If you are prowling for something truly chilling to read, Edgar and International Horror Guild Award-nominated author Brian Evenson's collection of unsettling short fiction, Fugue State, may be just the thing to curdle your blood. Accompanied by illustrations from the multi-talented graphic novelist Zak Sally, Fugue State also includes an evocative graphic short that brings "Dread" to life. Each of the book's nineteen stories include subjects who tenuously skirt the borderlines of sanity and the edges of awareness, of substantive reality. Significantly, Evenson successfully marries the usually disparate genres of horror and literary fiction.
In the title story, Evenson probes the depths of the psyche, his writing evoking the state of muddled confusion following trauma and perceived trauma. "Fugue State," as with much of the author's writing, continues in the tradition of Edgar Allan Poe in both style and strategy. Poe's theory that the short story should be written to possess a unity of effect or impression is followed by Evenson in each of his stories. His attention to detail and nuance lends a focus that carries through to the theme as well. The author employs in the title story the device of memory loss, which serves his characters well: they circle around a single idea, that of identity, with which their purpose is entangled.
Entanglement, entrapment, apocalypse, and the falling away of mind and of the things that make sense – community, the ordinary world – are the author's touchstones. The writing is most often formal, educated, that of a scholar, and it is this formality that places the provisioning stamp of an orchestrated sense of order on every story. For example, "An Accounting" is the record of an accidental Jesus. In the days since "the rupture," the main character wanders the God-forsaken land to seek supplies for his heathen party, inadvertently obtaining his own 12 followers (disciples). Evenson makes excellent use of metanarrative here, while providing an often-humorous, allegorical parody of a familiar story. In this realm, apparently, a gun and a man with means can make a Jesus, as in the following excerpt, in which the unwitting Messiah attempts to ensure each of the men eats only his fair share of the scant communal meal:
It was only by my leveling the revolver at each of them in turn as he ate that each was assured a share of the little that remained. Indeed, by force of the revolver alone was established what later they referred to as "the miracle of the everlasting hare," where, it was said, the food was allowed to pass from hand to hand and yet there remained enough for all.
If this be in fact a miracle, it is attributable not to me but to the revolver. It would have been better to designate said revolver as their Messiah instead of myself. Perhaps you will argue that, though this be true, without my hand to hold said weapon it could not have become a Jesus, that both of us together did a Jesus make, and I admit that such an argument is hard to counter.
The author does a stellar job of employing literature as a device in various incarnations. In "Mudder Tongue," a man's physical condition is causing paraphasia, to the befuddlement and frustration of himself and those around him. The question of language and the importance of words are probed: "This is what it means to be immersed in language, he thought, to lose one's ability to think. To speak other people's words. But the only alternative is not to speak at all."
Evenson develops other stories with a consciousness of writing, narrative, and language. "In the Greenhouse" employs metafiction: the main character is invited to visit his writer acquaintance, whose "house was apparently less a literal space than a literary space." And humor of the literary sort can hardly be avoided in a story about an editor and a publisher – "Ninety over Ninety" delves into what might be called the literature versus popular fiction problem.
Evenson's collection as a whole circumscribes disquietude. The author strikes the note of discord on its head with each story, by means of narrative, tone and style. His imagery is disturbing, and sometimes darkly hilarious, but not so much as the state of mind he evinces. Fugue State blurs the boundaries between the real and the surreal, stretching the borders of the seemly and sane.