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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

“Last Days” by Brian Evenson (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

Official Brian Evenson Website
Order “Last Days
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Read An Excerpt
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AUTHOR INFORMATION: Brian Evenson is the author of eight novels and short story collections including “The Wavering Knife”, “Father of Lies” and “The Open Curtain” which was a finalist for the Edgar and International Horror Guild Awards. He is the recipient of both an O. Henry Award and an NEA Award, and is the director of Brown University’s Literary Arts Program.

ABOUT LAST DAYS: Still reeling from his brutal dismemberment, former undercover cop Kline is forcibly recruited to solve a murder inside a secret society of fundamentalist self-mutilators. As Kline becomes more deeply involved with the group, he begins to realize the stakes are higher than he previously thought. Armed only with his wits and a gift for self-preservation, Kline must navigate a gauntlet of lies, threats, and misinformation, discovering that his survival depends on an act of sheer will…

Last Days” was first published in 2003 as a limited-edition novella titled “The Brotherhood of Mutilation”. Its success led Evenson to expand the story into a full-length novel.

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 192 pages divided over two segments, The Brotherhood of Mutilation and Last Days, with the latter divided into three Parts and a number of chapters. Features an introduction by
Peter Straub (The Talisman, Koko, Mr. X). Narration is in the third-person exclusively via the protagonist Kline. “Last Days” is self-contained although there could possibly be a sequel. February 1, 2009 marks the Paperback Publication of “Last Days” via new publisher Underland Press. Underland Press is also releasing a limited edition version of “Last Days” that will be limited to only 100 copies.

ANALYSIS: Essentially a cross between hard-boiled crime noir and surreal horror—think Charlie Huston meets Chuck Palahniuk by way of David LynchBrian Evenson’sLast Days” is a shocking, violent, and unsettling short novel that rivals any of the other shocking, violent, and unsettling books that I’ve read over the past couple of years, including Warren Ellis’Crooked Little Vein”, Scott Sigler’sInfected”, Scott Bakker’sNeuropath”, Ramsey Campbell’sThe Grin of the Dark”, and Conrad Williams'The Scalding Rooms”…

For pure shock value, look no further than the book’s protagonist Kline—a former undercover cop who was forced to cut off his own right hand, which he then cauterized himself using a hotplate before shooting “the so-called gentleman with the cleaver through the eye” . . . and that’s just Kline’s recent background history! The book itself is full of shocking moments from unexpected twists and betrayals to gruesome deaths and stomach-churning scenes of torture, mutilation and “self-preservation”.

Violence-wise, “Last Days” is unapologetically graphic and hard-hitting, so much so that by the time I finished reading the book, I was left feeling pretty numb. Definitely not for the squeamish…

Where “Last Days” really shines however, is just how creepy the book is overall. Basically from the very beginning of the novel when Kline is being plagued by strange phone calls by two men who admire his ‘amputation’, to the end of the book when the former detective is caught up in a vicious holy war between two cults who demonstrate their devotion to God by self-sacrificing body parts, “Last Days” is just plain bizarre. Even during the book’s normal moments, like when Kline is in a hospital and the police are investigating his case, there’s just a sense of wrongness. Of course this is what I loved about the book, because without this surreal quality, “Last Days” would just be another run-of-the-mill crime noir/revenge story. Instead, the book’s creepiness factor kept me riveted to the pages and left me begging for more…

Brian’s prose and characterization meanwhile, is a bit on the sparse side, but that suits the spartan nature of the book. Dialogue though is great, particularly the interactions between Ramse and Gouse:

But which is more of a shock?” asked Ramse. “A man losing his fingers or a man losing his hand? Personally I prefer a system of minor and major amputations, according to which I’d be a 2/3.

I prefer by weight,” said Gous. “Weigh the lopped-off member I say.”

But you see,” said Ramse, “bled or unbled? And doesn’t that give a certain advantage to the corpulent?

You develop standards,” said Gous. “Penalites and handicaps.”

Negatively, the book loses some of its steam between the end of ‘The Brotherhood of Mutilation’ segment and the beginning of the ‘Last Days’ segment, especially during the hospital and flashback scenes; and I thought the theme of Kline losing his humanity was a bit underdeveloped, but overall I had a blast reading Brian Evenson’sLast Days”.

CONCLUSION: Due to its explicit violence and disturbing strangeness, Brian Evenson’sLast Days” is probably not the kind of book that will enjoy mainstream commercial success. But, I could see it developing a cult following and for those readers brave enough to take the plunge, the short novel offers an incredibly demented and intensely unforgettable ride. Highly recommended, “Last Days” is a fantastic first offering from new publisher
Underland Press

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