Mapping the Terrain of Used and Rare Books
This is a tough one. My first primal instinct is to just blurt out “It was fucking awesome!!! What a ride!!! Steve Gerlach, my man!!!” But this instinct is solely based on all of the hype I have heard about this book from circles of authors who I really love. And also the fact that the copy I have is the super-rare signed and numbered hardcover edition (Bloodletting Press, 2006.)
I wish it were that simple, but it’s totally not.
In the introduction by Brian Keene (he also signed the book) he states “You’ll remember this moment just as surly as you remember your first introduction to Stephen King, Richard Laymon, Bentley Little, Jack Ketchum…. and other masters of the modern thriller.” That’s quite a statement. At over six-hundred pages the book was certainly long enough to be a Stephen king novel. And with the slightly wooden characters engaging in long sequences of bantering (and, in my opinion, redundant and many times unnecessary) dialogue interspersed with sudden and seemingly random moments of excessive, grotesque violence there is very much a Richard Laymon feel to the style. Don’t get me wrong I like Laymon a lot. But Laymon is the only writer who can get away with writing like he does. He somehow makes what would otherwise be mediocre writing very, very good. Don’t try to imitate him; you will sound like shit.
Not that “Love Lies Dying” sounded like shit. It just seemed to have this potential that it was almost meeting, but falling short because, well, the author was writing like Laymon. The first 300 pages could probably been cut in a third, at least. A lot of it was just repetitive filler. And while I understand how it’s an integral part of the theme and atmosphere of the novel, one can take only so much BSDM torture-porn scenes. I’m only talking for myself there.
And the main character, John, was totally unbelievable. His actions and his words just made it impossible for me to view him as a real person. At first I thought it was some David Lynch-ish technique to create a surreal atmosphere – and it did succeed in that, though I don’t think it was intentional. As the story moved on I came to realize that the characters were just badly written. I began to hope that Zoe – the antagonist who is much more interesting than John, though the character development on her also needs a lot of work – would finally do something really deadly and gross and terrible that would finally shut him up for the last three-hundred pages I had left.
And what’s with the chapters of abstract dream-like scenes with imagery that have little or nothing to do with the rest of the book?
OK. It sounds like I’m totally bashing this novel. It has many, many flaws and not just the ones mentioned above. But here’s the thing: I read the entire fucker in two days! I couldn’t put it down. At some moments I had to step outside for a smoke and shake my head and go “Wow. What the hell is going on here?” While reading this book and for a few days afterwards the world was skewed for me. There is some ingredient that Mr. Gerlach has up his sleeve that just hooks you. You may be thinking “this book kinda sucks” but you can’t wait to turn the page, even if you did just kind of skim through four pages of ridiculous and unbelievable dialogue.
So, I don’t know. I can’t recommend it to anyone. I would worry what other people might think of me if I made them sit down and read six hundred pages of bad writing and violent pornography. But despite everything, even the totally disappointing ending, I really liked it. I couldn’t put the damn thing down. I really don’t know. I’m going to try another one of his books. See what happens. I’m very intrigued by Steve Gerlach’s writing even if I can’t pinpoint exactly why.
(Re-reading this, I see it’s not one of my best reviews, but I’m still not totally sure what to say about the thing. I’m just going to go ahead and post it and move on with my life. Until next time!)
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