Craig Wallwork - Here, there are talking camels, and should you ever want to crawl back into the womb and begin a fresh, birth can be reversed. Wishes can be granted, ugly can be erased, and those without ardor or enthusiasm can be nymphomaniacs by pinning a photograph upon a wall
Craig Wallwork, Quintessence of Dust, Kuboa Press, 2012.
Quintessence of Dust delivers a world where the Minotaur exists in modern society, drinks in bars and is scared of the dark. Where to lose memories and extract all the pain you’ve brought on others is easily achieved by pulling twine from your rectum. It is a world where the Devil is an old man digging a hole to Hell in his garden, and romance is nurtured by spearing an umbrella through the chest of a winged demon. Here, there are talking camels, and should you ever want to crawl back into the womb and begin a fresh, birth can be reversed. Wishes can be granted, ugly can be erased, and those without ardor or enthusiasm can be nymphomaniacs by pinning a photograph upon a wall. In this world the girth of a neck can bring on suicide, sleep can summon death and people can live within the inner ear canal of others. The streets are always crimson. People are broken. Lust is a commodity measured out in chocolate, and love is lost more than it is conquered.
Craig Wallwork, The Sound of Loneliness, Perfect Edge Books, 2013.
read it at Google Books
Manchester in 1991 is a town suffering under the weight of high unemployment and massive government budgetary deficits that is plunging the UK into a recession. To Daniel Crabtree, a struggling writer, it is the backcloth to his first novel, one that will see him become a famous published author. Living off mostly water and flour, Daniel has embraced penury into his life under the mistaken belief that many young artists have: one needs to suffer for success in art. But Daniel is a terrible writer. In the three years since signing on the dole, of every morning chastising his Irish singing neighbour for waking him from his sleep, and scrounging food from his close friend Henry Soperton, Daniel Crabtree has produced one short story. His heart is bereft of words as much as his pockets are of money.
It is a story of love, and how a poor starving man chasing a dream came to the understanding that amidst the clamour of life, the sound of loneliness is the most deafening of all.
Set in Manchester, England in 1991, The Sound of Loneliness follows desolate narrator Daniel Crabtree from his dreary apartment, to drearier pubs, and back again. Although Daniel is ostensibly a writer, he has only completed a single short story thus far, and has dreams of making it big, though little ambition beyond charging his friend “in publishing” with getting someone interested in the story.
Living off his monthly unemployment checks, Daniel begs or borrows (and occasionally steals) everything, from food and drink to the shabby furnishings in his apartment. Too proud to admit to his family that he is a starving artist, he makes up grandiose tales of his success for both his mother and uncle’s benefit. Is he kidding himself, or does he really think that this one story will one day make a name for him?
It’s hard to tell, as Daniel often comes off as delusional, thanks to his overinflated ego. Despite the fact that he occasionally realizes how awful his writing is, he continues to rage against the publishing industry that rejects him, do the bare minimum to receive his monthly welfare checks, and otherwise continue his sad existence.
If this sounds like a tale you’ve heard before, you’re right. The UK apparently has thousands – perhaps millions – of these aspiring author types, living off the government, avoiding an honest day’s work, and seemingly in thrall to the falsehood that suffering and poverty make Great Art. What makes Craig Wallwork’s book different than the dime-a-dozen plot is that the author himself sees through this ruse, and shows his audience what suffering and poverty really bring. To wit: bitterness, hatred, a growling belly, growing insanity, debt, and the inability to change one’s position in life.
Oh, and let’s not forget the alcoholism, for it wouldn’t be a tale of soul-crushing poverty in the UK without the omnipresent pub!
Oddly enough, though I thoroughly detested Daniel Crabtree as a character, I found Wallwork’s book quite engaging. Perhaps it was the dreary day that lent an English air to my reading, requiring a hot cup of tea and a purring cat for accompaniment, but I found myself curious to see where this sad sack (Daniel, that is) would take me. Though Daniel is, indeed, a terrible writer (and would be a terrible human being, were he real), readers might take pleasure in seeing him so thoroughly thwarted by his sorry attempts at publishing. After all, if the cream rises to the top, there will always be the chunks of whey and assorted detritus to sink to the bottom. What of these would-be writers?
