Thursday, December 28, 2017

Descent by Ron Dee (1991): A Child's Dream of Death

Not even Dell's ambitious Abyss line of horror fiction could avoid the dregs of the genre: Ron Dee's second title for the imprint, Descent (October 1991) is indescribably awful, incoherent, at once over- and underwrought. You can't imagine the Sisyphean task it was to trudge through this novel. From the very first sentence—perhaps even before, as you'll see in a sec—"Suck (ha I shoulda seen it coming) away my death and bring me alive. Lose your self and I arrive." Good God I was groaning inside instantly ("They threw me off the hay truck at noon" it ain't). I'd put the book down after struggling through a few pages, then pick it up again, ad nauseam, hoping against hope something could be salvaged...

But my first instinct was correct: this is unreadable amateur garbage, confusing and clumsy from the first. Peopled by angry, incomprehensible, and whining "characters" who talk of needing and wanting death and sex, how death is life and vice versa, Descent is irritating beyond belief. There is no pacing, no suspense, no humanity here, not to mention any scares at all. Its po-faced religious imagery is ludicrous. I wish I could joke about it all but nope, I'm getting angry about it all over again.

Descent engages in one of my least favorite endeavors in literature: the creation of a fictional rock star. Here, it's a dude who goes by the stage name Aliester "Yeah that's not how it's spelled" C. The novel's epigraph is a sampling of the author's "lyrics" for Aliester, and read like a fundamentalist Christian's (or maybe the PMRC's) imaginings of what Alice Cooper or King Diamond or Venom or whoever were singing back in the day. "To know true life you have to fuck death," Aliester says from the stage, a witless ripoff of Udo Kier in Warhol's Frankenstein; I mean if you're gonna omit the kicker, why bother? He engages in all sorts of Cooper-esque show-biz shenanigans (ostensibly the time period is the early or mid-'70s), then a crazy hot chick appears on stage with him and gets bloody and is it all real or a dream or special effects or...?

Her long fingernails stabbed both breasts, making them bleed freely. Aliester's eyes were round. He saw her perfect nakedness and gulped (what kind of rock star gulps at the sight of a naked woman?!), even harder as he saw her purpose: the sharp nails tore slowly down from the base of her rib cage to her pubic hair with a wet tearing scream, flaunting her ghastly whit bones and pink organs as they peeked out and shimmered with her giggle (I want to ban this word from the world). "Fuck off with life—and fuck with DEATH!"

Dee's first novel for Abyss, dare I...?

Aliester gets mixed up with Vickie, our protagonist, somehow, and her grief over her stillborn child plays out over the whole novel, which in capable hands could have been effective; here it is only tacky tasteless first-draft hackery. Graphic violence, most of it sexual, is unbelievable and bears no referent to our shared inhabited reality—that is, none of the violence hurts or unsettles; it is, to use an actual metal lyric, a child's dream of death. It means nothing because it comes from nothing. Descent neither disturbs nor delights; it is ponderous, pretentious sludge. And even that doesn't begin to describe this Descent. I'm sick of seeing this book on my desk, mocking me, beggaring my critical faculties; avoid by every means necessary.

I will give a few points to that stepback art above, artist unknown, which depicts an actual scene in the book, and to whoever wrote the tagline and back cover copy:

But if you really want unbearable truths about the living, 
go listen to what Timmy Baterman has to say

3 comments:

Kurt Reichenbaugh said...

I've seen this book in used bookstores but hadn't tried it. Looks like I made the right choice not to. You're right about fictional rock stars. I can't think of a novel that's ever depicted one successfully.

Zwolf said...

I can't remember if I've read this one or not. I was a major Abyss junkie back in the day -- for a while they were the Sub-Pop-label of horror fiction; if they put it out you HAD to buy it. But they did release a few clunkers. I remember not being too psyched by some Brian Hodge stuff (they weren't bad, really, I just didn't think they were "new groundbreaking horror you never encountered before" or whatever Abyss's mission statement was), and thought that Del James short story collection was blah (I was amazed it was selling for crazy money for a while, 'til they reprinted it). Mostly Abyss was pretty good, but then they got comfortable...

Griffin Calhoun said...

Joining the pantheon of fictional rock stars like Slade Craven in Turbulence 3: Heavy Metal and Mark Wahlberg's Chris Cole in the movie Rock Star.