Monday, December 29, 2014

Brian Evenson: The Open Curtain

I'd ordered Brian Evenson's The Open Curtain on a whim when I noticed someone post about it on Facebook. It looked intriguing, and based on a short description of the plot it reminded me of the manuscript I've been working on. Now that I read The Open Curtain, I can tell it really doesn't resemble much what I've written so far, but let me tell you that I'd really like to be able to write as well as Evenson - and just as daringly and as unpredictably as Evenson! The Open Curtain really grabbed and scared me, even though there are virtually no hallmarks of the horror genre.

Yet The Open Curtain is clearly a horror novel. It's terrifying and very distracting. The main character is a teenage guy Rudd, who seems a bit autistic and lives with his Mormon mother. His father has been dead for some time now, and Rudd finds some letters in a garage that seem to reveal he has a half-brother, called Lael, living somewhere else with his own mother. At the same time Rudd has to make an essay on history for school, and he stumbles on an article on an old murder case in which there was a possibility of an old Mormon ritual of a blood atonement. There were lots of bizarre elements in the murder, such as an accomplice the existence of whom was never proved. All these elements start to show in Rudd's life and toy with his identity that seems to fall apart. The twist in the middle made me almost pee in my pants.

This is something David Lynch might have written, but all the elements are actually very down-to-earth and realistic. Even the 100-year-old murder was a true case. Evenson describes it with a chilling minuteness, and the whole novel is written with minimalist preciseness that's quite scary. To know that blood atonement was a true doctrine in the Mormon faith makes The Open Curtain really effective as a horror novel. Yet Evenson never really gives any sure answers. The end might be a bit of a letdown, but it's the only alternative imaginable.

Someone said (I don't remember anymore where I saw the comparison) that if Jim Thompson were alive today, he'd write like Brian Evenson. Based on The Open Curtain, Evenson is a more literary writer, but there are same elements, for example the use of the unreliable narrator and the disintegration of the identity. (And taking a look at Evenson's Facebook page, I notice there's a discussion on Thompson in which Evenson says: "Have read almost all of Thompson, who I really love.")

I'll definitely be reading more Evenson. There are no Finnish translations, but if I have anything to say about the state of affairs, there will be.

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