by Christopher O’Halloran (@BurgleInfernal)
Sometimes it’s advisable to skip trailers. They hold all sorts of spoilers for the movie you’re probably already going to watch. The trailer for Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace spoiled Darth Maul’s double-ended lightsaber. The trailer for Thor: Ragnarok spoiled the inclusion of the Incredible Hulk. The trailer for Friday The 13th literally shows every death in chronological order.
But sometimes, you need to know what you’re getting into. You need to be told that what you’re about to watch—or in this case, read—is to be consumed with an open mind. It’s not going to be like the other books you’ve read. It’s not going to follow the formula. This isn’t Stephen King or Dean Koontz.
This is Brian Evenson.
BEHIND THE PEN
Brian Evenson (born August 12, 1966) is an American author and teacher based out of the School of Critical Studies at the California Institute of the Arts where he’s been teaching since 2016. Under the names B. K. Evenson and Brian Evenson, he blends elements of literary and popular fiction. His work doesn’t do any hand holding, but thrusts the reader into a world solely of his own creation.
He’s been nominated multiple times for the Shirley Jackson Award, the World Fantasy Award, and, in 2017, was awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship.
In 2000, he resigned from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after being raised Mormon. Three years later, he released the novella The Brotherhood of Mutilation that, nine years later, grew into Last Days, a novel in which he provides an alternate take on religion.
A NO-SPOILER SUMMARY
A retired detective finds himself at the center of a new mystery when he is brought in to solve a graphic murder. What sets this apart from other whodunnits is that it is set in a
cult organization whose members all share one thing in common: they have at least one voluntary amputation. As someone who chopped his own hand off, Kline is a rare detective who the Brotherhood of Mutilation will allow into their confines.
Of course, nothing is ever as it seems. Combine that with Evenson’s passion for the surreal, and you get something utterly unique and utterly weird.
VOICES FROM WITHIN
This book begins with an introduction by Peter Straub that spoils the ENTIRE PLOT, so we need to provide a huge warning to readers:
ONLY READ THE INTRODUCTION AFTER YOU’VE FINISHED THE NOVEL (unless you don’t care about spoilers, in which case, dive in, weirdo).
One thing that Straub touches on in his brilliant essay prefacing this novel is that Evenson refuses to explain things you might expect other authors to. @CDubs compares him to Kafka in style. His worldbuilding doesn’t even touch on exposition. You need to pay attention to get the full picture of this story. Simply skimming will leave you with a heap of questions. But even the confusion feels deliberate. “I love the general vagueness and sense of confusion we experience with Kline,” says @Ahab_atLZ.
While many HOWLers appreciated what felt like a detailed satire of religion, many questioned the discrepancies of the
cult Brotherhood of Mutilation. They pointed out contradictions, fallacies, and inconsistencies—all deliberate on Evenson’s part. Built in questions about fairness, consent, and blind attendance.
“I think the more I read of this, the more I’m buying into the humor of it,” says @AuntieMaim, ”but I 100% keep getting hung up in the details of how this cult works and survives.”
@HokiePie accurately predicted that Monday’s discussion would be “strongly split between people who find the story funny and people who find it horrifying.” Although they should have known that horror fans can find the humor in any situation. The amount of HOWLers making Eileen jokes greatly outweighed those who found themselves aghast at the practices of the Brotherhood of Mutilation. The witty banter between certain characters gave the story an Abbott and Costello feel, and the general ridiculousness of the situation delighted more than a few members.
If the plot is a rollercoaster ride, the last few chapters are a straight, ninety-degree drop. Things escalate in a way that horrifies, disgusts, and—frankly—entertains. It is so absurd that you can’t help but grin nervously as Evenson goes there. “Honestly I can’t think of a better ending for this book,” says @RyanMarie.
Brian was generous enough to drop by afterward for a Q+A session, and we at HOWL Society were grateful for his presence! He answered questions about writing, about life, and about the complete bonkers world of Last Days. Thanks, Brian!
WELCOME TO THE BLURBS: HOWL SOCIETY MEMBERS’ REVIEWS IN THEIR OWN WORDS
- It’s a spiral into absurdity, with biting (cutting?) humor, set to the tone of hardboiled noir. I loved it for its brutal and often hilarious take on religion and the creeping feeling of uncertainty that permeates its pages.
- Darkly humourous and relentless in its execution. The deceptively simple prose manages to provide a rich and captivating story with far fewer limbs than you’d expect.
- Saw by way of Tom Stoppard or Monty Python. I’d explain what exactly I mean, but… less is more.
- A dread tinged neo-noir that will keep you turning the pages and wondering if the ensuing and offending papercuts require a more creative solution.
- It’s funny, graphic, and entertaining, albeit too ridiculous to take seriously. Warning: pages may give you paper cuts.
- With dry, humorous dialog and gruesome imagery, this book was oddly delightful for something considered horror.
This was my second time reading this story, and I’m so glad I gave it another shot. Originally, I was more confused than anything, so going in again with previous knowledge made it an excellent ride. But no matter how much we try to send you in with accurate expectations, Last Days will be unlike anything else you’ve read.