The Suburbs 2012 C.F. Roberts
When a sin goes too far, it's like a runaway car. It cannot be controlled.”
- “The Blue Mask” Lou Reed
If humanity was represented by a patchwork quilt, then there would be sections that
are interconnected by dried blood, bad history and other sundry biohazards. Throw in some black-as-an -oil-spill humor and some of the most simultaneously unflinching, lyrical and expertly crafted writing that I have read in a long time, then you are skirting right into the territory of Hank Kirton's novel, “Conservatory of Death.”
“Conservatory” is a book that provides a view into a world littered with serial killers, perma-damaged childhoods and a snuff obsessed culture that would rather wallow and perpetuate in death than prevent it. There is a truth to this world view, which makes the proceedings all the more creepy. In fact the title is a reference to a series of Mondo Morte tapes, ala Faces of Death, Traces of Death, Death Scenes et al. These tapes are made and released by Swatt Winston, a young, stoned out man whose memories are occasionally flooded with shards of childhood trauma, all revolving around his cult musician father, Zachary Winston.
In Swatt's orbit, we meet his sister Betty, the formerly named Benevolent, a nurse who looks after elderly patients who are infirm and are on their way out. Then there is Chunk and Janet, a power-couple of serial murder, sexual torture and aching stupidity. Littering the background is an equally colorful crew of characters, including a long forgotten silent film star, a young writer mired in meth and hooking and one intensely vile, horrible old man.
This is a book that manages to find that precarious balance that so few works that dip into deep, violent territories do. Kirton's writing manages to be firm, uncompromising and yet at times, strangely beautiful and even poetic, when it needs to be. This is not a book for the squeamish but then again, good art should never make you just squeamish, but also curious and captivated. This is exactly what “Conservatory” will do.
All of the characters hold true, to the extent where you can easily picture every little unmentioned flaw, whether it is the vaguely stank smell of stale weed to fine facial lines and chicken pox scars. It is these details that will undoubtedly make the book a harder pill to swallow for some. Not unlike the real world, this is a book where everyone's got a demon, to the point where some folks will swallow them whole and become their demon. But this is why it is so good, because Kirton obviously knows his characters and displays an intrinsic degree of understanding with them, no matter how putrid or heartbreaking their actions may be. There's nothing worse than a writer going through the motions, much like a dead eyed stripper grinding against your leg, who looks like she would rather be clipping chewed gum out of her hair than to be within 50 feet of your touch-starved self. Thankfully, this is far from the case.
It is this type of literary purity, not to mention the wholly uniqueness of Kirton's voice that make this a standout work. “Conservatory of Death” is like a primal scream that collapses into a tear and blood stained whimper, all in the best possible of ways. Kudos to Jim Lopez at Antique Children for publishing such a brave, bold work.
If you love great fiction that is uncompromising and lovely in its language, no matter how extreme the situations can get, then do pick up Hank Kirton's “Conservatory of Death.” It is a novel that is not easy to forget, both due to the quality of writing and the tapestry of human violence and misery.