I will admit that I was drawn to this book by the cover. That vaporwave, retro ’80s look is all the rage nowadays, and this one surely pops with just the right balance of bright light and dust. I was not prepared for the story inside, though, which is kind of my own fault for thinking I was prepared for anything Prunty writes.
So, your wife dies of cancer. Your daughter gets hooked on heroin and is subsequently murdered. You already took on an early retirement and only occasionally take care of your grandson. Worse still, you live in Dayton, Ohio. If your answer to the ubiquitous “What do you do, hotshot?” is to kidnap the daughter of the local drug kingpin to torture in your basement, then this right here is the book for you.
Just like vaporwave seeks to take the rampant capitalism and commercialization of the ’80s and turn it in on itself to critique the problems of such a culture, I feel like Neon Dies at Dawn is Andersen’s way of taking apart the Revenge genre so popular in the same decade (specifically, the Bronson Death Wish-style outputs). The basic setup is there: bad crime guy in run-down city is making everything worse for the people who lives there and crosses THE WRONG GUY. What is interesting about it is where he goes with the premise, turning it more into a noir of broken lives than righteous release of rage
Prunty’s gruff, straight forward and cynical-as-all-heck style fits the story well, as we quickly find that this narrator is not the kind of guy you want to find yourself in the head of. His no-nonsense approach also keeps it moving quickly…which is good, because it goes to some dark places. This is in full out Nietzsche, “whoever fights monsters” territory and our humble narrator doesn’t beware very well.
The resulting story is not a pleasant one and certainly not for everyone, but it is a very interesting and powerful meditation on how we excuse the horrors we commit and how easily we can slide away from our humanity.