Sunday, 19 August 2012
One Man's Opinion: UGLY BEHAVIOR by STEVE RASNIC TEM
I grew up fairly near to a big river. It always looked inviting, the kind of water that might be perfect for swimming in. Adults, however, were always keen to warn against such folly - 'beware the undertow' they'd say. They must have got their point across, for I never did venture in. And there was a drowning there, no doubt of one who either hadn't heard, couldn't swim or was very stubborn. Poor kid.
Ugly Behavior (US) brought such thoughts to mind.
Upon entering, things seemed still and safe, but before long it had me. Sucked under by the quality of the work and the menace of what lay beneath.
One story illustrates the writer's skills very well. It's about a man who lives in isolation. His world is dominated by the images he's paid to work with. His clients generally require something a little unusual. In order to cope with the disturbing material he has to use, he focuses upon detail, practically seeing the world in pixels. The author works with a similar attention to detail. He managed to draw me in for a close look, then would zoom out to offer a bigger picture and then POW!
There are some recurring themes here - the difficulties of relationships, the difficulties caused by seeing the world from a fixed perspective, art and images, close-ups and distance, the complications of leaving trails of memory and the need to leave some evidence that we've been on the planet once death has been and gone.
I have a few favourite pieces to highlight. The opener is like the deconstruction of a painting to show the story behind it, revealing why two owners might have found it too disturbing to hand on their walls. Another is a tale of a young child who believes she has a malicious step-father as he makes his nightly visits, much to the chagrin of her mother who puts all the complaints down to the child's vivid imagination.
Other tales might be described better as tidal-waves rather than under-currents. 'The Child Killer' is the embodiment of a fairytale nightmare; it's dark from the off and had me gripping my kindle as if that would keep me safe in some way. It's stunningly difficult and brutal.
Back to the idea of the image. If this book were a painting, I'd describe it for you as a black canvas with a flash of red through the centre, the kind that looks simple until you get close and see the textures, fine undulations, the marks of the took, the shading and shape.
These may be ugly behaviors, but they are beautifully described.