Heqet by Brendan Connell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I've discovered over the last few years that my favorite forms to read and to write are the novella and the prose poem. Here, Brendan Connell hits some crisp notes on these two scales. Or, rather, he hits some dirges tinged with sparkling beauty, like the silver edges of a black, malicious storm. I couldn't be more pleased. Now, I should note that I co-authored a story with Brendan many years ago, so I am not without bias. But I didn't write a story with him because I wasn't already a fan of his writing. On the contrary . . . I've had a glimpse of his creativity in media res, as it were, and I was, and remain impressed. In the intervening years, I've seen Brendan's fiction published in the same boutique small presses I love to read (and am sometimes lucky enough to be published in). I'm never far from his fiction, and there are strong reasons for that.
The title novella, Heqet, is a plunge into decadence - not the wealthy, indulgent decadence of Huysmans, et al., but a journey beneath the scabs of degeneracy and self-loathing. There is really nothing to love about the main character, who speaks like a more eloquent and even more socially-depraved shadow of Beckett's low-lifes. It's a relentless eternal round of depravity and disgust with oneself, a portrait in hopeless and well-deserved self-loathing. And it's beautiful.
Imagine Huysmans and von Grimmelshausen running full speed at each other, arms thrown behind them, jaws thrust forward, then smashing their faces into a bloody, co-mingled pulp and you'll begin to find a tenuous grasp on the voice of Hequet; painful, bloody, messy, erudite, and exquisite. But in this story, the antihero finds no redemption whatsoever.
There are several shorter pieces (and by shorter I mean poetry, prose poetry, and microfiction). Of the shorts, I liked "The Abbey of the Heart" and "The Organist" the best. "Abbey" is a nasty little macabre piece, a piece of the heart, so to speak. To say much more would give it away.
"The Organist" is like a fine medieval woodcut in tone and in subject. Dürer couldn't have done it better. This sinister little tale has just enough experimental "bite" to keep the reader on their toes, but isn't over-indulgent. If I could read nothing but stories like this the rest of my life, I would be quite content.
There are several others, all of them good, most of them great. But these two, in particular, are the cream of the crop, as they say. There are moments (very few) when Brendan's experimental side gets just a touch too surreal (I mean this in the original sense, not the more recent sense - these aren't just weird, they are a very particular brand of abruptly weird). I think he's at his best when he toys at the edge of classical surrealism, but only teases, usually by means of synesthesia, expanding our view of the possible, while not overwhelming our sense of what we perceive. That liminal space is the perfect space for my reading tastes, and for the most part, Heqet not only treads that space, it patrols it, dominates it, looming.
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