They are the Daniel Crabtrees of the world, persistently beating their own heads against the wall, perpetuating the sorry stereotype of the starving artist, who suffers humiliations for his art. And yet here we see that this humiliations are not really for art’s sake at all. They are merely the pride that goeth before the character’s fall. Is it still a tragedy when one’s tragic flaw is the belief that one is actually better than all of the fools he reads about in books?
Though The Sound of Loneliness is truly a portrait of a young man desperate to become an artist who will likely never succeed, and thus a rather dismal view for aspiring authors, it is perhaps a more realistic take on artistic dreams. After all, we cannot all go from rags to riches, à la J.K. Rowling. Some of us will fail. And what then? - Laura Roberts
You’re having dinner at a fancy restaurant. Suddenly, all conversation stops and cutlery ceases to plink against loaded dishes. Everyone is staring at a very elegant woman who just walked in and is making her way to an empty table. She’s the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen. Judging by the gaping mouths of both male and female patrons around you, the feeling is unanimous. She reaches the table and removes her coat in one swift motion. A few gasps are heard. The woman’s arms are covered with hideous track marks. The dichotomy is overwhelming, but you can’t stop looking at her. It’s as if her unsightly darkened veins make her simultaneously ugly and unique, flawed but more interesting. Instead of sitting down, the junkie belle climbs on top of the table, spits on it, and introduces herself: “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m Craig Wallwork’s prose.”
The Sound of Loneliness follows Daniel Crabtree, a struggling writer who dreams about becoming a famous published author. To do so, he has left the comfort of home and embraced hunger and poverty, which is not hard to come by in Machester, England, in the early ’90s. The thought of publishing to critical acclaim and becoming rich because of it consumes Daniel, but thinking about writing and writing are too very different things. So far, he has written one short story, and the feedback has not been encouraging. However, Daniel is convinced that it’s only a matter of time before he catapults to literary superstardom. While waiting for that to happen, he survives with the bit of money he gets from unemployment, most of which he spends on pints, and looks at everyone and everything around him with derision.
This novel is a must-read for various reasons. For starters, Wallwork’s prose is as dichotomous as the junkie belle. The writing here is brutally honest and raw, but also polished and wonderfully eloquent without being snobbish. Wallwork uses language as a weapon, but his intentions vary from page to page — sometimes you have to laugh at very uncomfortable situations, and others you have to cringe at the smell coming from a bucket full of human waste. Also, there is a strange rhythm to the emotions evoked in the narrative. The anger and self-loathing are almost always present, but there are flashes of love, obsession, humor, and compassion.
Although the elements mentioned above are enough to make The Sound of Loneliness a good novel, what makes it great is Daniel Crabtree, the hungry, irritated, delusional narrator who abhors the publishing industry. In Daniel, Wallwork managed to cram the protagonist and antagonist into a single character. Daniel is his own biggest fan and worst enemy. He’s convinced he’s one of the greatest living writers, but he also accepts his prose is awful. He writes letter to himself and takes the punishment he thinks will lead to success. Daniel is a self-absorbed, relentlessly bitter egomaniac with no redeeming qualities, but Wallwork somehow manages to make readers stick with him. When he’s mistaken for a pedophile and a fuming father steals his shoes, or when he has to solve a bad case of itchy pants at a funeral, readers shake their heads and laugh, but they also stay for the depression, frustration, and famine, always wondering what will come next.
Like other great novels, The Sound of Loneliness is, ultimately, about (not) writing. It is a gloomy, witty, funny, rough, and beautifully written account of a young man with empty pockets trying to be a writer. It’s also a fantastic read. - Gabino Iglesias
This is an unusual book in that it begins ostensibly as a comedy, full of over-the-top characters and equally extreme situations, but proceeds into deepening realism and genuine tragedy. The view of life that we are left with is profoundly pessimistic.
