Monday, February 16, 2009

Last Days, by Brian Evenson

Last Days
Brian Evenson
Underland Press: 2009

Mr. Kline is recruited by two men to investigate a murder, only Kline refuses to take part. Rather than have the story end in the first three pages, Kline is then abducted and coerced to conduct the investigation at the compound of a mutilation cult. Investigate or die. That’s the deal for Kline. The reason Kline was sought out is because when face with “the gentleman with the cleaver”, Kline didn’t flinch. Kline let the man take his hand, cauterized his own stump on the stove, and then shot the man through the eye using his off hand. The cult, the brotherhood, believes Kline is one of them. An amputee. A self-cauterizer.

In the terms of the brotherhood, Kline is only a “one” with only one body part amputated. Normally, if he was not a special case and a self-cauterizer, Kline would barely be allowed entrance into the brotherhood, let alone be able to speak with the higher-ups in the brotherhood (eights, and above). Even so, Kline is hampered in his investigation because he is only a “one” and those he must speak with are “eights” and “tens”. The investigation is rife with lies, misdirection, and a constant threat to his life.

Last Days is an expansion of Brian Evenson’s 2003 novella The Brotherhood of Mutilation. While I haven’t read The Brotherhood of Mutilation I believe that rather than taking the core story of the novella and making into a full length novel, Last Days the novel is simply The Brotherhood of Mutilation the novella + Last Days the novella. This is neither praise nor condemnation, but rather an acknowledgement that this is a story told in two parts. It reads as such. There are two distinct stories in Last Days, though the second ties to the first.

The jacket copy describes Last Days as “intense and profoundly unsettling” and “a down-the-rabbit-hole detective novel set in an underground religious cult”. Last Days is, in fact, intense and profoundly unsettling. Last Days is downright disturbing. The mental images Evenson creates simply by having a cult which takes pride in amputating body parts, places respect for the more parts removed, is deeply unsettling. The obsession of the brotherhood, the extremes to which they will go for their identity…well, it’s what drives the novel. Not the investigation. The investigation is a side show.

The prose is reminiscent of a more twisted Don DeLillo. DeLillo never wrote about people who dismember themselves, but the dialogue, the manner of description Evenson uses. There are echoes of DeLillo.

“Look at you,” said Torn-Lip. “Do you want to die in bed?”
“You don’t want to die in bed,” said Low Voice.
“We’re here to save you,” said Torn-Lip.
“I don’t want to be saved,” said Kline.
“He doesn’t want to be saved,” said Low Voice.
Pg 7

The cadence of the conversation, of the questions, answers, and non answers – it flows well and moves right into the description of Kline’s circumstances. The rhythms may be DeLillo, but the story is all Evenson.

Last Days the novella continues the story of The Brotherhood of Mutilation, but it goes off in a different direction and has a different tone. It is a natural follow up to The Brotherhood of Mutilation.

It should probably go without saying that Last Days is not a novel for everybody. This a bloody and gruesome novel, filled with violence and profane language. This is an impressive work of imagination, creative in its use of violence and mutilation. Kline is single minded in his will to survive and Evenson does well in putting together a compelling narrative that drags the kicking and screaming reader along until the reader has no choice but to run and keep up. It’s quite a ride.

Reading copy provided courtesy of Underland Press.


James said...

I'm a tad late to the party, but since this review was responsible for me picking up the novel, I figure I will comment anyway.

I did not enjoy The Brotherhood of Mutilation all that much. It is not because I found it disturbing, because I did not. I actually thought it was rather tame throughout, though I do recognize that it could well have been a more ghastly affair if Evenson had the inclination to do so. My problem was that it jumped around a lot, which often led to me stopping and wondering just what the hell just happened and did I skip something? The story is an interesting one though.

Last Days, the novella, deserves any and all praise that it receives. The third person limited perspective is amazingly well done, so much so that it just drags you right in and refuses to let go no matter how much you scream as you scrape against the bits of rock down the rabbit hole. I cannot bring myself to even think of the story as tame, Kline's forced descent into near-madness and the events that make up the latter part of the novella struck me as far more disturbing than anything Brotherhood had to offer.

Overall it was a very good book and one that is due for a reread somewhere along the line. Got to thank you for the review. It pointed out to me both the novel and Underland Press, which I will be keeping an eye on.

Joe said...

I welcome any and all comments. :) It's been a while, so I'm not sure I can really discuss the two novellas, but I'm glad you enjoyed.

I agree though, the last half is a disturbing, disturbing story.

Glad the review led you to the book.