Review: Last Days by Brian Evenson

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My first experience with Evenson’s work was far too brief, but there is a complete story masterfully composed by an author who can tell the readers a lot without telling us anything at all. As a reader who absolutely dreads long, expository interludes, Evenson’s Last Days serves as a clinical approach for writers who want to learn how to craft a story that comes to life within the reader’s imagination; the audience is fully invested in the strange, violent adventure that pits a former undercover detective against a fanatical religious cult whose core belief revolves around amputation.

The protagonist, Kline, is neatly used to serve as a first-person focal point without the narrative itself using first-person point of view. Nearly everything Kline says or does can prompt a reaction, and more often than not, questions. *POSSIBLE THEMATIC SPOILER* Kline is offered to the reader with very little background or psychology that might help us explain why he makes specific decisions, because he is offered to us as sort of an empty vessel who unwillingly becomes filled by the Brother of Mutilation’s atrocious values. As Kline begins to realize or accept who or what he is, his shedding of the metaphysical self parallels the physical shedding conducted by the Brotherhood in its effort to bring its followers closer to God. The cult’s purpose isn’t necessarily a plot twist, though Evenson is able to convince us that Kline may have been spiritually bankrupt, or at the very least, ignorant, as the cult’s purpose seems rather obvious (in the vein of many common religious practices,  sacrifice/suffering is often a means by which someone is brought closer to their god figure). The fact that Kline doesn’t know this, or at least does not want to acknowledge the idea, comes on the heels of a misadventure in which his role as an infiltrator may have reduced his sense of self (Kline had to become a different person in order to complete his objective, which concluded with a moment of violence that seemingly reflected his transformation into the alternate person who was never Kline in the first place).

Evenson’s novel can easily be read in a single sitting, because like Kline, the reader suffers from the want of knowledge (an idea that is presented to Kline as his inherent flaw). This need drives us between sharp, witty phrases of dialogue that feel natural, with the story’s progression not being the plot, but rather, Evenson’s ability to compel us to challenge ourselves to move forward and acquire some version of the truth or knowledge just as Kline does. The minimalist prose really slowed to a horrific crawl during every scene that involved physical pain, and the repetitive nature of the descriptions caused me to squirm a bit and skim because I was able to experience the same sensations. Evenson was able to transform ME into Kline, or Kline into me, for a few hours.

Well-executed, stark and relevant. I was engrossed by Evenson’s ability to provide a literary experience that mixed elements of mystery with a suspenseful action-caper that allowed me an opportunity to witness the story and participate in the unraveling-raveling of a man’s spiritual journey. Even more important: it’s a damn fun story without any of the literary analysis, and one can suggest there isn’t any kind of journey at all…

Five out of five stars.


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