Be careful who you slight

Slights ★ ★ ★
by Kaaron Warren

First of all, can I just say how much I love this cover? A bunch of new paperbacks arrived at work a few months ago, and this immediately caught my eye for its supreme creepiness. For some reason it reminded me of that movie Jacob’s Ladder, but I digress.

Summary: After an accident in which her mother dies, Stevie has a near-death experience, and finds herself in a room full of people – everyone she’s ever annoyed. They clutch at her, scratch and tear at her. But she finds herself drawn back to this place, again and again, determined to unlock its secrets. Which means she has to die, again and again. And Stevie starts to wonder whether other people see the same room… when they die.

This is an exceptionally well-written book, with an original premise that’s solidly executed, but I could only give it three stars because it is such a dark, depressing, claustrophobic read that never lets up. Ordinarily that’s an amazing thing, but this time the darkness was too much, the unrelenting nature of this story falling in the vicinity of soul-numbingly exhausting. I need some light! some redemption!

I will say this: Stevie is a villain like no other I’ve read in a very long time. Getting inside her head is akin to cracking open a log on the forest floor and having all sorts of creepy crawlies come pouring out — beetles, centipedes, maggots, you name it. Horrible right? I wanted to feel sorry for her, find some reason for empathy, but she is just so completely rotten to her core that you can’t. I’m telling you, you can’t! I dare you to read this book and tell me you felt sorry for her in any way. Just when I felt myself starting to, my burgeoning empathy was squashed by a cruel or selfish word, thought or deed. It is quite an interesting portrait of evil, and Warren’s thesis seems to be that evil is born, not made, at least in Stevie’s case.

And it’s not just Stevie: no one is likable in this book. There is no one to root for and I hate that kind of post-modern existential reading experience. I need a hero, or at least an anti-hero, someone with one redeeming quality to hang my hat on. But everyone is horrible. Maybe it’s because they’re seen through Stevie’s eyes, but it doesn’t matter because the end result is the same.

The first half of the novel reads like a coming-of-age story with lots of jagged edges. It’s a slow build, and the real meat of the novel doesn’t come until 2/3 of the way through. Stevie’s reminisces are painful, ugly and awfully uncomfortable to read because Warren’s language is graphic, brutalizing, and scalpel sharp.

Through numerous near death experiences, Stevie manages to uncover the power of slights, the small insults we inflict in our day to day lives that leave others feeling miffed, pissed or otherwise “slighted”. These recipients of our slights are awaiting us when we die, ready to slice, dice, and carve to get their revenge. Interesting, ghoulish premise. That means you can be a really good person, do no real harm, but still have “slighted” people and have the Inquisition waiting for you when you die. Because let’s face it: it’s only easy to slight someone. Most of the time we don’t even mean to, it was never our intention, but that person is having a bad day and feeling hyper-sensitive.

This is a richly textured novel, quite literary, but also ruthless in its barbarity. This book will shock you and make you squirm, of that I am certain.  Rating: ★★★

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