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Thursday, April 25, 2024

Review: Last Days by Brian Evenson.


On its surface Brian Evenson’s novel Last Days is about a man who was the victim of a horrible assault leaving him an amputee. Then he is forced into a strange subterranean world of bizarre cults and graphic body horror. But like the best horror literature, the entire work can also be read in different ways. The story has an oblique quality, hazy with its meanings and intentions. Phantom limbs, bodies both dead and alive. The protagonist lives in a state of paranoia. Liminal states. Beings both one thing and another. 

Last Days can also be taken as the nightmares of an amputee, the reworking of inner trauma and anxiety. Or it can be read as a dream of self-destruction and pessimism. It's like the book has different narratives depending on how you wish to read it. Last Days is an apocalypse of personal anxiety. Reliving trauma over and over, The story keeps subtly implying that every time the protagonist hurts or cuts the limbs off someone else,  he is actually doing it to himself. The story whispers perverse images and thoughts to the reader. This delirium of cults, self-destruction, and bodily desecration reads as dream logic. Nightmare descending into nightmare over and over again. The main character is a bit of a cipher, he is what others make of him. He is intentionally drawn in a very spare manner. Who he is does not matter. Only his wounds and his ability to be controlled are what anyone in the world of the story cares about him. At the end after seemingly overcoming two bizarre cults, he is left wondering what comes next. The puppet is left looking for a new puppet master. But the novel offers no escape. No resolution.

Brian Evenson is a master of the weird horror tale. His short story collections are vital reading. And this novel, Last Days, is as compelling and subversive as his short work. An unmissable classic for anyone interested in literate horror fiction. 

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