Book Review : Brian Evenson - Song for the Unraveling of the World (2019)
It’s not that easy to explain why Brian Evenson is such a unique and fascinating writer. He writes horror that’s not really horror. Author John Clute claimed Evenson is writing terror rather than horror, which is the closest thing to an actual definition I can think of. His work is very much an acquired taste, but it’s perhaps the best thing you can read if you enjoy the feeling of horror without having to deal with ghost, evil spirits and stuff like that. Brian Evenson writes about the unknowable and our ever-complexifying relationship to reality. Does that make sense?
Song for the Unraveling of the World is his brand new collection of 22 short stories that are just about that.
Brian Evenson doesn’t exactly reinvent himself here. Song for the Unraveling of the World is filled with his best-known thematic obsessions: vaguely unlikable protagonists with Germanic sounding names (what’s up with that, huh?), empty buildings with threatening auras, dreadful and dreamlike realities, etc. Of course, Evenson rarely explains what the hell is going on. He simply puts you through it and to me, this is some third degree black belt horror writing skill. Horror is always more efficient if the audience is left to connect the dots by itself. Anticipation scenarios are always scarier than reality.
My favorite story in Song for the Unraveling of the World is perhaps A Disappearance, which features two men who grow suspicious of one another after a woman’s death. She was one of the men’s wife and the other’s “friend”. Outside of the fun, Gillian Flynn-esque mystery it offers, A Disappearance explores how easy it can be to manipulate reality and appearances by withholding information. It works on the characters and the audience in the same manner. While this one doesn’t leave you questioning the nature of reality, it will make you question the motives of everyone in it! It was a cool throwback to Evenson’s signature novel Last Days.
Other stories I liked: the quiet and unsettling Sisters, which was unfortunately one sentence too long (when you read it, you’ll know what I mean); Born Stillborn, which blurs the line between reality, mindscaping and dreamscaping; The Tower, a disquieting meditation on our relationship to the world we’ve built and, of course, Lather of Flies, which I had already read in the Lost Films anthology. What these all have in common is their protagonist’s increasingly dislocated relationship to reality. They become unable to discern if what they experience is real or mapped by the confines of their own mind. In a weird way, it’s a condition that unites us all.
There you have it. Song for the Unraveling of the World is Brian Evenson doing what he does best: making us afraid of our own relationship to reality. He’s not exactly breaking new ground like had done in Immobility or The Warren, but it’s not what short story collections are for. These are either reserved for really cool concepts or for devoted fans of a writer and Song for the Unraveling of the World falls in that second category. If you want to get into Brian Evenson, read Last Days or The Open Curtain first. If you liked these, then Song for the Unraveling of the World is for you.