Thursday, May 25, 2017

Book Review: Yes Trespassing by Erik T. Johnson

Before you read any further—if you’re looking for popcorn fiction, head elsewhere. Yes Trespassing is not what you are looking for. Maybe it’s what you need somewhere down the line, but you’re not quite ready for it at this point in your life. However, if you have time to enjoy a 12-course meal of literary weirdness, welcome to this review.

It’s difficult to place Johnson’s short fiction in a convenient box, which is a good thing where I come from. Is it horror? Sometimes yes, and when it is operating in that territory (for instance, in the first couple of stories in this book), it’s unsettling. It’s essentially what I hope the future of horror fiction looks like. No cheap, convenient scares or cliché approaches. Just something that feels wrong. Something that slices a thin pouch in your flesh and slides right in, making itself right at home, scraping its claws from inside every chance it gets. Is it literary fiction? Without a doubt (at least based on how I define it), though certainly on the darker/stranger side. And it’s this unclassifiable strangeness that pervades every word Johnson writes.

Which brings me to my next point. I suspect Johnson is the type of writer who obsesses over each word and sentence to unhealthy degrees, perhaps losing far too much sleep until everything on the page is exactly as his warped brain sees it. If this is not the case, then I hate his guts because he shouldn’t have so many perfect sentences in one 400+ page book. It shouldn’t be legal. I could probably point to any page in the book and find a line that dumbfounds me. However, the story “Blumenkrank” begins with one of the best opening lines I’ve read in a while: “Because Brother hung himself from our chandelier with fine silk ties, mother and I had to take in a boarder.”

The stories are all over the place, from creepy to brain melting to hilarious. More than a few of these tales feature a private investigator named Martin Box, and they often evolve into the most bizarre of the bunch. My favorite story in the collection is “‘Do You Sing?’ Asked Xavier Steen,” a strangely poignant and touching piece of fiction, not something I ever thought I’d find myself saying about a story featuring a major plot point that involves the murder of a True Norwegian black metal band’s vocalist.

I must say, I really love the design of this book. Maybe this doesn’t matter to the average reader, but it matters if you care about the unlimited potential of art. The entire front cover contains a short story, several stories have been omitted but are apparently accessible via a QC code, there are many enigmatic handwritten notes throughout as well as brief conversations between writer and editor, and there is even a page you can tear out and use as a bookmark if you so desire.

I’m not going to pretend I understand what is happening in all of these stories. Some of them, frankly, went over my head, yet I was still engaged by the sheer force of the language. But Johnson has written a collection of stories that command attention, that demand multiple reads. I’m sure I’ll be returning to this book at least a couple more times in my lifetime, simply because I WANT to better understand the madness that is Erik T. Johnson.

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