Sunday, December 28, 2014

Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

***Spoilers galore***

I don't review every book I read. I don't have time really, nor do I always have something to say, but this novel shook me, had me recommending it to people within the first ninety pages, so, here it is:

I love this book.
I love this book.
I love this book.

I don't scare easily when reading. I don't laugh easily either. It doesn't make much sense; In person, I feel like I have a hard time not reacting, not completely breaking down or laughing in shrill, pelican-like bursts. Anyway, American Psycho scared me, House of Leaves scared me, and Broken Monsters has been added to the list - the holy, horrifying trinity.

The descriptions of the murder scenes are honest and disgusting without having to beg for reaction. The "monsters" are fantastic, classic and almost beautiful with their symbolism and weird innocence. There is also old fashioned suspense here; like an old crime mystery on acid (and access to Reddit). The Dreaming, the weird source of the, uh, issues, is never really resolved or fully laid bare to us, and I suspect that it didn't, and can't, go away. It had me asking: "Where do Gods go when people stop believing in them?" a la Neil Gaiman's American Gods. Apparently, they go to Detroit. 

Beukes's Detroit really excited me. I've only been to Detroit once, but I felt comfortable and oriented within the setting of this novel, and this familiarity made the thing a whole lot scarier. I'm not sure if I was so familiar with this image of Detroit because Beukes focused on the touristy hipster stuff that everyone looks at (can we talk about the girl we saw in her high heels taking pictures of Michigan Central Station with her iPad?), or if I know more about Detroit than I thought I did. Either way, I think Beukes did a great job of describing Detroit without demeaning it, for showing us the life and love and fears of people, normal, good people (and some not so good people), in a place that is hard to understand.

Beukes didn't shy away from embracing modern technology, which was a great credit here. Reddit was part of the problem, streaming was part of the problem. This is what gave the horrible beast its power, and I loved it. What is scarier than something unintended, something private spiraling out of control? The cluelessness of the viewers, of the recipients, of the bloggers all trying to figure the murders out first, of the stupid teens sharing explicit videos of each other because it's amusing - this was the monster. The internet's and Jonno's misinterpretation and subsequent exploitation of Detroit, of intimacy, were the real horror story here. It's easy to gawk at ruin porn (and, also in the case of this novel, porn in general), to revel in the destruction, to share videos of places and people's misfortunes. It's easy. But it's not easy to ask why this happened, or how this happened, or what will happen next. This is a story of exploitation, of ignoring the humanity of a thing, which is a force scarier than any serial killer or empty city.

It's almost certainly unrelated, but pretty disturbing in its own right: my dreams also took on a lucid, careening quality while reading Broken Monsters. True, my dreams were about Beyonce, car insurance, and Fifty Shades of Grey reimagined as a musical, but they were vivid and upsetting in their papableness. I know this dreaming is entirely different and a lot more benign than Beukes's Dreaming, but it was out of the ordinary for me, so it was easy to blame this strange, wonderful book.

5 Stars: The satisfying moment in which you deactivate your Facebook so you don't have to see that weird art video of that girl puking ever again.


  1. I've never heard of this book. According to Goodreads, the author has another book, The Shining Girls. Did you read that one? The plot of this book sounds like something people had a hard time summing up, which is a good thing. I was told in an MFA pedagogy of publishing class that a story easily summarized probably is too simple of a story.

    1. I think I heard of The Shining Girls first, wanted to read it, then saw that Broken Monsters was on sale and bought that instead. I'm definitely hoping to read The Shining Girls soon. It seems to be in a similar vein. I really had a hard time writing a summary for this (which is mostly why I didn't), especially without giving too much of the suspense/mystery away. It was complex, and that made it hard to summarize, but it also relied on your own sense of the unknown and I didn't want to ruin that (too much, anyway).