Friday, March 11, 2011

Every Shallow Cut

by Tom Piccirilli
Published by ChiZine Publications (March 29, 2011)

Overtly socially conscious fiction tends to bug me. The second I become aware that I am being taught a lesson, I start to tune it out or get pulled from the story. It tends to draw more attention to the artifice than to the feelings that should be created by the art itself. Often the best and most effective lessons are those we learn when we don't realize we are being taught, like falling off a bike or walking in the front door at the wrong time of day to find someone else with your someone else. What does that have to do with the new novella by Tom Picirilli? Read on...

Picture your life turned into a walking medley of the most stereotypical country music you can think of: your career has collapsed, your house has been foreclosed and your wife done run off on you. At least you still have your dog, your car and a shiny new gun, even if that is it. Maybe now might be a good time for a trip back to the old hometown, to beg at the foot of a brother much more successful than yourself or collapse on the doorstep of your first love. Maybe the manager who hasn't been keeping his promises could use a visit, too.

That is precisely where Mr. Piccirilli places you, with no easy separation of a 3rd person narrator or even a name to distinguish the main character from yourself and the experience is not a kind one. Sure, the man's work has never been among the cheeriest, but he reaches a whole new depth of bleak here. Few people could have made this man's desperation and hopelessness into the reader's like Tom has, with prose that dances between poetry and bluntness, a hammer and chisel wielded with purpose and power. The beauty here is a somber, dark beauty, of a kind that wounds, but it is a beauty nonetheless. However, for some it may hit a bit too close to home. This isn't a doomed quest for revenge or an ill-fated push for redemption, but the steady collapse of a man losing everything he had been told would matter in his life. If you are looking for an analogous work, Hemingway's “A Clean, Well Lighted Place”, with more rage and less apathy, wouldn't be far off.

Looking back to that initial statement, we can see the immensity of what Tom has done here. Anyone can rant about the disparity in lifestyles in this country or the problems of the promises too many of us were sold over our lives. Anyone can scream that there is a problem. But within these pages, we have no choice but to live it, to breathe it in and make it a part of ourselves. It isn't so easy to ignore then.

This isn't art to raise you above your problems, or to rub in a soothing salve. Instead, it shoves our faces into it, scratching and tearing all the way. Still, the wounding bears a minor relief, if only in the knowledge that someone out there understands.

Buy it here.

Reviewed by Anton Cancre

Anton Cancre is one of those rotting, pus-filled thingies on the underside of humanity that your mother always warned you about. He has oozed symbolic word-farms onto the pages of Shroud, Sex and Murder and Horrorbound magazines as well as The Terror at Miskatonic Falls, an upcoming poetry anthology by Shroud Publishing and continues to vomit his oh-so-astute literary opinions, random thoughts and nonsense at No, he won't babysit you pet shoggoth this weekend. Stop asking.

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