Fatale, Vol. 3: West of Hell by Ed Brubaker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I admit it, my background as a writer has influenced my enjoyment of this volume a great deal. I started as a short-story writer and themed anthology editor before turning to the novel form. I just felt like a more natural short-story writer. It came quite easily to me, maybe because I was raised in the MTV generation and have a short attention span. Or, perhaps it's because I am a slow reader and a slow writer. Or maybe I'm just lazy.
Whatever the case, I can appreciate a good short-story, well-told. I particularly enjoy a story told as an episodic series of short vignettes that challenges the reader to read between the lines, to tease the story out of their own subconscious through the use of subtle cues. I've used this trope several times, sometimes with great success, sometimes not.
The beauty of the short story is that it frees up the author to focus on style and immediacy and forces her or him to do away with the fluff that is so much a part of many a bad novel. This is a big turn-off to many novel readers. Don't believe me? Try to get a short-story collection published. I dare you. It can be done, but finding a willing publisher for a short-story collection is much, much more difficult than finding a willing publisher for a novel. So, yes, it's pretty difficult.
What Brubaker and Phillips have done here is create a series of stories about a type, almost a Jungian archetype: The Fatale.
Yes, you will see your beloved Josephine here (for those of you wise enough to read the previous two volumes in the series), but you will also meet Mathilda and Bonnie, who may or may not be the same person as Josephine - this is never made clear. And whether they are three separate persons or one-in-the-same doesn't really matter. What matters here is back-story and beauty, and there is plenty of each here. In West of Hell we learn that this world is not what you think it is. And you dare not know the truth. The truth will only kill you or, worse yet, let you know of its presence while allowing you the dubious privilege of life.
My only complaint here is that some of the information was leaked a bit earlier, in the first two volumes. But not all of it. Too much too early would spoil the surprise of it all, but would add something to the feeling of sheer menace that peeks around the corners in other volumes. Still, I can see how the choppy nature of this narrative adds to the flavor of the series as a whole. Not only do we get to peek around the corner at what lurks there, we have moments of stark revelation when we can get a good look at the face of horror in full, though it surreptitiously slides back into the shadows before we can fully figure out what it is doing, what it wants, and where it is going.
The artwork, as always, is beautiful. But this volume is particularly well-structured in a cinematic sense. Take, for example, the image of Jo approaching her vehicle, a 1930's coupe, on a desolate desert highway at night. She has just seen the face of evil, a physical manifestation of her nightmares. She gets in the car and drives off down the highway, past a railroad crossing, disappearing into the night. And standing on the railroad tracks, waiting, hoping to be hit by a train, stands Nelson, Jo's erstwhile lover, staring down the light of the train as it approaches him, promising release from his sorrow, the sorrow brought on by Jo's departure.
Hitchcock couldn't have done it better.
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