Review of Last Days
By Brian Evenson
Underland Press, 2009
Detective Kline awakes one morning to find that a dapper pair of amputees have broken into his apartment. A crime has occurred at their compound and Kline is asked to investigate. What crime? They cannot say. Why do they require him? Well, you see, he is an amputee too, and a famous one (if only among “The Brotherhood”). A “self-cauterizer,” Kline has achieved heroic status among the shifty mutilates who proceed to his kidnapping. Things begin creepy and become terrifying. As The Brotherhood shuttles Kline from gruesome meetings to gruesome ceremonies, the detective discovers he has been forcibly inducted into a mutilation cult, one in which the only way to rise in the ranks is to chop off increasing portions of yourself. Pure biblical literalism: If thy right eye offends thee…
A “one” on arrival (one chop: his hand), Kline can only escape the dark plans of the “tens” and “thirteens” by enacting the kind of gory revenge that will ultimately render him less human than his captors. (”A third part of himself, the part that terrified him the most, was saying What if Paul is right? What if I am God?”)
This is a nervy and squirm-inducing book. The prose is knowingly spare and Evanson’s got a sense of humor, a gallows patter:
“I could count the number of people who self-cauterize on one finger of one hand,” said Ramse.
“If he had a hand,” said Gous.
“If I had a hand,” said Ramse.
They drove for a while in silence.
Ramse and Gous, Kline’s minders and companions, don’t so much resemble their famous R. & G. counterparts from Wittenberg as they do K.’s uncanny assistants in The Castle. The story of a secretive brotherhood of amputees is rife with absurdities that can suddenly dart into cold horror (like the strip-tease; hint: she takes off more than her clothes), then pathos (over dinner: “‘I don’t have any hands,’ said Ramse. ‘You’ll have to feed me when you’re done’”). Evanson writes with a light touch and there are plenty of jokes he could have made but didn’t, plenty of scares and shocks he could have sprung instead of passing them over for others. The book is strong for his restraint.
Born of a literery mind, Last Daysis a deliberate page-turner and Evanson’s prose is the opposite of ponderous. The sentences slip by and the action moves and moves. This is an easy book to read in a night; and needn’t be a moonless one. Moon or no moon, the room will be dark and your spine cold.
I’ve heard whispers implying Last Days is a sort of metaphor for the Mormon Church. I don’t know enough about Mormonism to say, but The Brotherhood could stand in for most mystical and hierarchical groups (Scientologists, lifestyle junkies, The Fox Nation). I’m sure there’s more going on in Last Days than I was privy to and that’s just fine by me. I came to it looking for a quick and disturbing shocker. And it satisfied. That’s something real.