Sunday, April 17, 2011

Jeffrey Thomas -- Rat Kings




Theodor Adorno once famously wrote, "Writing poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric." It's an idea that has long moved beyond Adorno in many ways.

Still, to shift the idea from poetry to genre horror fiction for a moment, extrapolating the thought is quite interesting. After all, how does one write horror fiction about the Holocaust? After all, the writer doesn't really have to do anything to make the subject of organized genocide any more disturbing or frightening. It's real horror without the writer putting any effort into it. Plus, the subject matter can get really tasteless rather quickly. In the hands of lesser talented writers, the Holocaust becomes cheapened--even as a flagrant, and talentless way of pulling at the reader's heartstrings. After all, it cheapens the real and historical evil and relegates it to "monster of the week" status.

So, it's always good to see a writer handle the material effectively. At least, that's what I thought when I recently read the Jeffrey Thomas' story "Rat Kings" in his collection AAAIIIEEE!!! (Granted, while I do greatly respect Thomas' work (what I've read so far, at least), I have to be the first to admit: that book title leaves a lot to be desired).

"Rat Kings" is the sort of story where the central monster is meant as a metaphor. Also, its also the sort of story that doesn't settle on mildly being deceptively ambitious. This is, essentially, a story that takes place next to massive graves, once the Germans have lost the war and the British have forced concentration camp guards to deal with the left over bodies. So, in many ways, "Rat Kings" holds nothing back. And still, it accomplishes what it sets out to do while still keeping the focus on character voice, growth and dynamics.

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