I cannot tell you the last time a novel kept me reading more (I kind of agree with the various blurbs on the paperback; it is compulsively readable!). I enjoyed the hell out of it, good and bad alike. Gower's style has energy, conviction, and forward thrust, even accounting for lapses into amateur psychology, weak analogies, telling and not showing: first-novel flaws all present and accounted for. Orpheus Process goes to dark places of nihilistic blasphemy, and often what it finds there is unbearably silly, other times it touches on real existential dreads, plumbing deep into nightmare psyches. I loved the over-the-topness of it even when wrong-headed, its death-in-the-midst of life scenario, and all the sickening metaphysics of a biochemist playing God with his "reanimants." Welcome to the abyss indeed.
Laz is so normal in fact Helmond does then what any good scientist would do and takes the creature home to his family. I mean what. His two younger children, seven-year-old Eunice and five-year-old Andy of course love the monkey. But its mind, its incomprehensible little monkey mind, has seen things on the other side that will destroy its sanity, and its body is changing in all kinds of incomprehensible ways due to that fancy violet amniotic fluid Helmond's created. Things take a turn for the worse: Ally is involved in a car accident with her boyfriend; we meet deranged Vietnam vet Cully Detwiler; and Helmond reanimates Osiris (duh!), a chimpanzee. None of this, you can expect, goes well at all. I mean, it all turns to absolute shit. There's even an impossible decapitation!
In her new state Eunice has gone beyond madness after peering into the reality that lurks beyond death; she out-Goths her sister Ally with her disturbing sketches (She must be watching a lot of horror movies the older sister muses) and Helmond finds the little girl's notebook, filled with mind-chilling philosophy:
I have experienced the unity and tranquility of nothingness, the absolute knowledge of the universal abyss... I have tasted the annihilation of all human feeling... I have been on that darkest of all levels of existence, the complete void of mind and soul... I know that supreme unbearable truth, have seen the agonizing revelation when the thin veil of materiality is pulled back, when the skin of the night is torn open to expose the pulsing primal core of the universe...
But I loved the lair Eunice builds for herself in a graveyard, a necropolis of noxious fog and reassembled corpses beneath the earth:
It was a chapel... dozens of empty caskets arranged like pews, and against the far wall Eunice luxuriated on a throne made of human bones surrounded by an altar constructed of the decomposing parts of a hundred corpses, torn apart and jumbled together in a collage of carnage... "Nothing in the world seems quite alive, but nothing in the world seems really dead, either."
To emphasize her point, she casually waved the back of her right hand at the mural of twisted, decaying shapes behind her, momentarily infusing them with a violet corposant glow, and several eyeless skulls chattered like novelty teeth while intestinal tendrils flailed around them.
French paperback, accurate cover art
I've still only summarized about half of the events in the novel. The climax is so over-the-top it's proto-bizarro, evoking the nightmarish landscapes of Lovecraft's darkest fantasies, the cosmic nihilism of Ligotti, but with a dour tone that some may find off-putting (his appropriation of Ligottian themes is unsubtle, crude, even banal in places: "Did God fall asleep and have a nightmare?"). Eunice's reanimated monstrosities, demented and deformed, could be out of Barker but are described without his deft touch; ideas about death and resurrection read like Pet Sematary on cheap speed and weed (was Jesus the Nazarene a hypervital reanimant?!); Helmond's weapon of choice when attempting to kill Eunice is played straight by actually belongs in an Evil Dead sequel.
In spite of all the novel's faults, I feel justified in recommending it. There's just something so batshit crazy here, reminding me of that Masterton style of not letting plausibility factor into the storytelling. Ambition is part of it; Gower goes for broke, unleashing a farrago of grotesqueries parading by in an endless loop of madness (you won't forget Janice's midnight walk to find Eunice). As the title implies, elements of Greek tragedy are shoehorned in, as are references to Frankenstein and Repulsion. The final chapter, how could it compete with what's gone before, but I think it kinda worked in a redemptive manner: Her father had been an ingenious, doomed man, and she still loved him in spite of everything...