A dysfunctional 20-something soothes his uneasy soul with sex, blood and violence.
Underground literary shock-rocker Stokoe (Empty Mile, 2010, etc.) slaps his readers in the face with this bloody, truly disgusting diatribe against normalcy. On the bright side, there’s absolutely no pretense about what the book is aiming for, even from the opening lines. “In bed,” he writes. “Steven could feel the toxins tumbling slowly through his bloodstream, jagged black particles that rolled in a slow-motion undersea current, gouging soft tissue with their passing.” Stokoe’s muse is an immature, deeply disturbed young man with the scars of someone five times his age. His only true companion is Dog, a paraplegic mutt. His eternal nemesis is his mother, called only the Hagbeast, a swollen, caustic tormentor who ceaselessly berates her child for his disgusting habits, though hers are no better. It’s a far cry from the '50s television shows by which he measures happiness, and her abhorrent behavior inspires him to murderous thoughts. His new job gives him an outlet, of sorts. Steven takes a job working in a slaughterhouse, where a menacing overseer named Cripps wants to bring his new charge into the sacred work of cow-killing. “This is where things are real,” Cripps advises. Then there’s his new upstairs neighbor Lucy. Convinced that all of the world’s poisons are contained in foul black lumps hidden among the organs, she endlessly prods him to sift through the viscera at work for proof of her theory. Revolted yet? If not, the colonoscopy married to the couple’s sex scene should be plenty to push even jaundiced readers right over the edge.
Transgressive fiction that begs to offend, and succeeds. Talking cows and startling wordplay can’t redeem a novel whose only goal is to hit bottom.