on the bus, I’d probably get off at a different stop from them.
This is the story of two pretty girls from the big city coming to visit one of their aunts in the countryside. Unfortunately, their trip is interrupted by a rampaging backwoods mutant named the Bighead. There’s an video of Lee online in which he notes that many horror stories have a similar premise. I reviewed a book called Blood Rite a few months ago that was also about a girl trapped in the woods with violent redneck monsters. That book was awful because it was boring. The Bighead avoids this by taking an almost identical premise but pumping it absolutely chock-full of obscene, disgusting, perverse acts of depravity. There’s one part where a redneck empties a pensioner’s colostomy bag over her recently exposed brains, just for the fun of it. The tagline on the back cover reads “Rape. Murder. Brain-Eating…” That’s a pretty concise way of summing it up. Maybe ‘poo-eating’ could have been added to that list too. There’s LOTS of poo-eating.
I knew this book was going to be gross, but I wasn’t expecting it to be as entertaining as it is. The characters are nicely developed, and apart from the gory, disgusting bits, there’s actually some genuinely creepy stuff going on in here involving an abandoned hospice for dying priests and the ghosts of two of the sadistic nuns that used to work there.
Each chapter has a computer generated illustration. Maybe they looked good in 1999, but they haven’t aged very well.
Two versions of The Bighead have been published. The original publishers requested that Lee change some details of the book’s ending. The second edition restored the original ending. The latter version is referred to as ‘the author’s preferred text’, and it’s the one I read. I read somewhere that Lee actually changed his mind again and that he now prefers the first edition’s ending. (So the ‘author’s preferred text’ is actually not the author’s preferred text.) I was very mildly disappointed with the ending of the version I read, but I think I’d probably be saying the same thing if I had read the other one. As far as I know, the endings differ only in their explanation of the Bighead’s origins. Personally, I didn’t feel the need for explanations.
Overall, I was very impressed. The Bighead is sick, but it’s actually really enjoyable. There were a few parts of this book that had me laughing very loudly. I have two more novels by Lee on my shelf, and I am looking forward to reading both.