Love, the great destroyer, the apart-tearer — woe unto those caught in the crosshairs of the love of Brandi Wells’ unnamed narrator in her novella This Boring Apocalypse, be they woman, man, or torso, cat or cow, horse, house, or tree. Everything in This Boring Apocalypse is taken apart, catalogued and itemized and, if none of it ever quite dies, it is perhaps only because we have misunderstood what it means to be alive.
He is in parts strewn all across the bathroom. Torso strung out and neatly separated into pieces. Bones laid in rows from largest to smallest, widest to thinnest. Organs lined up in order of importance and attractiveness. His spleen is surprisingly good-looking.
“It is hard to distinguish between a person you love and a person you intend to consume,” observes Wells’ narrator, throwing what could be the thesis of her novella over her shoulder, hot on the heels of a line about how hard it is to know ”which torsos are meant for eating” (an admittedly difficult task).
Consisting almost exclusively of descriptions of the narrator’s dismemberment and torture of various beings, Wells maintains the reader’s investment through a savvy deployment of black humor, Donald Barthelme-style present-tense surrealism, and the precisely calibrated naivete of her sociopathic main character. Like a little kid Shiva/Yahweh, her protagonist relates to the world around her primarily by pulling it apart to see how it works. She samples the arms and legs of her victim/lover by putting them in her mouth, then solicits donations of same from the neighbors when the available limbs fail to satisfy. She removes breasts, skins cats, “plants” still-living torsos in the ground until they sprout into lemon trees, the fruit of which she then dissects and quantifies further. For all her love of body-horror and vore-fetishism, in fact, empirical quantification remains the only truly sacred act in Wells’ world, the only ceremony her narrator respects. “The person who is capable of judging the lemons, of weighing their worth and selecting the most prime lemon,” she confesses, “this is the person I fear.“
What comedy Wells manages to mine from these Sadean tableaus arises from the absurdity of her narrator’s basic misunderstanding of human relationships, in which her insistence on absolute control renders real, egalitarian love impossible, assuming it exists at all.
To satisfy her, I hack off some of his limbs and bring them inside, to comfort her, to show her how he is the same. Exactly the same, I say.
She cries more.
No, please, I tell her. I don’t know how to deal with your tears. They feel boring.
This cannot be true, I say. I thought we were in love.
No, she says. You are my mother.
And I am impressed but I cannot imagine a love. Only a jealousy and a judgment and a scorning. I can always imagine a scorning.
The absence of literal sex in what is basically a domestic horror story accumulates as the novella progresses to the point where, like a Kelly Reichardt movie or a Weird Al song, the absence itself begins to bleed palpable into everything. Or maybe it’s just that Wells sees the parsing of things like “sex” from things like “cannibalism” as the delusional semantics of those of us with the arrogance to mistake ourselves for anything other than meat, a point Wells (letting her southern pedigree show) drives home in a particularly vivid passage about barbeque sauce.
Everyone I know has a secret barbeque recipe or they know which restaurant serves the best barbeque. Often, people carry bottles of barbeque sauce under their clothes and they pull the bottle out and hold you down and force you to eat the sauce. You will think it is delicious and you will say so or they will do other things.
That This Boring Apocalypse can find a violent, hierarchical power dynamic in something like barbecue sauce is one of its many charms (the chapter from which the above-quoted passage emerges is called “The legs are blistered and sopping with pus”). Rarer are the book’s poetic digressions, brief, beautiful glances at something beyond the bleak and fallen world in which Wells strands her characters.
Nothing anywhere on Earth can smell bad. Nothing can smell unfresh. Young people fall in love. They hold hands and sniff each other, admire one another. There is mating and the production of untortured offspring who may acquire torturing later, either as a skill or as a fate. The world is turning beautiful and I move into the abandoned house I have longed for.
Passages like these appear suddenly, times they appear at all, before being swept along in This Boring Apocalypse’s numb current of tragedy. Still, I relished them when they arrived, moved to think that Wells might share my vulnerability to the aesthetic of abandoned places and awed by her simple reminder that, despite the horrors the meat endures, we all begin this life untortured.
Derrick Martin-Campbell is a writer living in Portland, OR. His work has appeared in PANK, Blunderbuss Magazine, Go Read Your Lunch, Nailed Magazine, and New Dead Families, among other places. You can find more of his writing here. He tweets at @dmartincampbell.