Monday, July 16, 2012

Book Review: The Open Curtain by Brian Evenson

It’s not often that I stumble upon a writer who blows me away not only with his/her storytelling, but also with his/her prose style. Recently, however, I discovered the short stories and novels of Brian Evenson.

I just finished the THE OPEN CURTAIN and am currently reading through two of Evenson’s short story collections: FUGUE STATE and WINDEYE. Evenson’s fiction is classified as Horror, but this is not the horror of shambling zombies with a bad case of the brain-munchies, or sparkly vampires with supermodel cheekbones. In the 21st century, believing in monsters requires a willing suspension of disbelief; however, Evenson draws upon the all-too-believable bogeyman that has haunted humanity since the earliest days and still retains its ability to terrify—the monster that dwells within us all, that which is cruel, violent . . . and inhuman.

In his short stories and novels, Evenson evokes the existential terror that results from the collapse of consensus reality, a recurring theme where the hapless protagonist finds himself flailing in a familiar world turned suddenly alien, where personality disintegrates and time becomes as fractured and non-linear as a dream—or, more accurately, a nightmare from which the dreamer cannot awaken.

Evenson was brought up and educated in the Mormon religion. Although he has since left the church, THE OPEN CURTAIN draws upon his experiences and knowledge of the violent history and arcane practices of the early LDS Church. The protagonist of the novel, Rudd Thayer, becomes embroiled with his shady half-brother Lael, who exerts a hypnotic influence over him. The two begin an investigation of a vicious murder committed by a grandson of Brigham Young. They soon discover that the decades-old murder may be tied into a ritual blood sacrifice of atonement. As they continue their pursuit of the truth, the novel steadily darkens as Rudd’s grip on reality loosens. As the end of the book looms, the protagonist is trapped in a waking nightmare. In a deeply disturbing fashion that only fiction can achieve, the images continue to play out behind the reader’s eyes long after the book has been closed.

Be warned, this is not a light beach read. Evenson submerges the reader in the murkiest depths of the human psyche. It’s a week now since I finished the book, and I still have a bad case of the bends.