Saturday, March 19, 2011
Every Shallow Cut, by Tom Piccirilli
Right from the get-go you find yourself forced into the head of a man living what seems like a medley of Hank Williams’ greatest hits: his career has flopped, his home has been foreclosed, the bank also took most of the things that filled it, what they left is sitting in the pawn shop and his wife left him. He does still have his dog, so at least there’s that. With nothing left to lose, a shiny new gun in his knapsack and his world collapsing around him, he decides to drive back to New York to confront the agent who’s left him hanging in the breeze and the brother he hasn’t spoken to in decades.
Piccirilli’s work has always been obsessed with the past; mistakes that can never be fixed, debts that will never be paid and a sense that somewhere, sometime, everything went wrong. Whether writing gothic, bizarre horror, westerns, crime fiction or straight up noir, it has always had the feel of noir, the feeling that he once described as someone heading towards a cliff, trying to hit the brakes but accidentally slamming on the gas. However, ESC goes well beyond noir with its overwhelming sense of bleak hopelessness and panic.
Don’t expect a good time reading this. In fact, it may well hit a bit too close to home for those who have intimate experience with its main focus: the collapse of those promises, the lies we were all told as we grew up: that all of our dreams would come true if we worked hard enough. His prose is precariously balanced between a dancing edge of poetry and the blunt face of a hammer, as powerful as it is painful, almost beautiful in its own hideous and horrendous way. The words race by between all too brief pauses and respites, running headlong into the darkness unable to stop were it willing. Anyone who has found themselves on the brink of absolute collapse, and especially those who have stumbled a step or two further, will find an accurate replication of the frantic terror that accompanies the experience.
To me, the most striking images that come up in the course of this tale are the ones that occur between the nameless narrator and his dog. This is the only being left that he has any sort of real connection with, the only one that cares about him as much as he cares about it and the results are scarring. There was one point (I won’t mention specifics, lest I spoil the full effect) that broke me down into full out sobs.
But there are some things people may not be happy with. The conscious decision to use first person with an unnamed narrator places the reader firmly in the midst of his situation, making it all hit that much harder, but it also makes it a bit hard to distinguish between fiction and outright confessional. Sticklers to the rules will be turned off immediately by this. Also ***minor spoiler alert*** the cliffhanger ending kind of drops the floor out from under the reader, leaving them without a satisfying conclusion. I think his intent was to disturb and disrupt without leaving an easy way out, just like the real world does to us all the time, but it will piss some of you off. ***end minor spoiler***
What we’re left with is a story that takes that earlier description of noir and twists it into a man driving break-neck towards a cliff, determined to fly off into the emptiness, only to wake up paralyzed from the neck down. A further extension of the Milton quote that opened A Lower Deep much earlier in his career.
order it directly from Chizine Publications.