When people profess to like dark crime novels, they often mention works by James Lee Burke or some other hardboiled writers like Hammet, Chandler or Ellroy. But that’s as dark as they read, as dark as they want to get. But the darkness in Grant Jerkins’ Abnormal Man (ABC Group Documentation / Down & Out Books) is darker than these folks would like.
If you dig dark fiction, chances are it is more distasteful and disturbing that you expect. In a typical dark crime fiction book, the basement is dark and you may hear some moving around. In Abnormal Man, the basement may be dark, but you are forced to witness the demolition of the human soul while someone stands at the bottom of the steps masturbating.
If you are of a queasy stomach or basically weak-kneed, Abnormal Man should not even be touched by you. Words should be able to describe the unsettling nature of Jerkins’ book, but I’ve been reaching for them and have failed. If you cannot read a book where a character that is a latent-pubescent 18-year-old boy who likes to masturbate to fire, then this book is not for you. If you cannot read a book where a twenty-something-year-old man who has a violent rage that surpasses Tarantino violence, then this book is not for you. If you cannot read a book with a 40-something-year-old muumuu-wearing child molester that carries items in the folds of his skin, then this book might not be for you.
Three paragraphs and some 200 words into a review, all I have given the reader are warnings rather than words of praise for Abnormal Man. And words of praise should be bestowed upon Jerkins’ latest novel. Abnormal Man exists in the broken human condition and Jerkins’ words burn the characters’ existence into our hippocampus, never to be unremembered. The rarity of this book is that we are not driving by a car crash and staring — no, we are in the car crash and slowly dying.
The hall has emptied, and you have ten minutes before your meeting with the school psychologist. You head for the boys bathroom.
You take the last stall, the handicapped one. This is your favorite not because it is the biggest, but because the lock on it still works and because it is directly under the overhead ventilation fan.
You unroll a handful of toilet paper from the dispenser. You already know the perfect amount. You wad it up into a ball about the size of a rodent brain with a bit angling off from it like a brainstem. You will hold it from the brainstem.
From your jeans pocket you extract a yellow Bic lighter, stolen from your stepfather, Harvey Peruro. You set the toilet paper rodent brain afire. The trick is to get a clean burn so that there is no smoke. Regardless of the ventilation fan, if there is smoke, it will permeate the bathroom and give you away. You watch the flame take hold, and as soon as it does, the pain in your stomach vanishes. You do not know if it is simply that you forget about the pain, or if fire acts as a painkiller. It doesn’t matter. The flame is beautiful, calming. It pulsates like an orange rose. A burning blossom. A fire flower.
And then, still standing over the toilet, you use your other hand to unbuckle and drop your pants, push down your underwear, and it feels good to have your genitals exposed to the air. No shame. No self-consciousnesses.
Finishing Abnormal Man has made me want to read other works by Jerkins even though I know none of his other books will be like this one. Penguin/Berkley severed their ties with Jerkins after reading Abnormal Man and Jerkins uses their rejection as a blurb on the book’s Amazon page.
I’m afraid that I really didn’t like it. While it is certainly well-written, as are all of Grant’s books, I found it to be too dark and off-putting. There really isn’t anyone to “root” for and the subject matter is pretty distasteful.That being said, I would hate to end our publishing relationship with Grant at this point. For me, personally, and as a company as well, we are really committed to building Grant’s career.
Since beginning this blog last year, Grant Jerkins’ Abnormal Man is among a handful of some 70 books I have read which their darkness seems to elevate them above all others. The others are Paul Heatley’s The Motel Whore, Marietta Miles’ Route 12, and Jake Hinkson’s Hell on Church Street.