Brian Allen Carr. Lazy Fascist Press, $9.95 paperback (128p) ISBN: 978-1621051466
The line between genre works and literary works is one that is invoked and argued over above and beyond its importance. Some of the most successful and most interesting writers of the twentieth century have created great works that straddle, blur, or evaporate this line and have done so without dwelling too much on their breaches. It seems that many of the writers that consciously adhere to the restrictions of genre or ‘literature’ do so mostly out of laziness or lack of imagination, though just as often these classifiers are placed (unwillingly even) on talented authors by others out of laziness or lack of imagination.
The Last Horror Novel in the History of the World, Brian Allen Carr’s latest novella, is prefaced by a rather hyperbolic, though not totally off base, introduction by Tom Williams which sets out to address Carr’s meshing of genre and literary styles. The preface establishes a strange tone for the work, one that hazards drawing the reader’s focus unduly toward the line between the two schools while distracting from the work itself. While it is true that The Last Horror Novel includes aspects classically considered found in either Literary and Genre works, this is not nearly as groundbreaking, nor are the elements as integrated as the preface would have the reader believe. Regardless, The Last Horror Novel is a generally enjoyable, if a little uneven, work.
The novella follows a handful of natives of (hopefully fictional) Scrape, Texas—a desperate, drunken, poverty stricken border town where activities for the natives include drinkin’, fuckin’, shootin’ and little else—as they encounter a series of horrific, apocalyptic events. It should be noted that there is a considerable amount of blatantly illogical racism here, well used for depicting the characters and the reality of the area.
In the first section, Carr captures Scrape vividly in a series of vignettes, touching all the points you would associate with a dusty border town, evoking a place we have all heard of without unduly essentializing or sinking to stereotype. Carr’s language pops wonderfully in this section. In only a few lines he is able, through the description of one character, to paint a whole section of the town,
‘Mindy keeps her herpes secret. Crawls in and out of apartments that smell of new carpet and microwaved soup.
She knows the boys of high school intimate.
They are sharkskin smooth and firecracker quick.
They whip in and out of her like snake tongues tasting air.
She examines their tightness, the curls in their hair.
Gives them more than they want of her.
Make them say her name.’
And regularly includes gems like, ‘The black magic of bad living only looks hideous to honest eyes.’ He builds up the stifling heat, boredom and malaise effortlessly into an unquestionably lush world. This was the strongest section in the novella.
Just as we get to understand the world of Scrape, it flips upside down. Scrape is apparently cut off from the rest of the world and an intense, bone piercing, bottle smashing screaming infiltrates the lives of the characters. Carr switches gears and tells us an old border ghost tale regarding ‘La Llorona,’ a tragic character who, rather than giving her children to an unfaithful husband, chooses to drown them. While the change between stories seems abrupt and the prose tones down a bit, the tale of ‘La Llorona’ dovetails nicely into the crushing sadness and despair of Scrape.
The next section is a semi-comic depiction of the residents of Scrape as they come to terms with ‘La Llorona’ and the horde of zombified children she leads into a nearby body of water. Here, the work takes on its more standard horror genre aspects, and I have to admit I lost a bit of interest. A scene where a drunken group of hunters nonchalantly blows apart the oblivious children is mildly funny, but trivializes the despairing vision of Scrape that Carr had so painstakingly, and thoroughly, built. The previously separate groups of characters come into contact with each other in different ways.
As ‘La Llarona’ and the plague of children pass, the survivors engage in the classic horror trope and hole up in an abandoned house. Here they witness another wave, this time a plague of autonomous black hands which crawl along the ground. Facing their imminent demise, the survivors begin to make the tough decisions like who should live and who should sacrifice themselves while taking out as many of the hands as possible. Keeping with the border theme, this involves, rather than picking straws, picking cheap beers out of a cooler. This part does involve some thoughtful implications regarding a long sober character’s struggle with drinking in the face of death.
The book ends on a thoroughly absurd note, the Devil is involved, and one which seems to have been written in with too much haste.
Overall, The Last Horror Novel is a quick and enjoyable read. I am tempted to say it lacks depth, though this is not totally true. Rather, Carr builds a significant amount of depth, then seems to grow bored with it, or at least moves to favor the standard horror aspects instead. He revisits them here and there but does not develop them to their full extent, which I found disappointing. While The Last Horror Novel does engage in both genre and literary styles, these are (unfortunately) put together piecemeal rather than used together. (May 2014)
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