2 February 2018

You Are Among Monsters by Jon R. Flieger

 I'm going to be painfully honest here when I say that I assumed I wouldn't enjoy this book. I have this horrible bias where I often think something that hasn't "made it" to the big-league's yet can't possibly be good. So this should serve as an even greater compliment to how much I enjoyed reading Jon R. Flieger's novel You Are Among Monsters. It crushed my expectations, and I will read any book he writes.

Flieger lives in Windsor, Ontario, and reached out about reviewing his book after seeing Meg's review of Dave Heubert's book Peninsula Sinking. Flieger works with our good friends at Biblioasis and they sent me his book. This book is 189 pages of existential dread. It also focuses on a less-than-happy, long-term couple living in some small town in Alberta. Safe to say, I loved the subject matter.

You Are Among Monsters follows Ian and Becky, a young couple who are fighting the frustration and boredom of being together well out of university. This book was so good because these petty, passive-aggressive arguments are so real. I've been in relationships where I felt like my partner's INFURIATING lack of emotion was driving me insane - or at least drove me to be unnecessarily argumentative. I sadly related to Becky ... and I'll say it was pretty hard to read about a character who is so unlikable and then recognize your own similar behaviour in relationships.

The spiral is not a hopeful shape. We say we spiral out of control. We say we spiral into disasters. We prefer arcs. A life plotted and executed. Rise. Peak. Decline. A death. We want to live in parabola rise crest fall like a wave. Water imagery and our love of narrative. But not true parabola. A happy ending. Any ending. Because even a bad ending is easy to tell. Here is what happened. Here is what went wrong."

Ian is training as a funeral home director, and it is this position that drags Becky with him to a small town in Alberta. She is currently unemployed and is desperately reapplying to graduate schools. This dynamic alone contributes to a lot of the hostility between the two.

While reading you learn a lot about what it would probably be like to work in the funeral business. There is a particularly graphic description of what it's like to have to pick up a body when the deceased died by suicide:

When a suicide is brought in the government coroner has to examine it before we can prep the body. When it's a hanging, the transfer agents or the cops or whoever collects the body is required to leave the ligature around the neck until the coroner examines is. That means the rope or the bed sheets or the sturdy old-fashioned orange extension cord is still on the body when we start work. Once when I was gurneying a transfer past the parents, the cord slipped out from under the sheet. Swinging. And the father groaned deep in his chest with a noise that I still remember and sometimes think I hear."

Ian and Becky grow more distant as the book goes on. Becky becomes obsessed with applying to do her PhD at a school that has previously declined her admittance three times. She starts stealing books from the university library and starts work on an application topic that is questionably factual-based. She also starts getting hammered alone.

Meanwhile Ian starts hanging out with a high school girl whose mother was murdered and whose body Ian picked up on his first day at work. This girl made me uneasy the entire time... you don't know what her intentions are and why she wants to keep meeting with Ian. It doesn't help that she describes her world view in such pessimistic terms:

Everyone is young until they're not. But the world runs on malice. And I want to learn how to make use of mine."

Like all idiot men, Ian is attracted to this girl even though he knows she is like 10 years younger than him. He notes the irony of meeting with her for the first time and her reading Lolita. 

There are a ton of lines in this book that really struck me. The entire time I was reading this book I was so impressed with Flieger, and I am so happy to be able to add another Canadian author to my bookshelf.

Telling horror stories is one way to avoid telling true stories, maybe."

Anyways, I'm definitely changing my tune about up-and-coming authors. And you all should too.

1 comment:

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