Book review: Last Days by Brian Evenson


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About Brian: BRIAN EVENSON is the author of a dozen books of fiction. He has translated work by Christian Gailly, Jean Frémon, Claro, Jacques Jouet, Eric Chevillard, Antoine Volodine, Manuela Draeger, and David B. He is the recipient of three O. Henry Prizes as well as an NEA fellowship. His work has been translated into Czech, French, Italian, Greek, Hungarian, Japanese, Persian, Russia, Spanish, Slovenian, and Turkish. He lives in Los Angeles and teaches in the Critical Studies Program at CalArts.

Publication Date: April 10, 2012 Publisher: Coffee House Press Page Count: 256

Wow. Just wow. Last Days is brilliant, deeply disturbing, and unforgettable. And definitely not for the faint of heart. The story follows Kline, a maimed detective kidnapped by a cult that believes amputations bring people closer to God. It blends body and psychological horror with black humor. In fact, it's way funnier than it has any right to be given the subject matter and brutal narrative.

Last Days tells a seemingly straightforward story. The breathtaking prose, relentless action, and Kline's narration kept me glued to the pages. Kline is a badass noir hero - after having his hand cut off, he used a hot plate to cauterize the wound, then blew his attacker's brains out. Members of the Brotherhood of Mutilation find his act of self-cauterization inspiring. They want Kline to solve a crime. Except, it's hard to tell if the crime was even committed; every person Kline questions knows of another crime. 

The cult hierarchy is grotesque - high-level amputees (with, you guessed it, the highest number of amputations) won't speak with "ones" or "twos" (those with only one or two amputations). Those in double digits pass for visionaries, or at least more realized beings.

Evenson excels at conveying mental states and challenging the reader (with ideas, structure, and the narrative). Unlike writers who try to present a clear and understandable world, Evenson introduces an element of narrative uncertainty. Kline questions his initial assumptions, his knowledge, his understanding of the world, and ultimately his humanity. As readers, we cannot be sure what will happen next, because the whole situation is absurd. The result is fascinating, full of strangeness, suspense, and immediacy.

I loved it. I'll never forget it. It's brilliant, dark and brutal, fast-paced, darkly humorous, and disturbing. But it's also an addictive page-turner with a layered narrative. If it means anything to anyone, it gets my highest recommendation. 

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