Author: Kaaron Warren
Publisher: Angry Robot
Publication Date: July 1, 2009 (UK release) / October 2009 (US Release)
Paperback: 528 pages
Stand Alone or Series: Stand alone novel.
Why did I read this book: As official ensigns of the Angry Robot Army, we were offered
Summary: (from AngryRobot.com)
Stephanie is a killer. After an accident in which her mother dies, she has a near-death experience and finds herself in a room full of people – everyone she’s ever pissed off. They clutch at her, scratch and tear at her. But she finds herself drawn back to this place, again and again, determined to unlock its secrets. Which means she has to die, again and again.
And she starts to wonder whether other people see the same room… when they die.
What should have happened was this:
We got a taxi home.
These brief words mark the beginning of Stevie’s story. After a celebratory lunch with her mother and a few glasses of wine, Stevie drives home. She swerves out of the way of what she thinks is a child in the road and slams into a wall, killing her mother in the passenger seat. Stevie nearly dies, remembering her mother’s screams and awakens in a cold, dark room smelling of mothballs and shit and pain, surrounded by angry faces with unblinking eyes. She lives though, revived back to the world of the living, but Stevie remembers the cold room. The many faces that surrounded her are people from her past and her life; they are the faces of everyone she has ever slighted, and Stevie knows they are waiting to destroy her. It becomes Stevie’s fascination, this cold room at the edge of death, and she tries to revisit it again and again.
I’m not sure how to write this review.
I don’t think I have the words to describe how dark and depraved and strangely, perversely heartbreaking Slights is.
The official synopsis and my own above barely scratch the surface of what this novel is truly about. Yes, Stevie is addicted to her near death experiences, and yes, there is an unsettling mystery of old bones and trinkets and murder in this novel. And yet…this doesn’t do Slights justice. This is a twisted memoir; a pastiche of Stevie’s life; an unrelenting suicide note. Every chapter unfolds in yearly increments – each separated by Stevie’s birthdays following the death of her mother – and gradually reveals Stevie’s past, with her troubled childhood, overlayed with the present gradual deterioration of all her relationships, eventually culminating in her complete and total alienation. Slights is impossible to skim or rush through because of the nature of these chapters, flitting from memory to present, narrated in Stevie’s minimalist, yet darkly chimerical voice. There is a tenuous thread of plot, but this is much more of an examination of character over time than it is a mystery or a linear story.
But as difficult as Slights is to classify, it is infinitely more difficult to put down. I could not stop reading this book, plain and simple. Even when the subject matter involved pedophilia, bitterly painful family scenes, brutality, murder, or – most disturbing of all – the echoing loneliness of despair, I could not tear myself away from this book. Stevie, in her first person narration, is the book, and for all her sociopathic flaws, I couldn’t help but feel for her. Certainly, it’s not Stevie’s intent (nor Ms. Warren’s) to win any sympathies from the reader – like everyone else in her life, Stevie is antagonism personified, pushing away anyone that tries to get close to her, mocking the amiability and affection of others as weakness. And yet, at the heart of Stevie’s noxious thoughts, buried beneath her indifference and venom, she’s just a very messed up person reaching for attention. And having insight to her thoughts, free of pretense, as well as her disturbing past and family heritage, well…it allows the reader to at least understand why Stevie is who she is.
It is testament to Ms. Warren’s skill as a writer that she can inspire any feelings of sympathy at all in this book, especially considering the dark nature of the subject matter. The writing, in itself, is flawless. This is not hyperbole. Her bare-bones writing style, completely free of excessive adjectives or unnecessary descriptions (a style that one reviewer has aptly labeled as “minimalistic”), and the entirely convincing voice of her narrator is brilliant. The writing, effective characterization, and the sheer rawness of Slights makes this a visceral read, and one of the best horror novels I have read not only in 2009, but in years.
Ms. Warren’s brand of terror isn’t of the popular gore or the usual supernatural variety; instead, she drags us through the horror of apathy, the terror of what lurks beneath the veneer of the usual and commonplace.
And it is frankly terrifying how great a book this is.
Notable Quotes/Parts: An excerpt of the excellent first chapter of Slights is available online at Angry Robot, HERE. Check it out for yourself, if you don’t believe me.
Additional Thoughts: Slights marks one of two launch titles for Angry Robot, the new Harper Collins imprint specializing in Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and WTF?
Slights will be released in the UK & Australia on July 1, 2009 and will hit stores in the US in September. You can pre-order the book online at Amazon UK.
Verdict: Slights is a forceful, harrowing read, and is not only the best horror novel but one of the best books I have read in 2009. Be warned, this is a dark read and certainly isn’t for everyone…but I loved it. Absolutely recommended, for those with a strong constitution.
Rating: 9 Damn Near Perfection
Reading Next: Namaah’s Kiss by Jacqueline Carey