In the biographical sketch of Kurt Fawver’s debut collection, the author states that “when he’s not writing nightmarish arcana, he’s teaching college students the joys of reading Clive Barker’s Books of Blood.” Being an acolyte of Barker’s work in my university years, I think I would have quite enjoyed such a professor. Those days long past, the next best thing is having a listen to the sustained dark lecture that is Forever, in Pieces.
The collection contains ten longer stories, interspersed with eight masterful vignettes. It is bookended with tales focusing on the sea (both planetary and cosmic), stories which evoke a fear of the unknown in fresh and masterful ways. “The Waves From Afar” concerns a zombie-like virus which entices people to wade into the sea and simply stare at the aurora borealis which the now alien waters have become, remaining there until they literally disintegrate and float off to whatever dark god awaits. The story is told from the point of view of a grieving father, whose wife and children are among the afflicted, making it an unexpectedly poignant tale.
If my mention of “zombie” has turned off potential readers, please do yourself a favor and cast aside all your preconceptions. Personally, I am no longer a fan of the ever-pervasive zombie genre, but after reading this (and many other tales in which Fawver examines the trope), I can honestly say that my interest in the undead has been reanimated. In “Rub-A-Dub-Dub”, we encounter a satisfying mix of said nursery rhyme and “Cthulhu Mythos” tale, wherein three convicts are chained in a “tub” and cast into the sea to be subsumed by the leviathan residing within. I mention “Cthulhu” only in the sense that the story involves a dark deity of the sea whose influence affects all of humanity. But this tale goes far beyond any Lovecraftian pastiche.
Indeed, Fawver has an original, and at times twisted, imagination. He is also a great stylist, and has that rare ability of layering his fiction with philosophical and symbolic meaning which blends effortlessly with the visceral text. I am reminded here of something which Thomas Pynchon once said about the way he constructs and edits his own work: that with each read-through a new layer to his story is added, like the transparent leaves of an anatomical chart of the human body slowly conforming to a whole. And, riffing off said anatomical chart, these tales do at times get rather visceral—read the title story and you will undoubtedly recall Barker’s “Hellbound Heart”, what with its strange box and hellish birth.
While it’s hard to pick a favorite of the bunch, I think that the one which resonated most with me was “Birth Day”, which reaches deep into the anxiety-bombarded psyche of most expectant fathers in the days and hours leading up to the birth of their first child. I can only speak for myself, of course, but that tale completely captured the trepidation of becoming a parent for the first time.
I could go on and on about these wonderful tales, but it might be best to quote a passage from Fawver himself in his introduction (one of the best pieces of “lead in” literature I’ve read in a long while): “While there’s plenty of splatter and shadow in my stories, my explicit intent is neither to shock nor cause bouts of nausea. No, for the most part, the purpose of my fiction is to unsettle. I want my readers to come away from my stories with a chink in their preconceptions and a tremor in their beliefs. If you’re entertained by my work on a visceral level, I’m thrilled. But if my stories also force you to exercise your intellect—even just a little bit—then I’ve truly succeeded as a writer.”
In my humble opinion, Mr. Fawver has more than succeeded in what he set out to accomplish. This is a rich collection of dark gems, every bit as absorbing as the aforementioned Books of Blood. I should also mention that the majority of the “pieces” are illustrated by Luke Spooner, adding yet another terrific layer to the whole. And that cover! You’re wondering what it’s all about, aren’t you? You’re curious, I can tell. Go on, open the box.