Sunday, October 17, 2010

Butcher Bird - a ruminative draft

I am sure that I have mentioned being a big believer in and fan of reading the right book at the right time in the right state of mind, but I don't know who might be out there actually paying attention, so I am going to go ahead and mention it again.

The process works one of two ways.  Sometimes I know what I am looking for, and I find the book.  Sometimes I don't know what I am looking for, and the book finds me.

After I read Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey, I immediately wanted more and procured a copy of Butcher Bird.  I started it almost right away but then somehow got distracted by other shiny things.  Probably comics -- Sirens of Gotham City, a four-issue Sam & Twitch series, Haunt, and Marvel: 1602.  Somewhere in there I finally finished reading Shadowglass, which kind of made me think that I should read something a little more wholesome.  So I read the Fablehaven series next.  Once I finished that marathon, I cast about for the next read, unsure of whether I wanted a more "serious" or "literary" (the quotes being included to indicate the vaguery of those notions when applied to fiction) novel or to return to the realm of non-fiction (Appetite for Life is the latest addition to the "in progress" list) or if wanted to stay in a realm of magic and fantasy, potentially dark and urban respectively.

In the end, I picked up Butcher Bird again, and the narrative power was akin to the proverbial train wreck one cannot stop watching.  I'm still trying to decide if that comparison is suitably complimentary.  There were indeed parts -- descriptions mostly, as opposed to actions -- I wanted to look away from and not read, but I didn't want to miss a single gorgeously warped and twisted thing, so I managed a happy medium of reading by not allowing my mind too much freedom to conjure graphic, detailed imagery.

Spyder Lee is just a guy running a tattoo parlor (are they still called parlors?) with his friend Lulu who does the piercing.  Then one night, out behind his hole-in-the-wall bar of choice, he is attacked by a demon and saved by a mysterious woman known as Shrike, and his whole world changes.  He wakes up the next morning cursed with the vision of realization that the world has more layers than most people ever see or even realize are possible.

With realization comes responsibility.  There are demonic creatures claiming his best friend and business partner piece by piece, and intervening on her behalf puts Spyder in their ledger of people from whom they can collect unpleasant, if not impossible, things.  The two friends join Shrike on a quest.  Well, Spyder joins, and he brings LuLu along for her own protection and with the hope of finding a way to release her metaphysical bindings.  The quest leads them, and a few other misfits who join them along the way, quite literally into Hell.

There is magic.  There is mystery.  There is treachery.  And loyalty is found in unlikely places.  One of my favorite parts, because it is so well rendered, is the, for lack of a better way to put it, humanity of Lucifer.  Sure he's a con man and a trickster looking out for himself, but time and again it is clear that he only works with what humanity gives him, although I suppose for most people it is easier to simply write him (or any other "enemy") off as evil rather than recognizing the same potential which lies in each of us.  Man created God.  Not the other way around.  Even so, He/She (in whatever form or religion you choose to believe) is real ... as real as faith and hope and love.  A more accurate way to put it might be that each created the other, and in that creation, man discovered God.  I like that.  God created this spark of life or separated the light and the darkness, sent the universe on its merry way and then sat back and waited for someone to realize what had happened.  Upon that realization, the stories began.

Religious riffs aside, it's not uncommon for book endings disappoint me.  After all of the action and drama and conflict and torment and the moment of truth when everything is explained, endings tend to be kind of a letdown.  Some things aren't explained.  Or the author is at a loss of what to do with his characters once the primary conflict is resolved.  Sometimes there are plot holes or too many loose ends.

Not so with Butcher Bird.  The ending is ... real.  It makes sense for the characters and the story.  It winds down rather than lets down.  It's not happily ever after, but there is closure as well as possibility for the future (and I am not talking about a sequel).  After all, good endings should have the potential to be beginnings of something new.

1 comment:

  1. I think use of the train wreck comparison as complimentary is a vigorous usage. It deserves an OED citation.