Wednesday, 1 October 2008

‘Last Days’ – Brian Evenson (Underland Press)


I must be the only person I know who wants winter to hurry up and get here as the early morning sunshine comes straight through my curtains and wakes me up at stupid hours of the morning. What’s that? Buy new curtains...? Do you know how much hassle it was putting these ones up? They’re staying right the hell where they are! Oh yeah, book review...
There’s no way I’m getting out of bed any earlier than I have to so I usually read a book until the alarm goes off, ‘The Last Colony’ was downstairs so I thought I’d give Brian Evenson’s ‘Last Days’ a go instead (what with it being a very short read and all).
Victoria Blake’s Underland Press has been set up to provide readers with fiction that is "weird, strange, odd, and unsettling", ‘Last Days’ definitely ticks all those boxes and is one that I think will be worth keeping an eye out for when it is published in February next year...

A brutally dismembered detective is press ganged into investigating a murder inside a cult of self mutilators, or is he? For Kline, an atmosphere of misinformation, threats and cult member’s deliberate refusal to assist in the investigation lead him to an uncomfortable conclusion about his real role in what is happening. If Kline is to survive what’s around the corner then he is going to have to re-discover the will that led him to lose his hand in the first place...

‘Last Days’ is one of those awkward books that leave me completely awestruck and with no idea how to get what I think into a blog post. It’s only a hundred and seventy two pages long but it feels like more as you get deeper into a real corkscrew of a plot. You’re pulled in with the promise of a journey but your final destination won’t be where you think it is and you might have trouble finding your way back again...

Nothing is as it seems and Evenson builds on this uncertainty by unsettling Kline more and more with each new event. Why does the murder scene look wrong? Why isn’t Kline allowed out of the compound once he is inside? When on the run at one point, Kline realises that any dismembered person that he meets could be a cult member and this sudden realisation ramps the tension up further. Events in ‘Last Days’ move very quickly and there’s no slowing down until the very end.

‘Last Days’ is also the study of a breakdown in a man who was already hanging off the edge. The events surrounding Kline’s original dismemberment would have been more than enough to deal with on their own but life is not hanging around for him to catch his breath. The pressure is relentless and the outcome inevitable but what an outcome though! As the Chief Paul says,

“This isn’t holy vengeance, it’s holy wrath.”

Never has a truer word been spoken in a finale full of the metaphorical fire of God... The way that the ending is left wide open works a treat as well; Kline runs and I was running with him but then he’s gone and you don’t find out where to. That’s the best kind of cliff-hanger as far as I’m concerned. It’s debateable how much humanity Kline manages to keep hold of but there’s definitely hope for him.

‘Last Days’ is also a look at the extreme ways in which Christian scripture can be interpreted. If your hand offends you then cut it off... The more you chop off the closer you get to God. Be prepared for graphic scenes of limb amputation! In this twisted world of extremes Kline gets respect for self cauterizing his own wounds...
The philosophy of the cult had me asking questions that the length of the book didn’t allow answers for. A tight and concisely written book can come across as glossing over awkward questions due to its brevity, ‘Last Days’ occasionally fell down in this area.

While most of the characters are fairly well drawn, in terms of their motivations etc, there wasn’t enough space (in the book) to answer all my questions. A cop with a penchant for torture adds to the grimy atmosphere of the piece but I never really found out what drove him to do this, a niggling point that interrupted the flow of things...

Don’t let that put you off though. ‘Last Days’ is an intense and unsettling read that I’m definitely going to go back to and read again. As an opening shot this bodes well for Underland Press, bring on ‘The Pilo Family Circus’!

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten

7 comments:

James said...

If you're into this kind of thing now, I guess that brief dalliance with urban romance hit you harder than you thought, eh?

Mark Chitty said...

Greame - get the other half to swap places ;) It doesn't work for me though, and I have to put up with damned awkward street light shining right through the gap into my face all night long :'(

Anonymous said...

Graeme you need to get some blackout curtains ...

They can be used as main curtains, or attached to existing curtains by several methods (sewing, velcro, or using existing rings are a few).

Not only can this improve sleep, give ease to migraine (or hangover) sufferers, but I've foung them invaluable for other pesky things:

- reducing glare when at computer
- same as above with TV
- blocks out more noise
- retains more heat in room
- stops the dogs getting me up as they still think it's night! (essential if I've only been in bed two hours before the dawn chorus)

Didn't think I'd read a book review ... then give advice on blackout curtains!

Anonymous said...

I should have said stopping glare on TV instead of reducing ...

Larry said...

I read this book a few weeks ago and while I liked much of it, I felt it was a bit disjointed in places and ultimately didn't hold up well compared to Evenson's short story collections such as The Wavering Knife. I do plan on re-reading it early next year and see if my opinion might change on a re-read.

Graeme Flory said...

James - I still have bad dreams about my week of reading para-normal romance. Bad, bad dreams...

Blackout curtains (or at the very least ones that keep out the light a little better) sound like a very good idea to my poor sleep deprived self. I'll have to see about that... Cheers guys!

Larry - I haven't read any of Evenson's other books so have nothing to compare it to. I can see what you mean though (although not to the extent where it spoilt things for me), I wonder if this is a result of 'Last Days' being extended from novella into novel?

shigekuni said...

Hee! I've read the book as well http://shigekuni.wordpress.com/2009/10/24/bloody-hell-brian-evensons-last-days-revised/

I think I'm turning into an Evenson fan. Reading "The Wavering Knife" now.