Book Review : Ed Kurtz - The Rib from Which I Remake the World (2016)
It's tough to get scared in 2017. The internet makes it way too hard. Everything is a Google search away from becoming explainable and harmless, so there's too few boogeyman walking the streets. So, they scariest novels today either project a future reality (zombie apocalypse, wasteland narratives) or invent a timeless place where the rules of reality are suspended, like Ed Kurtz' novel The Rib from Which I Remake the World does. There is nowhere to hide if you don't know where you're safe, am I right?
And it kind of works. The Rib from Which I Remake the World is not the scariest thing I've ever read, but it ranged between unsettling and downright creepy.
There are two protagonists in this novel: Jojo, a hotel detective in a small Arkansas town in mid-century America and Theodora, an abused housewife desperately looking for a way out of her situation. When a traveling roadshow airing "hygiene pictures" about the horrors of pre-marital sex rolls into town, it disrupts their respective misery and offers them a much needed distraction until, of course, someone ends of dead. And it's not any kind of murder. It's a hyperviolent and gruesome execution that foreshadows the roadshow's real reasons for coming to Litchfield.
So, The Rib from Which I Remake the World is a revisionist mid-century novel about religion in America. I mean, it's a horror novel too but we'll get to that later. It makes the interesting claim that virtue doesn't come from religion, but from suffering. Both protagonists are sporting scars from a difficult past. Jojo's face is physically scarred, but he also wears the burden of a painful past. Theodora is also suffering in her abusive marriage, which prompts her into action.
I thought it was super duper interesting because originally, virtue comes from suffering in religion. The Rib from Which I Remake the World makes a powerful statement about contemporary religion in America: you don't need to make a spectacle of your faith to be righteous. Those who do often hide themselves behind it.
About this horror thing. There's a lot of violent, gory stuff happening in this book and it's kind of scary? I mean, gore, in and of itself, isn't scary at all. It's just repulsive. Ed Kurtz manages to make his nightmare landscapes scary, though and it's by creating a place of ignorance to go with it. Let me explain: none of Kurtz' gory scenes in The Rib from Which I Remake the World are final and self-explanatory until the very end. They're always the result of something happening off page. The symptom if you will.
That's how you successfully terrify people. By creating horrifying scenes and not explaining anything about it. The protagonists of The Rib from Which I Remake the World are confronted to these scenes and don't have resources to make sense of them. It's why it was so smart from Ed Kurtz to set his novel in mid-century America. If this happened in 2017, it would be analyzed by sociologists, geologists, demonologists and there would be twelve think pieces written about it on Slate.
The Rib from Which I Remake the World is a pretty cool horror novel with something important to say about religion. And it makes that statement without drawing too much attention to it, which is pretty rad. It's still an eerie, atmospheric and action-packed horror novel. That makes it a prime candidate for a spooky, Halloween night reading. I mean, you're not going to finish it in one sitting (it's a 300 pages novel), but it will offer your some genuine atmospheric thrills. Think of it like Stephen King meets Texas Chainsaw Massacre on drugs. Sounds fun, doesn't it? Can't beat smart and freaky.