Book Review : Lauren Beukes - Broken Monsters (2014)
Thanks to a renaissance of televisions and the revolution of mobile computing, we're more flooded by entertainment than we've ever were before. I'm convinced it's possible to live and entire life doing nothing else but going to school, working and consuming endless feeds of entertainment. There's already enough existing to last you a lifetime and it keeps pouring out of your televisions, computers and smart devices every day.
Since more people than ever wants us for audience, we've never been as empowered as we are now to choose and customize our entertainment. But how would one define "worthy" entertainment? Common wisdom wants that it's all in the eye of the beholder, but let me argue here that Lauren Beukes' novel Broken Monsters is your next piece of iconic entertainment. I'm not going to argue that it's better than whatever you're into, just that you're all going to enjoy it to some degree. Whoever you are.
Broken Monsters begins with the brutal murder of a young boy in Detroit. It would be an atrocious stereotype if the boy in question wasn't cut in half and the lower part of his body wasn't replaced by the bottom part of a deer. But this grotesque portrait is just the entry point of a dark odyssey detective Gabriella Versado and her daughter Layla are going to undertake in the underbelly of the most violent city in America. It's not all. This life-altering ordeal has tentacles and it will drag restless writer Jonno Haim, homeless man Thomas Keen and an unfathomable dark force into confrontation as well. The answers will lie past what their eyes can see and their heart can feel.
The first thing that floored me about Broken Monsters is that Lauren Beukes made Detroit its protagonist. It's something lots of writers would like to do, but few are doing correctly. More important, Beukes portrays the American Dreamscape of Detroit, rather than a needlessly accurate one. It's an important distinction to me and, I believe, to several non-American readers because Beukes really exploits the mythical power of what used to be Motor City. She obviously did her research, but I don't think she's ever lived there and to other people who've never known the city, the dark alleys, abandoned factories and tattered buildings are crucial to the architecture of the story. Broken Monsters could not have happened anywhere else than Detroit and it could not have happened anywhere else than Dreamscape Detroit because it's a city ready to tear reality to pieces.
"Online's not real," Cas says, bored. "Besides I have to share the PD in the living room with Ben."
"But you don't have a Facebook page or anything," Layla persists.
"Too much effort. It's designed to make you insecure about the amazing better life everyone else is having. You're just feeding the machine."
"It's an anxiety engine.
The reason why I think everyone of you will enjoy Broken Monsters to some degree stems from its fractured and agoraphobic sense of place that will remind readers of already iconic television series True Detective *. The genius of this book is that the pieces themselves are interesting and rather standard, but they bold and genre-bending portrait: the Gabriella Versado chapters are hardboiled mystery, the Layla parts are a Megan Abbott-esque thriller **, Jonno Haim is a blank slate looking to tell the world about Detroit better than Charlie LeDuff did and TK comes right out of David Simon's playbook. All these different stories, these lives that have nothing in common, end up on the same highway to disaster to create a sprawling and atmospheric supernatural mystery like you've never read before.
Broken Monsters is a long and demanding novel featuring a myriad of characters crossing each other's path on paper. It will require your A game, but will deliver a unique and riveting novel with a complexity that rivals the most praised television series. Lauren Beukes' secret is that she rewards you with solid, straightforward storytelling on a page-to-page basis and yet never stops building this crooked Golem you can't really see until it's about to devour you. Broken Monsters blindsides the unsuspecting reader until the very last moment. Lauren Beukes is a narrative alchemist and a standout storyteller, perhaps one of the best we have in the game today and Broken Monsters is like having all your favorite television series telescoped into one lengthy, ambitious super project. I don't know you, but I know you'll like it.
* Both seasons, but more one than two.
* According to the acknowledgements, Abbott was a beta reader for Broken Monsters. Why am I not surprised?