“Between Two Fires”/What I am Reading/What I have Finished

Regular readers of this blog will know of my fondness for the band Cannibal Corpse. And, to be honest, one of the things I like about them is a consistent product. When you buy the new Cannibal Corpse record, you’re going to hear Cannibal Corpse songs. The newer albums will have better production, and they have ramped down on the misogyny in their lyrics. But you’re getting songs about dismemberment, gore, and maybe zombies, all with the most fuckin’ br00tal death metal that they know how to do. 

I don’t do a lot of reading about authors. I mean, I started (and haven’t finished) a biography about Virginia Woolf, and I did some reading about author’s lives when I was in college, but these days I get book recommendations from random places, and a lot of the authors I read are contemporary; I didn’t read about Christopher Buehlman in college because he didn’t write in the 50s or whatever. Someone recommended “The Lesser Dead” to me, and I read it, and when I saw he had some other books, I picked one and read it. While “The Lesser Dead” was an interesting, plot driven ‘modern’ take on vampires, “Between Two Fires” is… something else entirely. I was expecting Cannibal Corpse, but it was more like PJ Harvey— someone who reinvents themselves with every album; the sound and tone and tenor of everything was so different it was almost jarring. I’m still trying to decide if that has colored my impression of the book too greatly. 

And of course, Buehlman is free to do whatever he wants. Expecting a writer to occupy a single niche and do variations on a theme is a kind of madness. Some of that madness is borne of ‘horror’, which is a genre that fans and creators kind of lock into. Like Cannibal Corpse, we’re expecting variations on a theme, not say, a country album. 

And I may be overstating my case. “Between Two Fires” is, in a fashion, a horror novel. Horrific things happen in it, there is a great, monstrous evil, and the descriptions of the monsters and evil are sufficiently repugnant as to make me want to warn someone squeamish against reading it. 

Buehlman, as it turns out, is something of a polymath, at least according to his wikipedia page (which reads a whole lot like it was written by an agent). A poet, comedian, performer of one-man shows, speaker of a few different languages. His new novel (which is somewhere on the list™) is apparently a straight up fantasy novel. So yeah, my expectations were off. 

That having been said, I admired the book more than I liked it. It’s a largely episodic novel, following a Knight, a Priest, and a Girl as they travel through the plague ridden countryside of France for reasons that only become clear as the novel progresses. It’s first half felt very murky and purposeless to me— there’s lots of interconnected story but not the overarching plot isn’t there. With a more assured hand, this sort of thing can work, but it did not for me. However, I am a persistent bastard, and that paid off to some degree as things become clearer.

This really should be my thing— we have religious themes (this is the only novel I have ever read which features a Harrowing of Hell), gore, and generally tight interesting writing. But by the end I was ready for it all to be over. And I can’t put my finger on *why*. As a critic, even an amateur one, this poses a dilemma. I should be able to articulate what’s ‘wrong’, but I don’t really find fault with it; the problems I did have were fairly minor (there’s a fondness for ‘minor miracles’ within the narrative, I was a little distracted by). So, it’s not you “Between two Fires”, it’s me. Sorry.

What I am Reading:

“Moby Dick”— as seen in the last entry, the Wretched Sea calls again. At this pace, I might be done with it by the end of the year.

“The Map and the Territory”— Michel Houellebecq’s novel about an artist. It’s like some weird mirror image of Fosse. 

“Drysine Legacy”— part two of “The Spiral Wars”. It’s a potboiler! I liked the first book a great deal, and the second is following suit. 

What I Just Finished:

“A New Name”— the conclusion to Jon Fosse’s ‘Septology’ and I don’t have enough superlatives for the work as a whole. The last volume concerns itself with aging, letting go, and grapples with the idea of God in a deep and profound manner. 

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