What do you get when you mix a murderous house, ten thousand monkeys in hell typing up Shakespeare, and a psychic shark? Marshall Moore’s Infernal Republic. The republic spreads throughout the world, from Hong Kong to San Francisco to New York and Amsterdam. The thematic creed that binds the stories together is an autopsy of human nature, excised one strip at a time. Elements of science fiction and horror are present, and the stories are not for the squeamish, especially in some scenes of violence and sexuality. But the brutal candor is part of the allure of the collection— it has an integrity that makes sure you never feel cheated. The stories burst with imagination, highlighted by the humor in each tale that both enlightens and disturbs.
One of my favorite stories is Filth and Splendor: A Love Story, a tale of superheroes, which, like most of the other stories, upturns any expectations about the genre. The protagonist’s special power is moving people’s bowels— he can make people shit, urinate, or orgasm at will. Exploring a community of superheroes rife with jealousies, politics, and the struggle up the corporate ladder, it’s the Love aspect that makes this story intriguing. Our hero is attracted to the new transfer from Seoul, Melody Park, who has a ghastly power of her own.
Flesh, Blood, and Some of the Parts is a story about suicide, or at least the inevitability and inexplicability of self-destruction. It’s told from the perspective of a school counselor who has to deal with one of his students continually committing suicide. In order to prevent him from another suicide attempt, his parents detach his arms, and then his legs, finally leaving him only with a head. All this to “protect” him, a cure more horrific than the disease. It’s the moments the counselor shares with his boyfriend that resonate as he reflects on the death wish that has wracked his student with a fatal sense of youthful angst.
The prose throughout the collection is disturbingly visceral, but always insightful. I still remember the portable house in Everything Has Been Arranged (or, Chamomile Tea at 10,000 Feet) and the graphic finality of a case of misidentity in Certain Shades of Blue Look Green, Depending on the Light. Here’s a segment from the story, Metropolitan, that was particularly striking:
There’s a fine distinction to be drawn between Stalker and Secret Admirer. In a less criminal era, more people welcomed displays of affection or interest from strangers. One did not worry about being kidnapped and tortured by love-deprived lunatics. The flowers weren’t dipped in poison; the box of chocolates didn’t contain a bomb. Today, though, in our terrified world, the old canard about strangers being friends you haven’t met yet has lost whatever shreds of meaning it once held. Today, you fear everyone. You have to. We’re all closet madmen waiting for the right moment to light the fuse or stick the knife in.
It’s those closet madmen that Moore unflinchingly exposes— the museum is wide open and the gallery hauntingly lingers long after the initial viewing. The story, In Springtime, You Can Hear the Swallows Screaming, is about an unnamed celebrity undergoing therapy. Except the therapy isn’t just a trip to a fancy spa, but a process guaranteed to render change through the use of unconventional means, including torture. The hypocrisies of society are laid bare and a strong sense of justice abounds as everyone deserves what they get.
In fact, each of the stories poses a question and a dilemma. Sometimes, they’re discomfiting, but they’re always provocative, causing the reader to see quandaries like compassion and justice in a different light. Cast off the characters, the dialogue, the setting, and what do you have? An idea, however twisted.
The idea behind Town of Thorns is love amidst change. Wade loves Michael, but Michael’s been the victim of a homophobic hate crime. The attack leaves him in a coma and when he recovers, he’s driven towards a violent metamorphosis, symbolized by a series of tattoos Michael gets. One of the most gripping moments comes in a taut exchange between the two:
“Ever since your head injury, your personality has changed. You used to be this sweet, caring guy. I used to think you were crazy about me. Now it’s like…”
“Like what? I don’t love you anymore?”
“Your tone of voice and the way you look at me? They tell me everything I need to know. You’ve been sneering at me ever since you came out of that coma. I don’t deserve your scorn,” Wade said. He stared at the burgundy thimble of wine in the bottom of his glass. Not worth lifting it up to drink. “Especially not when I’m supporting you right now.”
“So what you’re trying to say is, if I can’t be my old sweet self, and be nice to you, get the hell out, right? Is that it? You want me to get the fuck out of here?”
If someone described a book as infernal, it would usually connote something unpleasant. In this case, it’s praise, an evocative description for Marshall Moore’s Infernal Republic. The stories are a disparate union where everyone of any race or gender is welcome. Pledge your allegiance because you’re a member whether you realize it or not.
Written by Peter Tieryas Liu www.tieryasxu.com