Saturday, September 25, 2010

Wood Life, (Snuff Books), by Rich Ristow

Wood Life is a series of short pieces that read as one long poem detailing the descent of a serial killer into madness. It begins with Detective Latrell J. Johnson of the Monmouthside Police Department, who explores the history of the protagonist Daniel David Silvestre. One can already see Ristow's skill at crafting a voice and narrative, as Johnson's prose is littered with idiosyncrasies that help to develop his character. The obviously well intentioned officer suffers from a few repeated grammatical and mechanical errors, which casual readers may toss off as typos on Ristows' part, but also can be read as intentional, detailing Johnson's attempt to use superfluous language to appear smarter than he actually is, ultimately providing readers with some insight as to why Silvestre was so difficult to apprehend.

The first section of Wood Life is titled City Death, and deals with Silvestre's attempt to return to civilization, and his ultimate failure. He tries "to be good as [his] Grandma/would love [him] to be--/but hours in [his] home drag/without drama or incident..." Readers are invited to participate in Silvestre's nightmare--the boredom, insomniatic ache and the increasing desire to slit a throat. Readers finger knives with Silvestre and dream of throats, hear the abusive relationship that occurs in the apartment above him and the visions it churns up with in Silvestre.

Through it all, readers battle the morality of knowing that something is wrong but the desire to do it anyway with Silvestre. Ristow takes his time developing Silvestre's desires and his pain, so that when he is pushed over the edge, the reader is right there with him. Ristow takes his readers into the depths of Silvestre's madness, carefully building the suspense through various scenarios which, taken individually are dark enough, but when woven together in one long narrative become terrifying.

Through the telling, Silvestre occasionally flashes back to moments from his childhood, scenes of his parents' deaths or echoes of his grandmother, who constantly reminds him that he's a good guy. In these scenes, the skeletal narrative which Detective Johnson gave at the beginning of the book gains flesh and form, and Silvestre's tale is all the more scary for it. He is haunted by his ex, haunted by blackouts which he can't explain, haunted by desires he can't fulfill, and this anguish pours out on the page in reams and reams of blood. Ristow's narrative creates really excellent juxtapositions between scenes in which Silvestre aches and acts. Ristow also uses flashbacks creatively, giving us just enough of Silvestre's history to propel the narrative forward, carrying the reader along with it.

The second section of Wood Life is eponymous, and begins with an allusion to Ezra Pounds "In a Station of the Metro," twisted through the dark lens of Daniel David Silvestre. This section is Silvestre's narrative of his escape into hibernation, an escape literally haunted by ghosts and primal behavior. Silvestre is completely insane at this point, and Ristow drags his reader through the psychosis, until the final act of remembrance is beheld in all its gruesome glory.

Wood Life is an exciting book of poetry detailing the descent into madness which consumes a serial killer. Ristows lines are evocative and lyrical, but not to the point that meaning and narrative are obscured. Any fan of horror literature will enjoy this grisly poem.

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Joshua Gage is an ornery curmudgeon from Cleveland. His first full-length collection, "breaths", is available from VanZeno Press. Intrinsic Night, a collaborative project he wrote with J. E. Stanley, was recently published by Sam’s Dot Publishing. He is a graduate of the Low Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing at Naropa University. He has a penchant for Pendleton shirts, rye whiskey and any poem strong enough to yank the breath out of his lungs. He stomps around Cleveland in a purple bathrobe where he hosts the monthly Deep Cleveland Poetry hour and enjoys the beer at Brew Kettle.

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