Wrath James White’s The Resurrectionist occupies a unique niche in the horror genre that combines 1990’s Tarantino over-the-topness and early 2000’s J-Horror emotional mercilessness. It shows an appreciation for the craziest and most violent of slasher films, yet brings with it a desire to mingle such tropes with subtler, philosophical themes. I compare it to movies specifically because the prose style possesses an even more cinematic style than other novels in a genre already known for letting words imitate the camera lens.
White’s hook is the story’s premise itself: what would happen if a serial killer were able to resurrect his victims? He would kill them more than once, naturally. So begins killer Dale McCarthy’s rampage as he sets up shop across the street from the novel’s protagonists, Sarah and Josh Lincoln. At the outset of the story, they are a young relatively happy couple making their way in the tough post-market crash Las Vegas economy. Their own world comes crashing down around them as well, however, when Dale starts killing and raping them every night then resurrecting them before morning.
While the plot may seem like a setup for a gratuitous bloodbath, White adds a subtle edge to the narrative that moves it between the aforementioned Tarantino style killer-kitsch and the constant sense of vengeful revelation of the J-Horror subgenre. He draws a picture of a killer whose habit imitates a stark sort of addiction. Unlike an art-swallowing bodybuilder like Thomas Harris’s Francis Dollarhyde, he gives us a skinny, sweaty suburbanite with the tritest of aesthetic tastes. For Dale McCarthy is no reader of Blake or fetishist who conducts his fantasies to the sounds of Beethoven (as Burgess’s Alex in A Clockwork Orange). No, Dale unleashes his torment on the denizens of pre-fab housing from his own pre-fab lair within the same community, preoccupied only by his pock-marked face, skinny limbs and cheerleadery taste in women.
The strong presence of Las Vegas as a supremely decadent desert city comes through in the novel almost as if it were one of the characters. There is an almost nauseous, funhouse feel to the violence here. The forces at work in the killer’s mind, the forces at work in the victims’ minds as they arm themselves with state-of-the art weaponry and surveillance, and the forces at work in the economy as the housing prices plummet in the development where most of the crimes take place, all carry a kind of up-and-down rollercoaster feel. It is a setting with frightening moods swings.
Though I read a few reviews that seemed concerned with the depth of the characters’ personalities, I think it is an error not to call them complex. To my mind Sarah, Josh and Dale come across as characters very contemporary in their concerns. From protagonist Sarah’s thesis on human sexuality to Dale’s computer-nerd-serial-killer persona, there is a sense that these 21st Century identities are all unapologetically their own. Such attitudes are combined with detailed descriptions of stab-wounds, bullet wounds and dismemberment, as well as intimate thoughts on sex and religion. Thus, though at first glance these characters who delve into the existence of God or peruse porn sites may begin their musings with stock arguments like, ‘How can God create someone so evil?’, the juxtaposition of these motifs, the intermingling of God, sex, and violence builds its quickening rhythm until we find ourselves witnessing a frighteningly accurate description of a large portion of pop-culture’s subconscious. Not pulling punches when it comes to these issues, White portrays a bold and beautiful couple who both benefits from and is trapped by this culture. Their sharp minds and popular good looks may have given them a sense of success and joy, only to be turned around and become the reason they are horrifically tormented.
White comes at all issues concerning body, mind and spirit with a kind of arid honesty. It is here I see the similarity to J-Horror, for The Resurrectionist, like The Ring and The Grudge, does not romanticize the vengeful victim. Though it may not be Dale’s fault he has become what he had become, we do not find ourselves rooting for this kicked around outsider. At best, he is one to be put out of his misery, at worst, he calls into question our popular intellectual culture’s assumptions about jealousy and fairness.
Whatever assessment the reader makes of the killer along the way, it will mutate once more after a surprising and paradoxical climax wherein the sense of helplessness and eternal irony is only increased. However one absorbs this final assault, it’s a sure bet this author’s ideas and fresh storytelling style will be worth revisiting.