Sacrilegious. Irreverent. Shocking. All apt superlatives for John Matthew Gillen’s debut episodic novel: American Blasphemer. Part narrative, part collection of short stories, part memoir, part fiction the book follows the life of a twenty-something lovesick heretic; a young man deeply wounded by life, liars, and lost love, who is bold enough to confront the absolute authentic insanity that everyday existence throws at him.
Deeply human and totally absurd, the reader confronts accounts of mundanity that Mr Gillen invariably paints in vivid colours with deep descriptors that hover on the edge of believability.
In Manslaughter at Fight Club, Mr Gillen is knocked out cold on the dance floor after dancing on another man’s woman. As he comes to, a man offers to assist him with ice and invites him to a place where he can let out the desire for revenge. He went.
“At 2:00 am I was standing on the corner of Fortieth and Park. Hi Bob I said” – a direct connection to Fight Club – “You ready? He asked. I am Jack’s raging bile duct. He smiled and took a blanket out of his backpack. Take this and sit up there. They won’t know you’re here. Just watch for tonight.
“By 3:00 am there were eight of them. Eight anonymous men in a little circle outside of a Park Avenue office building at 3:00 am in the dead of winter. There was something low about them. Stooped shoulders. Eyes on the street. Slow feet. Desperate losers with impotent rage. They all had their reasons for being there and most of the reasons were obvious.” –
What followed was a tirade of verbal vitriol delivered to each man. They demeaned and castigated each other. This accelerated until one man said something that hit an unknown and hidden hurt. That man lashed out and slashed the other man with something else he had hidden – a knife.
“I was still shivering on the steps outside the Kalikow building as the sun came up Sunday morning. Staring at the blood. Counting scars. I never went back to Fight Club. But I still have the blanket.”
It is these small narratives, with their disarming non-linear story resolutions, and abrupt endings that make American Blasphemer an unstoppable read. In story after story, witty rejoinders or lack of conclusion leaves the reader stunned either laughing to themselves or shocked and deep in thought. Mr Gillen has woven a tapestry of 2020’s twenty-something male angst. The novel is raw and powerful. It is a must-read for those seeking a literary shock-jock tour de force coupled with deep spiritual hunger and lost love.
American Blasphemer will offend but great literature ought to challenge us with authentic reflections of our own experiences. This is not just another novel, and it is not meant to be, but for those who have earned their place in the home of the brave, Blasphemer throws down the literary gauntlet.
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