Dark Property by Brian Evenson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Even those brave readers familiar with Brian Evenson's often-macabre work will discover new depths of shadow in the pages of Dark Property. This may well be his most chilling book to date - not in the sense of stock horror, but as a more sophisticated frisson, an existential mix of confusion, anticipation, and stark cruelty.
The narrative follows a cadre of ruthless loners across a post-apocalyptic wasteland as they seek to possess and dominate one another's most cherished properties: their bodies. Evenson takes his notoriously clinical approach to brutality one step further into the experimental realm by employing a Lewis Carroll-esque mutation of the English tongue. He twists adjectives into verbs (and vice-versa), for example, injecting layers of meaning into single, loaded words. The result evokes a Dr. Seuss caught in the grip of some penumbral nightmare.
Not only is Dark Property a carefully stirred stew of language, but the plot also churns, boiling back in on itself as a series of rough characters chase, capture, abuse, kill, and sometimes resurrect one another in a seemingly endless factory line of violence. the main character, Kline, is an unemotional brute of a man who kills with as much passion as one might feel when doing the laundry or taking out the trash. Only Eckels, who refuses to stay dead for any length of time, effectively acts as Kline's foil. Eckels is a peaceful antagonist (one might argue that he is actually the protagonist, but this would be a moral decision, not a literary edict) whose purpose is to come back from the dead and question the murderer on his lack of conscience. The many deaths and returns of Eckels make the tale a clockwork of brutality, forgiving, fall, and redemption - wheels of words within wheels of character within wheels of plot. Indeed, Evenson may have been influenced by James Joyce in writing this novel; one might, in the tradition of Finnegans Wake, open Dark Property to any page and begin reading until the story loops back in on itself.
Simultaneously confusing, vivid, surreal, and clear, Dark Property is a challenging work - but one that, for readers who can lose themselves in its world and then pay careful attention to the surroundings once therein, yields a melange of beautifully stark, never-ending terror.
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