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Brian Evenson is the author of eight books of ﬁction, most recently The Open Curtain, which was a ﬁnalist for the Edgar Award and the International Horror Guild Award. He is the recipient of both an O. Henry Award and an NEA award. Evenson’s writing has been described as dark, violent, philosophical, critical, and lyrical.
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By Joe Kraus on 10-04-17
Red Harvest for the 21st Century
Be careful before you pick this book up. It is as violent and nihilistic as anything I’ve ever read. It opens with a man reflecting on how he recently had his hand chopped off with a cleaver, and then it gets only darker and bloodier. It’s unsettling in what it has to say and in how it says it. It will either give you nightmares from what it says or give you nightmares for what your not reacting to it says about you. If I’d had a clearer understanding of what this was about, I would never have picked it up.
It’s also an extraordinary novel, maybe even a masterpiece, so I’m glad I did.
I gather I’m late to the Brian Evenson party. At least that’s the impression I get from the solid appreciation by Peter Straub that serves as the afterword to the edition I read. Apparently quite a few people already admire what Evenson’s doing. All the better, I suppose; this is so radical and disturbing that I’m comforted to feel I’m not quite alone in my admiration.
As far as I’m concerned, this comes as close as anything I can imagine to capturing the spirit of Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest, arguably the first great hardboiled work of literature. (Of course, after reading this, I feel as if my imagination is fairly limited.) In that one, our Continental Op is a man determined to find justice in a world too flawed to provide it. As a consequence, he embarks on a killing spree that renders him “blood simple” (the source of the title of the excellent Coen Brothers’ film). He’ll get justice even if it means murdering everyone in the town on Personville.
Evenson’s Klein is not so much after justice as theological certainty. That puts him on the same footing as many other protagonists – I think most memorably of Flannery O’Connor’s Misfit from “A Good Man is Hard to Find” – but he’s perhaps more driven than any others. He’s taken for a prophet by a group of believers so avid that they mutilate themselves, that they take the number of amputated limbs as the measure of believer’s holiness. Over time (and I can’t quite call this a spoiler) he comes to think he may in fact be a prophet, that he might even be the messiah of this twisted world.
There’s something lurid in his theology, something unsubtle and technicolor, but it serves as the residue of something like real faith. Eventually two groups want to crucify him, one as the messiah and one as the thief by his side. Either way, there’s a yawning chasm at the heart of the novel: what would it mean to know God well enough not to doubt, what would it mean to understand Biblical structure so fully that, when thy right hand offends thee, you go ahead and lop it off with a cleaver. Absent such certainty, but in a world where some profess to feel it, we’re left with the choice of accepting the faith of others’ or believing in nothing. Or, as Klein eventually does, in bringing about a kind of Last Days that harrow what we see of the world.
All of that is fairly subtle in a novel that is decidedly unsubtle. The first signs of it, though, are in the simple excellence of Evenson’s narration. He puts us thigh deep into the story by the end of the first paragraph, and he never compromises his aesthetic vision. He never explains; he presents everything through a red, anaesthetizing mist. We experience one dehumanizing moment after another, but the narrative only gradually pulls away from what we recognize as human experience.
And that aesthetic vision reflects a moral one. In lesser hands, I’d have a hard time admiring a protagonist who laments the fact that he’s no longer human. In the hands of one who, somehow, skillfully [SPOILER] takes us to a point where our protagonist murders more than a dozen people while brandishing the decapitated head of their leader, I’m down with it. Klein really has become less than – or, disturbing thought, more than – human.
That’s a sight that’s full of the horror I have to acknowledge, but it’s also one that supersedes horror and goes where only the most deadened hardboiled or noir can go: to an inquiry into the nature of first principles that seems entirely fresh.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
By HaloLove on 03-15-15
WTF did I just listen to!
Any additional comments?
This is the strangest, most entertaining gore of a story I've come across in a while. I mean, seriously, amputees as the good guys and bad guys. Are we sure this isn't really Stephen King under a pin name? lol.
Ok, so I purchased this audio because Chris Patton is one of my favorite audio performers. I'm just lucky the story...plot, was just as good as the performance. Now, I have a new fav author in this Brian Evenson.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful