The Lonely - Ainslie Hogarth

Just to warn you, I die at the end of all this. So don't get too attached to me or anything. I bleed to death, and it's gruesome. So if you're squeamish or don't like to see bad stuff happen to kids, then you should probably just stop now. Because what happens is I bleed slowly all day long. I get pale and desperate and cry and throw up. And I'm just a kid so I don't deserve any of it. I'm "too young to die." Even though I'm just as susceptible to being crushed by a giant rock as anyone. (1)

Thus begins the tale of Easter's death alone in the woods, her legs crushed under a boulder, her blood slowly seeping out at her as nature slowly swallows her up and she is forced to confront her past, her lies, and her relationships. Easter suffers from The Lonely. The Lonely makes people sad and it makes them lie, and it seems to affect the women in Easter's family. This is an truly bizarre tale with a lot to like and a lot to question. Though not for everyone, this is a book that will appeal to fans of surrealism, dark comedy, and even horror, to an extent. To put it simply (and pardon my language), this book is fuckin' weird! BUT, it's also hopeful, and beautifully crafted metaphor, at the same time.

Easter is unreliable as a narrator, a downright liar. She's the first to admit it—not that admitting you're a liar suddenly makes it acceptable, of course (though in this case, once you get to the end, you'll understand).
I picture myself sitting in front of a plate of all the lies I've told over the years: wet, masticated, homogenous piles like chewed-up mouthfuls of Thanksgiving dinner: mashed potatoes, corn, turkey, gravy. Only instead they're piles of my steaming lies.... I have to eat them all back up again, plate after plate, chunky and oily and burning and slopping on my shirt in a big greasy stain. It's revolting. I usually have to close my eyes and shake my head before that thought fully dissolves. Prickling nausea remains. (110)
The Lonely is terrible. It's real. It's a metaphor and it's not. Easter has it, and she ends up in therapy of some kind. She also has a habit of imagining gruesome events, though some young people do that with no mental illness involved. She has a difficult time with close relations and friendships, as can be determined from her dehumanizing names for many individuals: The Mother, The Father, and Phyllis the Fucking Bitch (her grandmother.) This dehumanizing may explain some of her actions and is likely an indicator of her mental instability.

Easter's sister, Julia, is a very creepy character. Her inclusion in the narrative certainly moves the book into a different genre, in my eyes. I won't spoil anything, but needless to say, Julia very much acts as an extension of Easter's subconscious, and she always seems to be getting Easter in trouble and suggesting very disquieting acts against other people in the community. And her parents are rather interesting as well, never entirely sure what to do with or about Easter, throughout the novel.

Phyllis is an interesting character that I quite enjoyed. Even though the descriptions of her are meant to be silly and disturbing, much of the phrasing and discussion of her daily routines brings to mind that idea of the grand Southern matriarch, sitting on her porch for hours a day, a withering stare catching all who walk by and discouraging anyone from stopping by to talk. Her lawn is perfect, she is always dressed up, and she drinks vodka from her teacup starting precisely at the same time every day. To her, everything must be perfect, and putting on a good face is a necessity. She is a beautifully stitched piece of clothing whose seams are finally starting to tear:
The years ploughed by for Phyllis like a cartoon brawl rolling down a hill, picking up speed and random objects, animals, and people as it descended. Her body, the nucleic force of the furious scribble, was absolutely out of control: slipping and falling and flaking off, gaining much, losing little. Every time she attempted to yank back the reins, hoist up some skin, peel back some layers, retaliate against those villainous years, she was royally reprimanded. Time had her by the throat, and the more she squirmed the tighter it gripped. (72)
You can see from the above quotations that Hogarth has a flair for words. Though it doesn't always seems as if it will come together, it nearly always does. What begins as a mashing of strange phrases, suddenly comes clear upon the revelation of a bit more of Easter's story (whether that part of her story be truth or lie.) The tone is surreal, as is much of the portion of the novel that takes place in the woods. I don't know that I would go so far as to call it fantastical, but it's definitely odd, and the writing style works to great effect.
The upstairs of our house was even more strange; urgent with the smell of overripe pears all soft and grainy and sopping. About to turn, anxious to be eaten. Wetness settled in corners, curdled the floorboards and boiled the walls so bubbles expanded beneath the dark green paper, all transformed by the greasy heat of The Mother's hot Sunday tubs.
You know that feeling you get when you're running, but then you misstep and you can't quite stop moving forward, even though you've lost all proper coordination in your steps? I was trying to figure out how to describe moments of this book, and that's the image that came to mind. Only at times, but the moments are still there.

SLIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD

That being said, this was a crazy mindfuck of a book, and I appreciated the examination of such a brutal unreliable narrator. The metaphors are brilliant in their own horrific way (visualizing death as a coping mechanism for a terrible event; bugs and infestation as metaphors of change; imagining a close friend in order to cope with terrible decisions), and I found myself quite enjoying the macabre humour and gruesome details abounding throughout The Lonely. But once I reached the end, everything clicked into place in a profound and hopeful way that I was quite pleased with. 

Hogarth has created a very intriguing and rich narrative exploring death, lies, mental instability, family dynamics, and depression in a way that I can honestly say I have not read before. Similar in some ways to Stephanie Kuehn's Complicit, this novel will have you wondering "What the fuck?" until you reach the satisfying and enlightening conclusion.

Highly Recommended (for those with strong stomachs)

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