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Am I Real? and other horrible questions

“This happened back during the time when I still believed, if it could properly be called believing, that humans were the sole repository for a person, and that there was only one person filling each repository, a single person crammed into each casing of blood and flesh and bone. Before I understood that everyone, whatever the nature of their casing, was legion.”

—Brian Evenson, from the story “Legion” Windeye by Brian Evenson, c. 2012 by Coffee House Press.

The skeletons of other stories by Brian Evenson:

1. A boy thinks he has a sister. Thinks.
2. A young man sets out to seek his fortune. He hooks up with a magnificent, evil horse that gets into his head and wordlessly persuades him to do gruesome things.
3. Professional spies track each other through disparate layers of reality. There is a glitch, a death, a disappearance, an investigation.
4. A woman’s sanity trembles when her brain falters. She begins to process audio signals with a delay. A mouth moves, the words come to her later.
5. A homeless orphan falls under the spell of a serial killer/doppelganger who takes psychic control of the orphan and wordlessly persuades him to do gruesome things.

These are all from the collection Windeye. The genre is “literary horror,” which gives the book more destabilizing potency than plain old horror. There is a philosophical question at the root of each narrative that took me to an extremely dark and thoughtful place. Don’t go there alone.

Two themes have haunted me since I put the book down (for my own protection). The first has to do with influence and submission. My real life translation of Evenson’s fantastic tale-telling is that a person can come under the spell of another person (a lover), or a thing (money), or a substance (especially,) and act in ways that are morally reprehensible even to the person who is “acting.” Because she is “not in her right mind.”

For example, a guy on drugs kills his wife, comes down from the drugs, goes into detox, comes to his right mind, finds himself in prison, for life. That kind of thing. Or that woman with postpartum psychosis who ate her baby. (You know who I am talking about . . .)

Second theme, and this is one of my pet obsessions, the game of breaking down reality, of moving the guideposts and structures that are in place to keep us mentally directed and organized. And what song is playing when the lonely chore of preserving our own mental health goes awry? The sadness of those who lose the battle. (Why we love the news.)

So no, Windeye is not a beach read.
And you should not be alone when you read it.
And don’t be alone after you read it.
Don’t be alone.

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