Written by the author of the surreal short story Gutterball’s Labyrinth that appeared in the Solid Gold anthology (of which I was Editor), The Sound of Loneliness begins with the young narrator Daniel Crabtree leaving home for the first time to live the life of the proverbial ‘tortured-soul-in-the-garret’ and write his masterpiece. Seemingly talentless but unshakable in his self-belief, he rapidly descends into a life of total penury, barely surviving the days between the arrival of each Benefit Giro Cheque, bulking out his pathetic meals of ‘soup, rolled oats, beef stock, even water’ by the addition of flour, dreading the ear-shattering early-morning attempts at song of his Irish neighbour behind the paper-thin wall. He seeks escape in absurd fantasies, and alcohol bought with money that is equally imaginary. Pausing often to philosophise, he attempts to convince himself that his situation is redeemable, success is just around the corner. One of the ways he does this is by writing optimistic letters to himself, containing the good news that he longs to hear.
This is familiar comic territory, and for quite some time what we get is not so much a developing narrative as a series of unconnected incidents in pubs, public parks and dole offices involving gross descriptions of bodily functions, the symptoms of poor diet and personal hygiene, poverty, disease and squalor. A character emerges with whom we are generally familiar, the self-important, self-pitying grand loser of modern comic fiction –Tom Sharpe’s Henry Wilt, Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole, Douglas Adams’ Ford Prefect.
This protagonist however has a facility for lyrical prose, which he exercises at unexpected moments, such as when he describes Salford as ‘a city endlessly caught on the final stroke of midnight, where a misplaced glass slipper lost in haste suggested an unseen beauty existed, but all that remained in its place were the much uglier sisters.’
The first two-thirds of the novel is genuinely witty and funny, if not particularly original, but as the story continues a number of much more serious threads emerge, including the death of an old uncle who lives alone, and the beginning of a close relationship between the twenty-something Daniel and Emma, a fourteen-year-old schoolgirl, which stops short of becoming sexual and is handled with great sensitivity and insight. There follows for Daniel a move to a different city, an upturn in his fortunes, and a potentially happy marriage which fairly quickly turns sour. Realising that he has chosen the wrong life partner he sets out to find his now grown-up Emma once again.
The story’s theme is the gap between what we ask from life and what we actually get, which is presented as a mighty gaping chasm that can never be bridged. I found it uncomfortably realistic. A sobering read. - David Gardiner
Daniel Crabtree exists in a council flat in Manchester in the early 1990’s.Forced by his own arrogance and delusions into poverty, he supplements sporadic and insignificant meals with floury drinks to stave off a constant insanity inducing hunger. A talentless writer, he believes himself worthy of literary success despite evidence to the contrary and an excruciating inability to get words from his head to the page.
Crabtree is a narcissistic loner who enjoys looking down on lesser people, deluding himself and others of his greatness. He is neither likeable nor easy to know, but he is an intriguing character and a fabulous reflection of the dark and dank society in which he lives.
As a writer, I empathised with his frustrations and the chronic self-doubt which stormed in to contradict an otherwise arrogant delusion of grandeur.
Craig Wallwork explores humanity in its surreal Sunday best and it’s grubby, often shitty downtrodden worst in The Sound of Loneliness – so be prepared to squirm in self-reflection occasionally – especially if you are a writer!
You will take from this book a fresh literary read, an appreciation for this talented author, and the cozy knowledge that your life is not this bleak – I hope! It will also give you a butt-kick to write and not procrastinate – something I appreciated!
Occasional typos popped up, but the majesty, eloquence and wit of language used erased any jarring these may have caused otherwise.
I loved this book. It’s not my usual genre, and I’d normally be disheartened reading about a protagonists I disliked, but now and then a blurb will strike me and throw me out of my comfort zone into something completely new, and this was one of those times. Of course, most of the time it’s a bad idea, though I always try to learn something from them. In contrast, Loneliness was a pleasure to read and a lesson in intense character exploration, and the simple pleasure and wonder of great prose.
I said somewhere that after reading the first half of – Loneliness, it felt like I was experiencing my first real influence of 2013. Having just finished reading this fine story today that initial feeling still holds true.
I don’t really want to talk about the simple way Loneliness is written, in terms of sentence construction and word usage and how I always prefer reading stories written this way, but I guess I just have so that part of the review will have to remain.
