We continue with Women-in-Horror Month. And though February is coming to a close, women authors will be celebrated here all year long.
by Nicole Cushing
We all have bad thoughts.
Don’t even try to deny that – of course you have. You can’t feel bad about it. And I don’t think most of you will deny it – many of you, like myself, have reconciled ourselves with it; you just don’t like to admit it. Of course you don’t admit that you have fleeting visions of harm against others, indulgence in decadent behavior, suicide, murder. Society doesn’t accept it (though what is society but an elaborate, tragic game we have created for ourselves to play?). But its not like the thoughts are permanent. They come and then they drift away, a brittle leaf blown away by a gentle autumn breeze.
How dreadful it would be if those thoughts didn’t permit themselves to leave, if they became independent of you and were untouched by your morality.
That is – sort of – the launching-off point of Nicole Cushing‘s 2015 novel Mr. Suicide (ominously subtitled “a Novel of the Great Dark Mouth”), which is a nominee for 2016’s Bram Stoker Awards (“Superior Achievement in a First Novel”). Even more impressive, Cushing’s collection The Mirrors is also a nominee. Even more impressive, they are both debuts. Which means, of course, you should go buy both right now. Word Horde, which published Mr. Suicide, is notoriously good at publishing amazing work (which is why I have reviewed them since this blog has begun), and I do congratulate both Miss Cushing and Word Horde on the first Bram Stoker Award nomination.
But I digress. Mr. Suicide is a tour-de-force of horror. How to begin? Where to start?
Let me say first that this novel (both transgressive and artful, which is hard to achieve) has no interest getting you comfortable. This is, of course, evident from the title, but also the narrative format in which it is presented. The entire book is written in second person. Yes, second person. That is a ballsy thing to do for a debut novel, but Cushing doesn’t only pull it off well, she pulls it off perfectly. It isn’t just that the second person narrative is written fantastically and effectively through the entirety of the novel, but that it is so well done it becomes so intense for the reader that they have to put the book down. You may be sitting in a chair, yes, your rational mind knows that. But this book doesn’t tap into your rational mind, and things will start to feel so personal to you that I can almost guarantee you’ll need to take a breather in the midst of it.
The plot itself is a Poe-esque nightmare of psychological horror. The protagonist (“you”), a boy trapped in an abusive family with an insane older brother and two escaped siblings, starts, at a young age, to have an inner dialogue of sorts. There is a voice (in his head or in reality, who knows?) called “Mr. Suicide”, who is exactly what he/she/it sounds like. He encourages our protagonist to, well, commit suicide, and is exceedingly creepy about it.
‘Why not today?’ Mr. Suicide asked you. ‘It’s summer, and there’s no school and you’re stuck at home with your bitchy mother and a carton of Ajax.’
The boy does not indulge in Mr. Suicide. He does not ignore him, however; at times he actually engages in passionate and disturbing conversations with him. These gradually reveal more and more about the boy’s character. Despite his high intelligence he is behind in schoolwork and is a social scapegoat.
Home life is hardly better, of course; his mother is abusive and constantly berating him, his father is a good-for-nothing puppet, and his one remaining brother is almost completely insane. In an unbearably sad way Mr. Suicide really is his only returning friend.
While at first glance this is all psychological horror – Mr. Suicide could very easily be seen as a sort of dual personality – this book is not so easily defined. Mr. Suicide knows intimate details of other people’s lives (this is used to particularly chilling effect in chapter two), and makes broad statements about humanity in a decidedly disturbing way. As many of you will grow to realize, this pleasant, eerie ambiguity is one of my favorite things to see in literature.
At the age of eighteen, though, he leaves home and finds another force, an older, more powerful force that claims it can help him if he follows a very grisly set of instructions. The misanthrope agrees, and subjects himself to the will of the Great Dark Mouth…
…well, I don’t want to spoil anything.
Perhaps the most predominant influence is Edgar Allan Poe. The macabre personifications of mental disease are reminiscent of quite a few of his works (“The Imp of the Perverse” comes to mind). And the prose is sheer perfection. Another possible influence, with bleak tones of mental disease and juvenile crime, is A Clockwork Orange, though Mr. Suicide trumps that by a mile. It’s really one of the greatest novels ever written.
Let me just finish off this review with a few words: despite the extreme intensity of this astounding book, which dances past taboos as smoothly as a stream, Mr. Suicide is, at its heart, a coming-0f-age book.
A really, really messed-up coming-of-age book.
You can buy Mr. Suicide from Word Horde here. The Conqueror Weird wishes Miss Cushing the best of luck with her Bram Stoker Award nominations.