Sunday, July 16, 2017

Five damn-near perfect (dark) novels

Karen Runge is an author and visual artist based in Johannesburg, South Africa. She is the author of the short story collection Seven Sins and the novel Seeing Double. One of her five (damn-near) perfect (dark) novels:
SENSELESS, by Stona Fitch

“Removing an eye is easy. All it takes is a confident man and a coffee spoon.”

Reading this book is easy. All it takes is an open mind and a stress ball. And maybe a pillow to scream into. And a big box of tissues. And a counsellor at the end of it when you look up and recognise the world you’re living in.

Lots of folks like to slam body horror as mere (mere?) torture porn, but this is proof that there can be a lot more to it than that. (And what’s wrong with torture porn anyway? But I guess that’s another topic.) This book takes a hard look at society, politics, and the implied liability of the individual in a consumerist society.

Here we follow Elliot Gast, a little fish in the business ocean of a mega trade corporation. While strolling around Brussels one evening post-gourmet dinner, he’s kidnapped by a group of political extremists who make him both poster and whipping boy for all the evils they feel America is wreaking on the world, specifically European economies. Whether he’s responsible for any of this or not (and this book is pitched grey enough to invite you to think on that—and on your own guilt while you’re at it, regardless of nationality), there’s no escape for Gast—or the reader. This is the kind of book that will have you periodically snapping the pages shut and taking deep breaths. But with the empathy Fitch builds in us for his character, there’s just no way you’ll be able to stop reading and leave poor Gast alone in there. Happy nightmares.

So yes, this is a book about torture, about body horror. But it’s also political, current, purposeful. Coming in at around 50K words, it may be a short read but it’s by no means a smooth ride. This is a great example of how extreme violence can be an essential component for far-reaching dark fiction. And at the end… blow me down if you don’t wind up feeling something very close to uplifted. The mysteries of great story-telling.

It takes guts to write a book like this. It takes genius to pull it off so flawlessly.
Read about another entry on the list.

The Page 99 Test: Senseless.

--Marshal Zeringue