Disclaimer: S.C. Burke’s press, NihilismRevised, has published a story by me in an anthology and will also be publishing a book by me.
The stars die. God dies. An arsonist sets fire to the air. A Gunman commits a mass murder, killing his bastard son in the process. Violent orgies. Death and technology.
“It’s almost deafening—the scale of sounds a person will struggle through while screaming in agony. Nonetheless, I enjoy the noises they make when they suffer. I can hear the word of God whispering through the whimpering, and I ask the skies above, ‘Is this not Salvation?! Do you not feel it?!’
Nobody answers. No God.”
It’s a given that a book titled The Weird and subtitled “A Strange Novella” is not going to be a normal book. Still, the title doesn’t come close to describe how unusual the book really is. It’s heavily experimental while still remaining driven by its prose rather than its form. However, there’s no real central plot or theme. It’s a pure explosion of angst, anger, and pain in the form of a novella.
The book is divided into “exhibits” instead of chapters. Some tell a narrative, while others are more like prose poems. The one I found the most fascinating was “Exhibit #15 – Victim: Unknown (A Brief Depiction of Real Fiction).” The narrative of this exhibit follows a character simply called The Gunman as he goes on a shooting spree. The Gunman prepares for his massacre and the book then graphically recounts the way he murders each of his victims. Finally, he murders a child that he realizes was his own bastard son. This drives him to finally kill himself.
This section is obviously very uncomfortable, especially given the rash of mass shootings recently in the news. Burke was obviously attempting to tap into this as a piece of horror in the American conscience, even following the way mass shootings usually play out very closely. It attempts to understand the psychology of the mass shooter without falling into justifying their actions. The chapter also includes a letter from one of the survivors of the massacre who finds themselves disgusted with the way the shooting is being examined by the public at large, as well as a letter The Gunman’s bastard son wrote for him, looking into the minds of the victims of such tragedies as well.
There is some formal experimentation in The Weird, though it’s not a main focus. There are short sections between the “exhibits” called “Conversations in A Black-Hole,” which have black pages with white text. These consist of dialogues between two characters, except for one, which is the narrator of the book writing a letter to his life.
The book also contains some artwork which are things like heavily exposed photos of women, dilapidated buildings, and body parts. The center of the book contains a picture of a man pointing a gun to his head with the words “Dear Life, This is how I FUCK you” written over and over again behind it. It gives the book a very DIY and zine-like quality that fits the subject matter and overall intensity.
The problem most will likely have with this book is the lack of a central thread. While the book deals with destruction, death, and nihilism throughout and there are reoccurring characters, there’s no real theme that I can point to, nor any plot even in a lose sense. This may make the book especially difficult to get a handle on for some. Myself, I found it incredibly engaging in spite of this.
Review copy provided
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The Weird is an intense and excellent book. It's certainly not for everyone. The extreme subject matter, the highly experimental nature, and the lack of a traditional plot or theme will likely turn many people off. For those interested in unusual and experimental literature, this is something that you should definitely pick up.
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