Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Review of The Sorrow King by Andersen Prunty

Sweet Virginia who the peasants call the goddess of gloom… Edgar’s blues are just like Tom Thumbs. Sweet Virginia, vanquished Virginia, Virginia Lenore, Virginia Lee. Each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon his floor. He cries and trembles like the great old Florentine, architect of Dis cried over another little girl. They live forever and they ache forever, revenants of ruin like Mary Shelley’s flattopped green miscarriage. Grief is invincible, grief fucks your head. Grief is terror. Andersen Prunty deals with this relationship in a direct raw, yet altogether fun way in his latest, The Sorrow King from Cargo Cult Press.
The peace of Gethsemane, Ohio has been disturbed. Not the kind of peace that can be disturbed by teenage hooligans or loud parties, no, but a deeper peace, the heart of the town. This heart is breaking, it is beating fast with fear and threatens to stop. The horror obsessed over by Steven King and many before him (even Mary Shelley whose bolt-necked stillborn babe continues to terrify) has come to pass through an epidemic of teenage suicides. The why of it all has disappeared in favor of “who’s next?” There’s a tragic realism to this response, a reminder that depression is a mystery to so many. It hearkens back to Heathers, which shares many traits with The Sorrow King, including sardonic brutality and stylized but real young people.
The Sorrow King’s protagonists Steven and Connor are experiencing flashes of greater insight, cryptic clues that reveal where the sickness will strike next and that the two of them are quite possibly in the middle of it all. Steven is a real, listless teenager, with real listless teenage depression and real, listless teenage urges. Steven’s dad, Connor is somewhere between a sitcom caricature of a cool dad and a real life cool dad. Much of The Sorrow King is about their relationship is about their relationship, which is that of two men who have come together after the loss of Steven’s mother and one of two people who cannot comprehend the mysteries of depression and grief.
In the midst of death and despair, Steven develops an obsession that turns to love. Steven sees the enigmatic Elise walking the town at night and begins to join her. Their friendship turns quickly into love, but a love challenged by coldness and sexual distance. Prunty builds this relationship with an authentic blend of melancholia and wonder that perfectly characterizes highschool relationships. The relationship dissolves and Steven finds himself facing the power of guilt and sex through dark visions. For instance, in a particularly chilling scene, he encounters the sperm spilled during a handjob and it presents him with an awful truth.
As the book progresses the two men must do battle with a creature like Goethe’s Erl King, King’s Pennywise and perhaps Poe’s Conqueror Worm, an incarnation of grief that springs forth from the mysteries of depression and the human heart. Those who’ve read Zerostrata, Something Wicked This Way Comes and King’s New England will find The Sorrow King both alien and familiar, strange and undeniably human like grief and depression themselves.

The Sorrow King from Grindhouse Press is now available at Amazon.com.


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