Author: Kaaron Warren
Publisher: Angry Robot
What you can expect: Perhaps one of the most disturbing psychological horror stories imbued with withering decadence and written as a memoir. This story haunted me and froze my blood in a manner I have yet to encounter.
Pros: Original. From conception to execution Kaaron Warren redefined fear for me and stole my breath. Characterization explores the deepest, darkest aspects of the human mind and surpasses what I ordinarily expect.
Cons: Its built-up was painfully slow. At times I wondered whether I was reading just a stranger than average mainstream novel or a horror one. I admit the waiting was worth it, but boy was it nerve wrecking.
Summary: Stephanie “Stevie” Searle has never had it easy. Her father, a cop, died back when she was nine years old under mysterious consequences, leaving her with a mother she can’t connect to and a brother, who constantly overshadowed Stevie throughout their whole lives. At the age of eighteen, after a car accident, where she was the driver, Stevie loses her mother and has a near death experience that changes her life. In it Stevie awakes in a dark room with all the people she ever slighted gathered around her to exact their revenge. This creates an unhealthy relationship and fascination with death, which slowly transform her into a monster of her own device.
Characters: I can’t recall ever reading a memoir at least outside classic titles and even there my memory serves against me, so to witness a very clear distinction between a sole, active character and the rest presented exclusively through that person’s mind frame is quite a jolt and offers a break from typical characterization. It’s a tricky business to get a person excited over a memoir-type story that isn’t an action story, but rather a slice-of-life in design, and resting the success on one character is risky. To pull it off the author must understand enough of human psychology to pen a believable protagonist s well as pull the readers’ strings right.
This is where Warren eclipses most fiction I have ever read, since she covers all the criteria listed above and doing so with one of the most unsympathetic human beings ever conceived in a novel as far as my reading experience is concerned. Stevie is a train-wreck caught in a loop and possesses the most unflattering set of human traits, which instantly cause revulsion in the reader. I couldn’t connect with her or identify myself with her position in life, but I wanted her to find peace for she was hurting. This was the cord that attached me to the story and kept me reading. Was Stevie ever going to find closure and end her frantic search? By the end of the novel, I wished I hadn’t asked it.
Story: I managed to identify two plots intertwined through the whole book. The first one dealt with Stevie’s obsession with death and the afterlife. This is where Warren’s originality and master craftsmanship in horror shine through. So far mythology and fiction have agreed that hell is one big place for all sinners. Kaaron toys with the idea of individual hell for each human populated with all the people one has slighted, while the slighted appear in countless other hells’. It’s, I think, revolutionary in the way fiction has viewed the afterlife and Stevie’s exploration and documentation of it comes after many trips to the dark room.
I loved that Stevie never stuck with one technique to commit suicide and experimented a lot. Funny thing is that she never expected to get rescued and counted on dying, so surviving so many suicide attempts makes her quite lucky, though she doesn’t view it that way. In the end though it’s all valuable information. But she doesn’t always restrict her research to herself and branches out with her dying patients she meets in her line of work as a nurse as well as her own test subject lured in from the street. It’s the transition from strange interest and harmless observation to murder in the quest for knowledge that’s sickening and yet beautiful.
The emotionally cold and intelligent madness that has taken over Stevie’s life is what makes her the most frightening villain or monster. The second plot line in “Slights” reveals where this madness stems from and that it had nested long ago in the family, when Stevie decides to dig in the backyard in order to plant jasmine. It turns out her father was a serial killer of sorts, which means the killer gene was hereditary. Through flashbacks, episodes with Doug, Stevie’s dad’s former partner, as well as Stevie’s aunt’s cryptic messages the reader learns the whole story behind the Searle’s family secrets.
The Verdict: [A++] A most grotesque mosaic of human debauchery and demoralization, whose beauty lies within the intricacy of its design. It builds painfully slow, but when “Slights” reaches its most potent state you will fear contact with strangers. I have more to say, much, much, but I want you to find all the surprises. Must-read.