by Andersen Prunty
DO NOT RUN FROM THIS BOOK'S LURID COVER!
The Sorrow King is a real find. my only other experience with the author - the extremely goofy The Sex Beast of Scurvy Island - may have not been the best introduction to Prunty. the man is talented and the novel is unusually sensitive and moving. the imagery is unearthly. the writing is wry, lean, and clear-eyed. and the protagonists... heartbreaking. the story is one of classic horror. a sort of suicide virus is taking out the teens of Gethsemane, Ohio. moody teenager Steven flirts with his own depression. his father is a sensitive sort who has built up his so-called life as one of solitary contemplation. and then a troubled girl comes along, one who may be the link between the rash of suicides and a sinister supernatural presence with many names.
have you seen an obscure 80s horror film called Strange Behavior? if not, you should. it is also about a small town haunted by multiple deaths, and an offbeat but tender relationship between a father and son. the film has its moments of straight-up horror, but much of the tone is almost wistfully nostalgic. i was reminded of Strange Behavior while reading The Sorrow King, and i was reminded a bit of Twin Peaks as well - that same dreamy, at times surreally elegiac unearthliness. unlike Twin Peaks, The Sorrow King is not teeming with quirky characters. instead it has an almost underpopulated feel to it, a chamber piece of sorts, with three main characters and very little else in the way of supporting characters. we see the world through our three protagonists, and it is a very real world of sadness, lack of affect, and free-floating anomie, one where angst equals melodrama and is therefore skirted, where pathos equals mawkwishness and is likewise avoided. the dialogue is wittily off-kilter but is anchored by the depth, delicacy, honesty, and offhand despair of the characterization. in the end, the novel is a distinctly <i>emotional</i> experience. it is also full of surprises, both within the story and with the narrative itself - surprises that are often unpleasant yet exciting in their execution. i appreciate Anderson's smarts and especially his unsentimentality in constructing his novel. although it lead to a particularly painful and unexpected scene that left me genuinely upset.
one last thing: the novel portrays teenagers perfectly. well, certain sorts of teenagers - the moody ones, smart and self-absorbed and yearning and pitiless and awkward and melancholy. i remember the emotions on display, the casual cruelty, the equally casual tenderness, moving from nervous agitation to studied nonchalance, that feeling of being such a small player in life's strange pageant, that sense that - despite everyone saying the world will open up - that life after high school will just be a series of diminishing returns. the novel gets all of that without reducing its world to a BE Ellis level of predetermined nihilism. there are no false notes; the novel gets it right. i finished the last chapter and sighed, a thoughtful and sad and satisfied sigh.