Monday, October 21, 2013

CORROSION, by Jon Bassoff

It's not too often a new novel comes along that you can call "psycho-noir" and not be wildly inaccurate. True psycho-noir is a rare and darkly beautiful thing; well-done psycho-noir even more so.

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.

Savvy readers will probably guess the connection between these two narratives early on. But it's still fascinating to see the way Bassoff plays it out, to see the way he ties the threads together and allows his tale to loop around on itself. 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.

For true modern psycho-noir, you can't do much better than this one.