We all get different things from a story, depending upon our own life experiences and I want to talk about the things I got from this story as both a reader and a writer. Okay, firstly, as a reader, I felt a connection with the story setting and characters. I was born and bred in North East England in the sixties, while this story is based in North West England in the nineties. Despite that, the author has captured and written part of my early life too. This tells me Loneliness has a great chance of longevity, it shouldn’t ever feel out of fashion, it will still feel relevant in twenty or more years’ time.
I recognised much about the way the characters live and behave as well as the humour that constantly runs through each page. If it wasn’t for the humour, you wouldn’t survive this sort of life. Loneliness had me smiling throughout, more so than feeling down and out. That’s testament to the author’s craft. Mr Wallwork certainly knows how to put across a distressing moment, without turning the reader off. And reading Daniel Crabtree’s story, it felt like I should really dislike this character, contrary to that feeling, I liked him a lot. He reminded me of Alex, in A Clockwork Orange, not because of the things he did and the life he led, but because of his voice. The way he described people and his naïve manner, despite the harsh life he lived, was archetypal Alex for me. If Daniel lived in another world, a Clockwork Orange world, I could see him becoming Alex.
As a reader, after finishing Loneliness, I wanted to read more Wallwork, so I was pleased to download Quintessence of Dust, a collection of short stories that the author states as being different to Sol – it’s got magical realism, surrealism, bizzaro and absurdity, he said.
As a writer, I wondered how much of Craig Wallwork was inside Dan Crabtree. Quoting Mr Wallwork, – Any author who tells you their protagonist is nothing like them is lying. We are all our creations…maybe more exaggerated versions, but nonetheless we are the father, the son and the holy-fucking-shit to our characters. I guess that tells us there is a lot of the author in the main protagonist. I like that.
I also like the way the story felt, like it was grounding me, giving me a sense of my own writing and how I needed to keep things real, despite the crazy circumstances I put my characters into. It’s important that the reader believes in the author’s characters, like I believed in all of the crazy characters in Sol. Being a relatively new writer, Sol also gave me a sense of how far I can take my own stories and the kind of things I can write about. Yeah, Sol has helped me to believe I can take my characters a little further on their paths towards a story end.
On a subconscious level, I think Sol is going to be an ever present influence when I’m writing and after I finished reading The Sound of Loneliness, as a writer, I wanted to sit down and write again. I think that is the best compliment I can give a writer.
Enough of me reviewing, I’ve got some serious writing to attend to, but thanks anyway Craig, I’ve found another book to place alongside those few I return to for inspiration and to read again.
- Eli Wilde
The words of William Blake are quoted at the beginning of this novel:
‘Dear mother, Dear mother, the Church is cold, but the Alehouse is healthy, and pleasant, and warm.’
It doesn’t take long to work out that this opening is very apt.
Daniel Crabtree is a barfly of sorts – more of a pubfly really. The pubs he frequents don’t have any of the dramatic or romantic connotations that one often finds in American fiction, rather they are down to earth places where men hide out and hang out and do little of interest other than drink.
Crabtree is a writer. He’s written one story – a short story which isn’t good enough to get into his local rag. Fortunately, he has only a loathing for those who can’t see his genius and is convinced of his abilities as an author and imagines his future to involve literary awards and high praise.
In order to help his prospects, he moves out of his family home to live a life where a living is barely scraped together. Hunger, he thinks, will be the carriage of his muse.
The thing about Crabtree is that he has a point in regard to his own talents. When telling his own life story or having to invent tales on the spot to get out of tight spots he has a real ability to entertain. The detail into which he goes is often a little further than one might want him to , but he relates events with a curious and honest perception as well as with a wonderful sense of dry humour.
He is full of tales about his drinking, illnesses, his tricks for making sure his benefits aren’t stopped, his miserable living conditions, his encounters with women, fellow drinkers and his description of Salford and they are all superb. Episodes with his dying uncle had me laughing out loud and drawing unwanted attention on the train and there were many instances where I couldn’t believe that the words used had actually been written down (these are brave words completely unshackled by Politically Correctness, words which sometimes seem chosen to stick up two fingers at aspects of modern Britain).
