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Fiction  |  Novel
256 pages
Perfect-Bound Trade Paperback
ISBN 978-1-938103-40-7
First Edition
Review Copy: Paperback
Dzanc Books
Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA
Available HERE
Review by Eric Shonkwiler

Relentlessly depressing, depraved, dirty, disgusting. More d-words. Dig Dug. That last one is in there because Waste takes place in the 80s, and because Larkhill, Sullivan’s fictional stand-in for Oshawa, Canada, may as well be underground. Waste is, first and foremost, not your typical novel. It’s not your typical Pollock/Palahniuk shock-lit/grit-lit/meth noir, and it’s important to know that, to realize it, preferably before you read the book. Any number of readers could come away from this book without thinking, and they’d shelve the book as the one of the sadder, more ugly things they’ve ever laid eyes on.

Waste follows a few days in the lives of Moses Moon, a sad young skinhead; his lackeys—even sadder than he; and Jamie, Moses’ co-worker, who manages to hit a lion on the streets of Larkhill. Bad fucking luck, right? This collision opens the novel and begins the precipitous decline of these characters, their downright downward spiral, into an even lower plane of misery than that upon which their lives already existed. The lion belongs to a crooked, broken man; one who employs equally broken men, but men with a knack for brutality.

Sullivan takes his time in this novel, such that it’s easy to forget the plot. Everyone gets his turn, his tale told, his little section of the tapestry of Larkhill illuminated. This can be a drag, for sure, but once you remember the title of the novel, and after you (admittedly) slough through your first few extended backstories, you realize that Sullivan is not trying to take you from point A to point B. This is a more complicated journey than that. To get from point A to point B, first Sullivan has to build the road to get there, and it so happens that road passes mouths full of broken teeth, stomped faces, abandoned asylums, and a body hidden in a barrel of fat. Sullivan is creating for his reader several lost generations.

Moses’ father has left both Moses and his mother, Elvira, for the better land of Arizona (which ought to tell you something). Elvira, herself, had her brain stove in by a bowling ball, and she spends her days in a bathtub in Moses’ and her hotel room. Jamie has a failed marriage and a young child named Kansas, and her appearance in the book is perhaps the only, dim, dusty ray of sunshine in the book. Add a suicide/patricide, to taste. Cripples, losers, racists, chained bears, all this and worse in Larkhill. These events, the lives of these characters, swirl together, in a low-hanging metaphorical fruit of a half-clogged toilet draining, to an inevitable but not entirely obvious conclusion.

Despite Waste’s lowbrow trappings, Sullivan has written a deeply moral tale. The plot is secondary. The A to B, above, is not what’s important. What is important is to consider every life in this book; every life spent, abused, trashed, and burned. This is not a farfetched book. It’s our world, with a slight bent to the sinister. These lives are possible—indeed, much of what Sullivan has written comes from records of actual events. And like real life, sometimes you don’t learn from events so much as you witness them. That’s what Sullivan has done here. He’s stood witness to people lost and forgotten, the dross of capitalism, the runoff of greed. Even the villain is a ruined figure, trod upon by his surroundings, by those born into a luckier life than he.

Waste asks of its reader what it asked of its author. See what happens in the everyday grinding of the gears of this world. Remember it. Be sickened. Just don’t be okay with it. In the early pages of the book, Moses is relaying the contents of a TV show to Jamie, on their way home from work. In puffed-up racist fashion, he describes a fire at a school for the mute, and a girl caught in said fire, “melts her whole mouth shut […]. Her skin burns […] like candle wax.” Jamie, sleepily aghast, says, “Moses, why? Why is this something you would tell me?” And Moses’ answer is, essentially, that things can always get worse.

Eric Shonkwiler is the author of the novel, Above All Men, chosen as a Midwest Connections Pick by the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association, and the Luminaire Award for Best Prose-winning short story and novella collection, Moon Up, Past Full. His second novel, 8th Street Power & Light, is forthcoming from MG Press in fall 2016.

• This book was sent to Alternating Current from the publisher after the reviewer had a reading event with the author and brief online interactions over social media. • Permalink • Tag: The Volt •

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