A fictive jeremiad scabrously bewails the utter depravity of urban society and the human soul.
Debut author Hinrichsen unspools the blight, crime, squalor, and anomie of a nameless big city in brief chapters—essentially short stories—that sketch an anonymous character or a tawdry tableau with few narrative threads connecting them. Part I presents profiles of representative citizens: oldsters with fading memories of hollow lives; a callous drug dealer and a wasted male junkie/whore; a gang leader smacking down a rival; three separate killers who slaughter random women; a grizzled cop who understands arbitrary murderers can’t be caught; a priest losing his faith; a crowd mobbing a dance club with a sign reading, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here”; and a “happy family” of mom, dad, and baby daughter that stays cheerful in an offhandedly violent fashion. Part II introduces supernatural and macabre elements as various characters, groups, and settings—monkish “watchers”; an immortal consciousness in a creepy house; a crowd of shades trapped in an alley; a charismatic leader commanding arsonists; a captain nicknamed the Mighty Charon delivering a shipload of human cargo—conceive hazy forebodings about the end of the world. Part III follows a mysterious man and woman who wander the city ruminating on its sinfulness, she hoping to find a shred of redemptive human innocence, he feeling certain there is none. The author’s Dantean vision of the city and its inhabitants is rich in lurid imagery of corruption, bloodshed, and doom, but it’s as static as a morality play. A few characters, like a homeless man who offers a grisly sacrifice of atonement, make arresting and significant choices, but most undertake no psychological or ethical journey and simply follow their iniquitous natures to hell. Hinrichsen’s prose is often energetic and evocative, but it gets weighed down by apocalyptic portentousness at every turn. Sample dudgeon: “One day there would be no spirit, no soul….This was the end of days prophesied for thousands of years. The apocalypse was slipping in through a small crack in the window.” (If you’re wondering what bleak vista prompts these musings, it’s children ice-skating.) As the overwrought novel slouches toward its climax, with both God and Satan contemplating suicide, readers may also find themselves praying that the end is nigh.
An oracular, sometimes-poetic, always-lugubrious meditation on the spiritual cesspool that is the universe.