It strikes me as appropriate that this was the book I was reading at the time of Margaret Thatcher’s death given that the novel is set in a post-Thatcherite world where there was a lot of polarisation in many different ways.
There was a time when I thought I’d celebrate the Iron Lady’s passing. Thought I’d put on Costello’s ‘TrampThe Dirt Down’ and dance on an imagined grave. Having lost my own mother last year, I can’t find it in me to feel good about it – I guess I’m getting old – but there’s a little happy bubble inside that I’m suppressing just now and it’s an act of suppression that Crabteree just wouldn’t understand.
The snapshot that Wallwork offers of an ‘it’s grim up north (and in lots of other places)’ Manchester pre-regeneration is clear and crisp. It certainly took me back. I’d like to think that one of Thatcher’s legacies was to set in motion voices of protest and a whole gang of reactionaries who turned to creative outlets and ended up presenting us with such fine works as this.
In ‘The Sound Of Loneliness’ we have a well-written novel that has many strands and many strengths. It’s a book that tells an interesting and entertaining story and that kept me engaged throughout. It follows a series of excellent works from Craig Wallwork and, as I’ve said before, he’s a man to whom admirers of a whole range of fiction should be paying attention. - nigelpbird.blogspot.hr/2013/04/the-words-of-william-blake-are-quoted.html
Rich word choice and writing style grabbed and held my interest from the first page! I love words...parsimony, gormless, ameliorate, malodorous, lynched...you get the idea. These rich sprinklings add to the story itself, contributing to the irony of Daniel Crabtree longing to be a successful writer. "It is true that as September rolled in on the last of the warm breeze, I was dying, but not of starvation. Death was an all-consuming lack of confidence." Poor Daniel (his story, when rejected, was referred to as 'toilet fodder')...even the lady working at the unemployment office had a short story published in the Manchester Evening News.
Dark humor, one of my favorite story elements, was also an integral part of Daniel's story. "Being around my father had afforded me compassion to the lonely and deprived. From an early age, I had learnt that booze could centre a man when the world around him turned on an unsympathetic axis...One day my dream of being a professional boxer ended after the pub my father went in was converted to a Chinese takeaway [restaurant]. He walked in to the gym, put on my coat, and said, 'The Lord Giveth, son, and the Chinese take away.' "
The Sound of Loneliness contains excellent use of simile and metaphor, which in my opinion, is integral to an intriguing novel. When present in a story, precisely written and used appropriately, I get novel goosebumps (ooh, good pun). Craig Wallwork wrote some true golden nuggets:
"Structures of varying size plagued the road like panhandlers and tortured dogs."
"...Salford was a city endlessly caught on the final stroke of midnight, where a misplaced glass slipper lost in haste suggested an unseen beauty existed, but all that remained in its place were the much uglier sisters."
"Though no gates or fences prohibited me from leaving this town to see if happiness lay beyond its boundaries, I was scared to go anywhere lest the dream was more depressing than the reality. It is true to say I was tethered to these streets by some ethereal warden who delivered sermons on the unknown, and lectures on its dangers."
I don't write 5-star reviews often. This novel deserves 5 stars! The Sound of Loneliness is touching, interesting, and entertaining. It made me think of people I've come across in my life who resembled Daniel's thought processes. Have you ever met someone like Daniel Crabtree? - Beth DiIorio
Stick this book straight in with Walter Greenwood's classic Salford novel, Love On The Dole. Except that this beautifully depressing story, set in early 90s Salford, isn't so much about state repression and poverty, it's about state of mind, and poverty of opportunity on the streets, and in the pubs and towerblocks surrounding the Precinct.
The novel's anti-hero, Daniel Crabtree, is sure he's a top short story writer, which, in his head, sets him above and apart from those who populate the local area… "I consider myself a biographer of life" he tells his Uncle Billy.
