Garrett Cook, “Crisis Boy” (2018) – After several novels — most prominently “Murderland,” “A God of Hungry Walls,” and the bravura “Time Pimp” — Garrett Cook (interest declared- a friend of mine and I once rescued him from Punxsutawney Pennsylvania, true story) has established a distinctive horror voice. This comes through most clearly in his latest, a story about a boy who can survive gunshots and explosions, who is deployed to the sites of terrorist attacked and mass shootings to be killed, over and over again. He’s a crisis actor, except he actually gets hurt, and the events he undermines actually happen.
Cook comes to us from the “bizarro” horror scene, a sort of dada/pop-surrealist offshoot of extreme horror. Truth be told, I don’t get much out of the genre- a lot of strikes me as try-hard edginess. I’m hardly the target audience- I always cocked a snoot at horror in general. I was reading about the Holocaust at six and spent years of my life with Vietnam war documents. I play board games about bloody counterinsurgency wars for fun. Serial killers don’t mean that much to me.
So needless to say I was square enough going in that, friendship with Garrett aside, I was unsure about the premise. “Why,”said the reviewer, like a square, “would they need crisis actors if the massacres happen, in gruesome detail?” Well, because fuck you, that’s why, Cook tells us. Because the world is run by monsters of every conceivable type and they just want to fuck with people, get people online convinced that what they see isn’t real, and squabble over which parts are or aren’t.
John the Crisis Boy decides to try to turn the tables because he meets a pretty girl. Of course, it gets all messed up, and even though he kills the monster — a slasher villain turned patriotic superhero, a nice touch — he winds up demonized as the sort of killer who has killed him numerous times, and in a crumbling reality to boot. It’s hard to tell what exactly goes on in this crumbling reality and whether his existence is real or a projection of the sort of damaged psyche his existence is meant to inflame. That’s something of a problem with this sort of fiction- endings. Especially if you’re not going to go with a nihilistic copout, which Cook generally refuses to do.
All of this — the crumbling reality, John’s teenaged angst, and the scenes of gore and extreme depravity — are carried along by Cook’s voice, which makes everyone a knowing but predetermined actor in the grand guignol of life in a Garrett Cook story. The narrator and most of the characters accept the absurd dream logic of their given scenarios and speak them aloud. This helps avoid letting things get too cute or too melodramatic, a difficult balancing act. Whatever you want to say about this sort of horror as a whole, Garrett’s provocations are part of something larger he’s doing, and the last thing he ever was was a try-hard. ****