Something Stabby for Your Halloween Weekend


HOLLOWAY DRIVE | Brent L. Smith.

Read it @ YAY! LA Magazine: Part IPart II


S P O I L E R S    B E L O W

Who’s up for some pharmaceutical-grade West Coast neo-noir?

Today’s two-part story from Yay! LA has the goods: murder, drugs, a therapist named Dr. Carcass, a diagnostically ambiguous criminally insane antihero, 80s pop culture references, and stabbing. A very generous amount of stabbing.

This story makes clear why The Slasher is a popular and long-running narrative genre, while The Shooter and The Poisoner are not genres at all. Even though slashing, shooting, and poisoning are all time-honored methods by which to dispatch others, the most basic and primitive weapon of all is the knife (okay, rocks work too, but there isn’t a genre focused on clobbering…). Knifing is the most dramatic of murder weapons in storytelling, even if guns tend to be the most popular murder tool in real life.

Stabbings are spectacular as hell, in terms of splattering and choking and ripping.

Knives are also intimate. They require close physical proximity. The stabber must look the stabbee in the eyes, acknowledge their humanity, and decide–Yes, this is a person I am going to kill. There’s a very different psychological process to a stabbing than there is to a shooting, I suspect. Shooting is dehumanizing, while stabbing embraces the victim’s humanity, creates a close, even quasi-sexual exchange between killer and killed. Shooting is cold and precise, stabbing passionate and messy.

Now that I’ve eroticized murder-by-knife and probably gotten listed on some FBI watch list, let’s talk a bit about the plot of this story and explore what makes this piece so unique–both psychologically and thematically.

The story has a lot of moving parts, but it can be summarized fairly simply. Our antihero narrator is in an institution for the criminally insane, having slaughtered his three roommates. He is speaking to his umpteenth clinical inquisitor (named Dr. Carcass, ha ha) about his reason (or lack of reason) for this brutal and seemingly random killing spree.

In addition to smoking hash and eating pills and watching John Carpenter’s Halloween on cable, our narrator’s roommates are also scientific wiz kids who invented a wish-fulfillment machine called XJ-13:

The device acts as both receiver and transmitter−−a fixed point in 3D space acting as a beacon or homing device for the wishing agent. Now, as Bopp explained it, the agent (the person doing the wishing) acts as a wave guide, whose intent, or wish, couples with the wave-collapsing capability of the XJ-13, and brings the intent into physical manifestation.

Our narrator, a millennial pill-pusher, and his roommates (we’re in a flashback, of course) each make a wish. It’s all pretty mundane stuff; no I Wish For World Peace things, but they decide the narrator wants unlimited pills (which would certainly help his business significantly).

“Holloway Drive” can be simplified to two basic narrative axes:

  • 1st axis: Dr. Carcass’s attempts to make sense of the narrator’s killings
  • 2nd axis: The narrator goes around killing his roommates

These two wants, these two axes, converge at our conflict, which can be expressed as a simple question: Why the fuck does he kill his roommates?

The narrator is not to be trusted, we may infer, as we know that he’s a drug-addled sociopath who operates his life according to the terms of a robot, an inhuman mechanism that processes and stores data–but doesn’t, in traditional terms, feel.

But murder is something with a lot of human implications, a lot of feeling, and so we (or at least I) don’t necessarily trust that he is the “totally unique” killer that he claims to be. I think when he said his murders would be entirely unlike any others, that was when I completely lost trust of this narrator and my narcissist-alarm went off.

The story resolves in such a way that the narrator believes or at least claims that his mission was a success:

I’ve got everything I need.

This, I think, suggests his murders were a means to an end, not done for pleasure or some kind of short-term, during-the-act reward. And he’s obviously proud of his killings. Ultimately, this narrator remains fairly ambiguous in my mind, which for me is a sign that the character’s complexity has proved an asset to the story.

Yeah, he may not be a likable guy, but he’s definitely a fascinating character, which (along with the stabbing frenzy) make this a really compelling read.

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