And his `biography of life' isn't the kindest towards Salford people. The women? "More miserable than the buildings…I once dreamt that all the pretty girls were driven out of Pendleton by a piper in coloured clothes…Salford was a city endlessly caught on the final stroke of midnight, where a misplaced glass slipper lost in haste suggested an unseen beauty existed, but all that remained in its place were the much uglier sisters…"
And that's the nice bit. Meanwhile, Salford's streets are "tough, ruled by drug blazers, common thieves and mentalists. If you didn't act tough or crazy you could end up being beaten to a pulp, robbed or both…"
Daniel had been brought up by his mother and now-deceased father in Langworthy's Kara Street, where roast dinners were on tap - but had moved into a grotty flat in the Precinct towerblock to empathise with the greats of literature… "to understand their suffering, the despondency and madness that forged their words". He staves off hunger by eating flour and water, while his Giros go straight to pay off his slate at the local boozers.
He's certainly suffering. The only problem is that his one short story, Love Is A Gazelle, isn't exactly setting the world on fire. Even his mate at the Salford Gazette thinks it's crap. And his real life foray into perceived classy romance ends with a hugely symbolic kick in the balls on Salford Quays. He is trapped in the same psyche as everyone else in inner city, dole-ridden, 1991 Salford. But his mirror on local life barely extends to himself.
It's against this backdrop – and the real life settings of places like Churchill Way, Sycamore Court, the Woolpack, Agecroft Cemetery, Chimneypot Park, and The Flemish Weaver, complete with Hooky's mate, Twinny, in the bogs – that the story unfolds.
Asked by his mum to look after his cancer ridden, bitter brained Uncle Billy, Daniel meets hard-done-to schoolgirl Emma, who is also tending the old man. The wannabe author is convinced that he can fire Emma's life away from her Salford fate and that she, in turn, can be the muse, love partner and fate-firer he seeks. Except that she's under-age.
The crossroads are open but which way will Daniel go? Or will he just have another drink down The Flemish Weaver and screw it all?
In Craig Wallwork's The Sound Of Loneliness you can taste the pubs, chew the angst and wallow in the psyche of Salford circa early 90s. It's hyper real, staggeringly honest, very, very funny in places and, despite the shit-and-all content, dazzlingly written.
There's a bit of a modern, beer sodden, punch drunk Salford masterpiece going on here… - Stephen Kingston
Craig Wallwork, Gory Hole: a Horror Triple Bill, Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, 2014.
GORY HOLE is a triple feature of grindhouse-esque short fiction by Craig Wallwork. Billing includes: "Revenge of the Zombie Pussy Eaters", "Human Tenderloin", and "Sicko".
“Like a grindhouse version of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Wallwork’s fiction is smart, innovative, and a hell of a lot of fun.” —Carlton Mellick III
“There’s a place where intelligence and weirdness meet, and Wallwork’s prose is comfortably nestled there, feeding off both with the keenness of a crazed tapeworm. Sharp, nasty, and bizarre, GORY HOLE is a perfect treat for those who like their fiction unique and with heaping sides of humor and gore.” —Gabino Iglesias
“When your laughter turns to tears, saline to bloody rivulets, you have found GORY HOLE by Craig Wallwork. A master storyteller, this trio of black comedy is lyrical prose dipped in deviant lust dusted with violent retribution—for the horror fan in us all.” - Richard Thomas
Craig Wallwork, To Die Upon a Kiss, Snubnose Press, 2013.
After a foolish act of rebellion uncovers a horrible truth about his father’s death, SADLER TRUMAN is forced to accept the certainty that in less than six months time he will die of a rare heart disease.
Fearing madness will arrive quicker than the last beat of his heart, Sadler immerses himself in the humdrum daily activities of sleep, going to work, and visiting his father’s grave. A regular part of this routine is attending the Accident and Emergency department of his local hospital, a ritual he finds hard to break after reading heart attacks mostly occur during the hours of 6.00am to 9.00am. Here he meets Prudence, an overly sexual Dispenser who works at the hospital’s pharmacy. To Sadler, Prudence is the perfect distraction, a welcomed interruption in his new routine. But Prudence’s persuasive charm and reasoning draws Sadler into the seedy underbelly of mortality. Believing to witness death firsthand will help assist his fears about his own, Prudence involves him in an experiment that may cost him his sanity and the lives of innocent people.
