There is not a more intense, prolific, or apocalyptic writer of fiction in America than Brian Evenson.George Saunders
The Wavering Knife: Stories
Winner of the International Horror Guild Award for a Short Fiction Collection
Brian Evenson’s fifth story collection constructs a human landscape as unearthly as it is mundane. Replete with the brutality, primordial waste, and savage blankness familiar to readers of his earlier works, Evenson’s Kafkaesque allegories entice the mind while stubbornly disordering it.
In the title story an obsessional consciousness folds back on itself, creating a vertiginous melange of Poe and Borges, both horrific and metaphysical. Here, as in “Moran’s Mexico,” and “Greenhouse,” the solitary nature of reading and writing leads characters beyond human limits, making the act of putting words to paper a monstrous violation opening onto madness. Evenson’s enigmatic names — Thurm, Bein, Hatcher, Burl — unplaceable landscapes, and barren rooms all combine to create a semblance of conceptual abstraction, as though the material universe had come to exist inside someone’s head.
Small wonder that Evenson’s work has attracted so much attention among philosophers, literary critics, and other speculative intelligences, for it continuously projects a tantalizing absence, as though there were some key or code that, if only we knew it, would illuminate everything. However, the blade of discernment wavers, and we are left to our own groping interpretations. This is a collection to be read and reread.
These tales by a modern Poe occur under an immense pressure of language, insight, and observation. Harrowing (Evenson makes us want to check the word’s literal meaning) as they are, they take place just beyond the numbed moment where cruelty and craziness grow banal. Like Poe’s, Evenson’s stories range from horror to humor; a similarly high critical intelligence is always in control. It’s moot, sometimes, which tale falls into which camp. But we read them with care, with our guard up, only to find they have already slipped inside and gotten to work, refining the feelings, the vision, the life.
Brian Evenson, one of America’s darkest and most pungent comic writers, prods with the tip of his verbal knife at all our assumptions … He finds the alien in the archetypal, marrying strangeness to intimacy and creating, via syntax, an ever-imploding universe of consciousness. Insidiously and elegantly, Evenson’s language claims its prey: the reader’s seduced psyche.
The prose is thuddingly sad and inexplicably, weirdly comic, full of Evenson’s allegiance to the unpleasant, the true.
As you might expect of any book that provides no simple explanations for its characters’ behaviors and contains figures who attempt to find metaphysical meaning in everyday images and acts, the back cover … calls up comparisons with the European visions of Kafka and Beckett … however, I am more comfortable placing Evenson’s work within the long tradition of the American grotesque, beginning with Edgar Allan Poe and continuing with modern and contemporary figures such as Flannery O’Connor, Stacey Levine, and Gilbert Sorrentino.