Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Currency of Souls, by Kealan Patrick Burke

Currency of Souls
Kealan Patrick Burke
Subterranean Press: 2007

Currency of Souls makes Fight Club look like a little bitch. I was only thirty pages or so into the novel when this flash of insight came to me. There really is not much to compare Fight Club with Currency of Souls, except for the vicious humor and violence of the novel. Both novel have somewhat self aware narration, though the narration is more a feature of Fight Club than Currency. The narration of Currency is like you have this drunk, profane buddy who tells these nasty stories about something that happened to him last week. That's the feel of Currency of Souls.

A guy walks into a dive bar and looks around. The patrons are the regulars, as is our narrator. There is the nudist sitting by the bar. There is the angry lady bartender. Sitting in one corner is a young man who wants to shoot the narrator. On the other side is a guy who doesn't speak and may not have a tongue. There's the beautiful blonde looking like Marilyn Monroe. She's a bombshell, but she may have murdered her husband. A man named Cadaver. Every Saturday night they all come to Eddie's Bar and drink. They wait. They wait because they know that the local Preacher will come in and ask one of them to drive for him. The Preacher, a Reverend Hill, doesn't bring hope to Milestone. He brings fear and steals the hope away. It's a bad place to be.

Patrick Kealan Burke opens Currency of Souls like a bad joke with the then unnamed narrator walking into a bar, but the joke ends quickly. Currency of Souls is filled with black humor, nasty people, and this itching feeling that violence is seconds away from spilling out of the black hearts of these characters. It does, and then things get worse. Then things get weird. Spilling any more of the details of the story would spoil the surprise of Currency of Souls. Suffice it to say that Currency of Souls is a dark, violent, bleakly comic, creative, fast paced horror novel and these generic descriptions do not fully capture the feel of Currency of Souls.

With such a strong opening to Currency of Souls the expectations were raised for the second half of the novel. While Burke is able to meet some of those expectations he raised with his sharp witted prose, the train does start shaking on the rails as the novel progresses and goes a bit off track by the end. Things just get weird and there are serious questions on where some story aspects came from. By the end it seemed as if Kealan Patrick Burke was just throwing stuff against the wall to see what stuck and that Currency of Souls may have gotten a little bit out of Burke's control. Don't get me wrong, it's still a good book at this point, but some of the credibility which was established early on is squandered as Burke works is to a conclusion. The saving grace here is that Currency of Souls has a nearly perfect ending...which is followed by a short two or three page coda which may or may not make any sense at all.

So: Strong Narrative Voice and Excellent Opening. Nearly Perfect Ending. That's the plus. The minus is the feeling that in the second half of the novel Burke is throwing stuff at the reader and is no longer in control of the story. General weirdness that does not seem to have anything to do with the story Burke was telling at the beginning. The good easily outweighs the bad, but Currency of Souls is definitely a flawed novel...but one worth experiencing.

Subterranean Online also has a Kealan Patrick Burke story up in the Fall 2007 Issue: The Acquaintance. There is additional free fiction on Burke's website.

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