As each month passes, Sadler begins to question Prudence’s motives, and how their lives have become so fortuitously interlinked. But has the weight of all his victims become too much? Is the line between life and death interchangeable? Can one suffer a life worst than death? Seeking these answers, Sadler sets upon a voyage of self-discovery, one that will involve unearthing secrets to his past and revisiting memories he fears may reveal a sickening truth about his mother.
Spanning just six months, the story raises questions about humanity, and the need for acceptance. And like Sadler, the reader is forced to accept that some truths are much darker than lies.
Sadler Truman is dying in Craig Wallwork’s To Die Upon a Kiss, a stylish noir wracked from beginning to end by beautiful prose and multifaceted characters. Multifaceted, as in at war with themselves, both desperately morbid and exultant. Truman is convinced his death is imminent because no one in his family has survived past the age of thirty, victim to Sudden Arrhythmia Death Syndrome. To help him come to terms with his mortality, his girlfriend, Prudence, suggests they undertake a series of murders.
This book is not for the squeamish and gets descriptively bloody in the deaths. Details abound, as in the two making up fake identities to help detach themselves from the victims, or the meticulous methodology they apply in executing the killings. The ritual takes on a disturbing skew when Prudence gets aroused by the killing. Both the killer and the victim “struggle for equal breaths, eyelids trembling in unison, both whispering similar noises, poles apart in life and death, yet both so alike at the moment it’s hard to differentiate between those caught on the threshold of death, and those getting off.”
Wallwork claws his scenes to life and the mundane is rendered in throbbingly visceral discomfort. Take his job as a censor at a photography laboratory for which he is given no guidelines or regulations. After he lets pass a set of photos he shouldn’t have, his boss flails him with the instructions:
Flaccid cocks only. And a woman’s vagina can’t be parted. Tits and closed piss flaps are fine. Understand?”
Sexuality gets a shade of the macabre and sensuality gets no censor, particularly as Truman is just as obsessed with pleasure as he is with his fear of dying from overly-exciting his heart. Literally and physically, he has to restrain his lust:
If only to inoculate the infection of love before it renders me sick.
His gnawing obsession with death shreds itself on an altar of tattered memories connected to his mother, Verity. Verity is a bad mother and she even puts it out in the open when Prudence visits with Truman: “I’m sure my son has made it clear how terrible a mother I’ve been. How I lied about his daddy, and the poor unfortunate situation he’s now in because of it.” As Verity continues to taunt him, he is consumed by a paroxysm of rage and when he reacts violently towards her, it’s clear Truman’s corruption has gone past the physical, festering beyond an attempt at empathy with the dying. The situation with his mother intensifies as Prudence prods him with questions he can neither deflect nor deny. Even his reflection scares him:
A ghostly apparition in a cabinet mirror grips my throat. At best, I look five days away from having every orifice in my body filled with cotton wadding. Put me in a surgical gown while asleep, and I would awake with veins pierced with plastic tubes; bags of embalming fluid feeding each. Foundation cream would do shit for my complexion right now.
Similar to Othello, from which the title gets its name, misunderstandings abound and spiral into a canvas of bloody murder. Like Shakespeare’s play, the characters may not necessarily be likable, but they are scarily authentic, even while astray, social vagabonds wading in anger at their wasted lives. Truman’s bitterness permeates the pages, but so does a longing for affirmation, for purpose in the meaninglessness. It’s a fine balance that Wallwork deftly juggles and though Truman tries to find an anchor in Prudence, she is just as adrift, a hurricane swarming in another stratosphere. In that sense, To Die Upon a Kiss is as much about living as it is about dying.
. . . for those I sit beside, waiting and watching for the last glimmer of life to abandon each eye, the prospect of a long life is more depressing than living it. If only we could exchange bodies. If only for a few extra years, I would happily endure the noisy neighbors and feeling of loss.
A pile of corpses lie in his wake. Truths are splintered. Even as Truman dispels misconceptions he’d held onto, the melting blur of fear and hate siphon off one another into a titular kiss. Craig Wallwork weaves a violently hypnotic story covered in a lipstick of decay, presaging a conjunction doused in strange love - Peter Tieryas Liu
Meet The Writer Interview: Craig Wallwork