by Leo X. Robertson
Exploring disgust isn’t the cleverest thing a writer can do. Some would even argue it’s worn-out territory. Well, I disagree!
As the culture evolves, the context of new writing changes with it. And the literary culture we have now is in many ways stultifying. I hear things like “We’re writers, we want money”, as if everyone has the same definition of “writer.” Almost a whole generation of hopefuls want their work to get a Netflix adaptation. “Readers want characters they can root for. Simple prose with relatable analogies. Beginning middle end. Motivation, obstacle, conflict.” Sure, it takes skill to get a reader to the final page if that’s how you’re opting to do it–but anything painfully constructed for commercial viability is insulting. With so much of that about, we’re arguably living in an age when there’s never been a greater need for the literature of the repulsive!
When you’ve read too many bloodless YA whodunnits or whatever, it can be a breath of fresh air to find a book that is deliberately trying to turn you off. Of course, “pure offense” is as empty as “market-pandering safety.” A book you can’t unread does more than that. It pursues a fact of life to its logical conclusion, unafraid of what that entails. It makes some meaningful point about the human condition by exploring a domain that few others would dare to traverse. Now, there is a lot of challenging and meaningful exploration to be done in domains that are not necessarily repulsive–but only in the realm of the disturbing can a reader know for sure that artistry is the author’s only goal. That’s what gives a rare honesty to those books you can’t unread.
Here are some of my picks to help you on your path of benevolent disturbance!
1.) Cows by Matthew Stokoe: A grey-skinned twenty-five year old slaughterhouse worker, who lives with his oppressive mother (whom he refers to as “Hagbeast”) tries to navigate his miserable existence. Ridiculous violence and hilarity ensues. It’s as much about the difficulty of living a meaningful life as it is about coprophilia and talking cows.
2.) Story of the Eye by Georges Bataille: An unnamed narrator and his female lover get up to all sorts of psychosexual hijinks, involving a surprising number of other willing and depraved people along the way. They people flip each other around and stick body parts—their own, or those severed off others—in all sorts of configurations. Round objects feature heavily, including the titular eye of course!
3.) The End of Eddy by Édouard Louis: the mostly non-fiction account of the author’s coming of age in a village in Northern France. Any further details I give away might put you off reading it, for real. It feels both like there’s something wrong about reading what the author went through, but also as if bearing witness to it is the least you could do for him.
4.) Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders by Samuel Delany: Whenever asked for influential books, Delany’s “Hogg” comes up a lot. I don’t know that it should, at all, but since I’ve worn it out as a reference, I’ll mention this other Delany book instead.
The title hearkens to a sweeping fantasy epic–but this is the story of a plucky young chap who shacks up with a garbage man and his father. As far as I can tell, from then onwards, they either all sleep together or wax lyrical about it. For like sixty years. And eight hundred pages.
I haven’t read a book that so well demonstrated what a simple life looks like—one that doesn’t engage with the culture, evolve over time or participate in world events. It’s just an exploration of the same pleasures. A judgment-free vacuum. That said, it’s incredibly disturbing, and definitely pushes the patience of your average reader. But sometimes patience is worth pushing, and it’ll burn some rather evocative scenes into your mind forever.
5.) Siphon by A A Medina: A novella by one of Aphotic Realm’s own! This is a vile but beautifully written tale about a loner haematopathologist who slowly loses his mind. I read this during the winter when it first came out, and now all its scenes are cast in dim moonlight in my mind, giving their violence and horror a softness that they perhaps aren’t due. That’s also testament to Medina’s amazing prose.
Siphon is due for re-release on February 8th, 2019, so I hope you’ll check it out!
I also hope, reader and probably writer friend of mine, that if you peruse these recommendations, not only will you be unable to unread them but their influence will infect your work as well.
So take care. You might lose some readers–but the ones you retain will retain your stories deeper than ever before.
About the Author
Leo X. Robertson is a Scottish process engineer and writer, currently living in Norway. He has work published by or forthcoming with Flame Tree Press, PULP Literature and Unnerving Magazine, among others.
His disturbing novella, “Jesus of Scumburg”, was originally scheduled to be released with Hindered Souls Press before it shut down. But rumor has it that Jesus will rise again soon…
Follow Leo on his website: leoxrobertson.wordpress.com
Or on Twitter @LeoxWrite