Where We Live and Die by Brian Keene
Lazy Fascist Press (August 2015)
162 pages; $12.95 paperback/$5.95 ebook
Reviewed by Blu Gilliand
If you’ve ever read anything by Brian Keene, then you’ve read something
about Brian Keene. I say this because the man doesn’t just pour himself
into his work; he tears pieces of himself away and fuses them into his
fiction. Check out his podcast and look for the “Secret Origins” episodes, and you’ll see what I mean.
Or, read his new collection from Lazy Fascist Press, Where We Live and Die.
This small assemblage of fiction and miscellanea reveals just how blurred the line is between Keene’s stories and Keene’s life. The first entry in particular, the critically-acclaimed novella “The Girl on the Glider,” is a powerful piece of fiction that’s actually (according to the author) 99% true. (Keene discusses the 1% that’s not true in his notes at the end of the collection, and it’s a heartbreaking revelation.) It’s an unsettling ghost story that is all the more powerful for its subtlety. It’s also a framework which Keene uses to exorcise the real demons that haunt him, the demons of mortality and impossible deadlines and feelings of inadequacy.
“Musings” examines the things that fuel Keene’s work. While it would be nice if his drive came directly from three lovely ladies he encountered on a riverbank, the truth he reveals here is much darker: his writing is fueled by a pain and heartbreak, much of it stemming from the demands of his work. It’s a vicious cycle, one Keene declares himself ill-equipped to break free from.
“Golden Boy” is, on its surface, the tale of a boy who bleeds, cries, and otherwise effuses pure gold. Dig deeper and you’ll find a cautionary tale directed at anyone with a special ability or talent. That ability, that thing that sets you apart from others, Keene writes, is also going to build walls between you and the rest of the world. Watch out, he says, for people who don’t like you for who you are, but for who you are.
I’ve always thought of Keene as taking a “blue collar” collar approach to writing, and I still think that’s true from a work ethic point of view. But I don’t think it’s an adequate description of how fundamental Keene’s work is to who he is as a person. Writing is not something he does for a period of time each day and then puts aside until the next shift. Writing, and the writing life – for all its pros and cons – is what he is wired to do…whether he likes it or not.
There are reams of essays and stories and articles that examine the power that art wields over those who appreciate it; what’s often lost in the shuffle is the toll art can take on those who create it. There are many who dismiss “making stuff up” as an easy job and a cushy life; I challenge them to read Where We Live and Die and continue to stand behind those claims.