THE JOY OF KILLING by Harry N. MacLean


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A middle-aged man, alone in a windswept lake cottage, considers aspects of his past, real and imagined, as he attempts to write the story of his life.

In MacLean’s (The Past is Never Dead, 2009, etc.) dreamlike novel, the unnamed narrator, a former professor and novelist, sits typing on a dark night, occasionally distracted from his memories by rattling noises in the house and the slow journey of the moon across the sky. He seems to want to write his autobiography, centering around three main events of his early adolescence: a friend’s betrayal, a death, and a sexual conquest. But he readily admits that, other than some distinct fragments and details, memory is subjective and untrustworthy. As the stories slowly unfold, frequently interrupted by returns to the present, it becomes clear that, while personal experience is the key to this tale, the narrator is also caught up in a deeper philosophical contemplation about human nature, man’s propensity for violence, and the choices some make that violate society’s “civilized” rules and lead to censure and punishment. MacLean’s writing is lyrical, ebbing and flowing like a deep riptide that conceals the danger beneath; there is something unsavory and even panic-inducing about being pulled inside his tale. The narrator is not remotely reliable or sympathetic, and when the fragments finally fall into place and the true memory takes shape, it’s a rather disappointing climax. Yet it's almost impossible to resist the pull of the tide. And perhaps the “solution” to the mystery is completely beside the point. Instead, the novel centers on how the line between dark fantasy and reality is always a fine one, how “the narratives of people’s lives are what hold them together,” not the truth.

A dizzying and delirious meditation on desire, violence, guilt, and philosophical justification.

Pub Date: July 14th, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-61902-536-3
Page count: 226pp
Publisher: Counterpoint
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 2015


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