Sunday, December 29, 2013
Obligatory Best Novels of the Year post
You guys are gonna hate me a little bit for this, but honestly I didn't read a lot of new stuff this year. It was a year of going back to my reading roots, cramming old paperback originals from the '50's into my head, some old school Matheson and John Collier, and a bunch of Alfred Hitchcock anthologies. Some books by writers I really admire are still waiting to be read as I continue to try and scratch the itch for old stuff.
My point is, there's no doubt lots of brilliant stuff I missed this year. But there are TWO I didn't miss, two stunningly good novels by stunningly good writers that even months later have stayed with me. They are my two picks for best novels of the year:
THE RAPIST, by Les Edgerton
Forget "hard-boiled", forget "noir", forget everything you think you know about what a genre story is supposed to be. THE RAPIST brushes all of that aside with a disdainful sneer and instead presents something that aspires to far more than any single genre can provide. More than anything else, this novel occupies the same uneasy space that Dostoevsky's "Notes from Underground" rests in-- a controlled testament of misanthropy and delusion. But whereas the great Russian's protagonist was fueled by rage, Edgerton's narrator is fueled by a sharp, ugly narcissism, and a beastly inhuman nature that peeks like a stalker through his eloquent language and high-minded ideas. Not so much a plot-driven novel as a narrative, Edgerton guides us into the mind of his narrator and leaves us there alone to fend for ourselves and make our own way back from the darkness. How much of what Truman says can we dismiss as the ravings of a damaged mind? And how much must we stop and listen to, hunting for a glimmer of truth?
THE RAPIST is a challenging novel, not for the squeamish, and definitely not for anyone who dis-likes being pulled out of their comfort zone. It quite simply blew me away. Destined to be a classic.
CORROSION, by Jon Bassoff
CORROSION, by Jon Bassoff, is a well-done psycho-noir. No, it's more than that-- it's a bit of a masterpiece, really, probably the best I've read since Allan Guthrie's SLAMMER. It's devious and disturbing, with an underlying sense of dread that keeps your guts in an uproar and absolutely refuses to let you stop reading.
Bassoff tells a sort of a duel story here, first with the horribly disfigured Joseph Downs, an obviously disturbed veteran of the war in Iraq. Joseph gets involved with the wrong woman (a tried-and-true standard starting point for noir stories) and it inevitably leads to violence and depravity. But Bassoff takes a left turn after that, subverting the old noir tropes and focusing on Joseph's fragile psyche after being betrayed.
The second part of CORROSION skips backwards a few years and tells the first-person story of Benton Faulks, a lonely, messed-up kid dealing with his dying mother, a father going slowly insane, and his insatiable lust (love?) for an older woman who wants nothing to do with him. Reading Benton's slow descent into a kind of madness that makes even his father look sane is hard; when Benton begins acting out his fantasies of being a sort of super-hero soldier, it's horrifying.
Some reviewers have compared his style and his themes to Flannery O'Connor, William Faulkner and Jim Thompson, and I suppose that's all true. But Bassoff has a style of his own, obsessions deeper and darker than those three brilliant influences would probably have dared to go.