by J.S. Breukelaar
A review by weird fantasy & speculative fiction author Ted Fauster
In Breukelaar’s first novel, those who “fall” are transformed into sentient planets known as brain worlds. AMERICAN MONSTER follows the disjointed (sometimes comical, often grotesque) efforts of one such celestial consciousness (KALI I8) as it struggles to free itself from its eternal prison by willing into existence as a kind of hunter/breeder known as Norma.
In effect, Norma is a demon. Although she doesn’t quite grasp this. She exists in a near-future devastated southern California region known as The Spill. Lots of otherworldly elements are folded (not blended) with very subtle hints of demonic possession and a kind of Matrix/Blade Runner universe gone rotten, resulting in a ripe, gooey slime that is so fun to squish between your fingers. This book hits the ground running and never stops.
From the very beginning, it’s made very clear what Norma is after. A horn. Driven on by the insatiable desire programmed into her celestial code by Mommy (Norma’s only connection to what she is, where she came from and why she exists), her only purpose is to combine with The Guy, which will somehow set off some sort of divine code that will free Kali I8. Mommy communicates with Norma via broken bits of discarded tech, berating, punishing and encouraging her along the way. Mommy is inescapable and always watching.
What Breukelaar has done is broken the mold of the traditional “man on a mission” novel. If this dark angel had been the one with the horn, I’m not sure the story would have been as satisfying. In fact, it might have been downright horrible to behold. To experience this techno tale of a fallen something-or-other, whose only purpose is to fornicate her way into oblivion, is incredibly refreshing. Norma is big, powerful and perfectly capable of bashing her way toward the end goal. This isn’t to say she is without fault, or that her crooked quest is simply a hack-and-slash walk in the park. Norma gets her ass handed to her. Several times.
In a way, Norma commits a cardinal sin. It’s not the sex, the killing, the stealing, the murderous rampages. Norma’s sin is something even more devastating, and it is one Mommy finds very hard to overlook.
For me, the most beautiful aspect of this story is how Norma consistently picks herself up and keeps going. She’s doomed to deal with her curse. But it is her eventual discovery of the ability to love that truly sets this book apart. I don’t know. Maybe it’s me, but women just seem to have a much better understanding of love and loss.
The language flows, while still retaining a satisfying visceral grit:
…He misfired his second round partly into pappy’s ass, so that the old man had begun to buckle, screaming, by the time she stove in the boy’s throat with her gel-armor elbow, rammed her fist into his face….
…The sun had gotten too big for Mommy, gave it a swollen head, or was it the other way around? Who had killed who? What had killed the First Beings?
I absolutely adored the thin veil drawn between the fierce aroma of the real world, the true America, and the ethereal transcendence of the astral spirit plane. I share a similar respect for the elegance deeply coded within not only the constructs of the universe but the way life perceives life, and in doing so imagines itself, warts and all, sinners and saints.
AMERICAN MONSTER is a masterfully coded techno/terror tale of cosmic horror and familial dysfunction.
Incidentally, Kali is the Hindu “mortal demon” and the source of all evil.