Vol. XXIX , #2 Herman Melville's ; or The Whale
Edited by Damion Searls
Review of Contemporary Fiction
Last Days, by Brian Evenson
Reviewed by Mark Tursi
Intro. Peter Straub. Underland Press, 2009. 201 pp. Paper: $12.95.
Imagine Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe stumbling into an entirely dystopic, nihilistic, and somewhat surreal universe co-directed by Quentin Tarantino and David Lynch. If you can conjure this, you might begin to get an idea of what to expect in Evenson’s new novel (or interconnected novellas). The work includes the flat, deadpan, "noir voice" of the potboiler detective story, but one that is filtered through an entirely deranged, depraved, and often bizarre narrative. Evenson presents violence with an unsurprising tone that becomes absurd. Mutilation and bodily disfigurement are simply status quo in this particular universe, and the bizarre brutality of the Brotherhood of Mutilation—a cult that finds amputation of various extremities to be a sacred act—is alarming but somehow easy to believe. In fact, the violence is so extreme and the voice so deliberate, yet ironically detached, that the contrast is disorienting. The seeming lack of any moral ground and the challenge to any logical or reasonable vision of reality creates a bizarre and irrational atmosphere that dislocates the fiction itself. In other words, as Borchert, one of the main characters notes, “surely you’re enough of an armchair philosopher to realize that everything is a reconstruction of something else? Reality is a desperate and evasive creature.” This is a story of extremity in every sense of the word. It begins with amputation and spirals into a world of murder surrounding the activities of the main character, Kline, and his involvement with two religious cults. Both sections of the book reveal a vehement and satirical critique of religion and fanaticism, especially the way in which prophets or messiahs are constructed, ostensibly, via utter lunacy and insane power relationships. But, it is also a viciously funny pastiche of detective fiction and horror stories, as well as a stinging and relentless critique of human depravity and irrationality.