My wife, who reads mostly cookbooks, medical journals, and novels by foreign authors, asked me, "what'ya readin?" I replied, "Mr. Shivers". "Wow, just the name," she smiled, "has got me, ah, shivering with fear!" I rose to defend genre literature. She laughed in my face. "Well, shiver me timbers, a lost cause," she wrapped, turning on heel and out the door. I couldn't sway her quip while her jaunty backside receded, and I wanted to at least defend what I was reading. Wished I woulda thrown the book at her and never picked it up again.
Because, at that point, I hadn't hit that hallucinatory third act. I was moseying along with our grim protagonist Marcus Connelly, picking up tidbits about living through the dusty apocalypse of the '30s Great Depression from the weepy eyesockets of broken farmers, grease-dirty, rail-ridin' hobos, vagrant families and hostile shopkeepers while trudging through blowing dust, waste, and abandonment, staggering on to their next, unseen meal. Oklahoma, the Dust Bowl. An apt name for a desolate, infertile landscape festering for its coming acquisition by the commander of Death himself, Mr. Shivers.
Like in the delineative world of PACs, the emphasis here is on gettin' there, not in through what or with whom. The characters are certainly serviceable, but as barren of complex personalities as the atmosphere is of revealing enough frills to make you comfortably live there while reading. The leading man, Connelly, is like der Golem, tumultuously punching at the button in front of him. Revenge. Gotta make you pay. Revenge. Kill you like you did my daughter. Revenge.
Seems like a worthy quest from an Earthworld gettin' rapidly re-made into something like Mars. But, dude, how do you do Death dead?
The vignettes of peril along the way for our band of Fearless Death Hunters is the read. The nagging how? is the burning fuse that extinguishes at the door labled Cosmology. It's all a mumble of The Rapture and worlds "twined together"(p.262), as Death walks in both. Connelly the Conqueror shuffles Death and death, figuring that killing the physical apparition will take out what he represents, saying "if we kill the Death of this world, well. Maybe we change it"(p.263).
But then Connelly's ego lets us contemplate that "if the world refuses to be right then you just have to force it"(p.250). Let's see, who said that last century? Hitler? Stalin?
I think, just like those guys, Connelly secretly wants to be immortal and it's all a game of Bait & Switch.
Mr. Shivers, c.2010, is Bennett's debut novel. I had less luck with his third one, The Troupe, c.2012, a Creepy Carnival work(1) which lost me in the Funhouse of Mirrors before I hit the three-digit pages. I have discarded his fourth, American Elsewhere, c.2013.