It’s impossible to describe the feeling one gets as a reader when you read a perfect sentence, or a perfect paragraph, or a perfect chapter. There’s a thrill, yes, but there’s also a sense of deep satisfaction. If you’re a writer, there’s an additional sense of jealousy, of inspiration, and of a need to pull out your notebook and write these things down so you can study them later to unlock their secrets.
Such is the experience of reading pretty much every sentence of Tom Piccirilli’s Every Shallow Cut. Though it’s published by ChiZine Publications (publisher of, ahem, my own novella Chasing the Dragon), this short, tight, searing novella (or noirella, as Piccirilli calls it) contains no speculative or fantastic elements. Instead, it’s the meditative, deeply introspective, and I imagine somewhat autobiographical tale of a midlist writer who has lost everything. His wife has left him. His house has been foreclosed upon. His career as an award-winning, critically acclaimed but little-read crime novelist (there’s the autobiographical part) is in the toilet (thankfully, this part is not). Sometimes it seems like the whole world is against him, from meth head muggers to snotty kids in fast food drive-through windows to his own sanctimonious brother. All he’s got left is his car, his trusty English bulldog Churchill, and…oh yeah, now he’s got a gun.
Every Shallow Cut is as much an indictment of post-collapse America as it is the story of a man going through a nervous breakdown and desperately trying to contain the violence and anger inside him before it consumes him. Before it hurts someone, or worse, kills someone. Think the Hulk, if the Hulk had nothing to lose. And a gun. Interestingly, Piccirilli doesn’t show us the end of every escalating confrontation our unnamed narrator experiences as he drives across country to visit his brother in Long Island, a decision that leaves you with a strange, unsettling feeling that maybe our narrator has done something bad already, maybe the violence has already been sprung, maybe the Hulk has gotten out and we just didn’t see it. In the end, as he realizes the depths of his nervous breakdown, he gets back on the road and faces a heavy decision. It’s here that Piccirilli leaves us, with the narrator’s finger both figuratively and literally on the trigger, and like the finest works of fiction, leaves us wanting more. The novella is the perfect size for this story, but I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t happily continue following this character through a full-length novel.
You may have also heard of Tom Piccirilli’s recent health troubles. Well, from now until the end of 2012, if you buy the e-book of Every Shallow Cut directly from ChiZine Publications, every cent of that sale will be given to Tom to help with his medical bills. That’s how I wound up buying it. I can think of worse reasons to buy a book, but I can’t think of any better books to buy. Donation or not, Every Shallow Cut is of the best noir stories you’ll read.