I really don’t like short story collections. I don’t like the fragmented stories that seem to go nowhere and then end abruptly. When reading a collection of short stories, I find myself abandoning stories half way through or skipping others entirely, and I usually cannot wait to get the collection over and done with.
A strange way to begin a review of a short story collection, I know, but bear with me because there is actually a point to this. Never before have I picked up a collection of short stories, read it from beginning to end, and been captivated by each and every story. I’ve certainly not been this impressed with a collection before and desperately wished to read more of the author’s short stories.
Then again, I’ve never read anything quite like Marshall Moore’s The Infernal Republic before. I could say this collection of 17 stories took me completely by surprise, but I was warned. The synopsis from the publisher said that “The Infernal Republic is Moore at his best: surreal, hilarious, wise, brutal, and sometimes just plain wrong”. Indeed, this collection covers everything from existentialism and suicide to the bizarre, absurd and surreal.
Marshall Moore hails from South Carolina but currently resides in Hong Kong. He describes himself as “a kid in the 70s and a teen in the 80s, which puts me squarely in Generation X.” Indeed, Moore’s work contains many of the hallmarks of Generation X authors with themes of disconnection and amorality, and I was reminded on more than one occasion of Bret Easton Ellis and Douglas Coupland.
Yet Moore takes those themes one step further. In the opening story, “Urban Reef (or, It’s Hard to Find a Friend in the City),” the mental disconnect becomes physical and bodies are torn asunder as girlfriends discuss landmine victims over salad, briefly joking about gluing body parts back on before turning their attention to a possible jumper on a nearby rooftop.
“Isn’t it funny how the law tries to prevent you from ending your own life, as if it doesn’t belong to you”.
The stories in this collection range from the plausible to science fiction, but one thing is for sure, the Generation Xers have grown up and they are imposing their issues on their children. Many of the stories touch on self-absorbed, amoral and disconnected parents and the absolute damage that they are wreaking on their children.
Suicide and body parts come up again in “Flesh, Blood, and Some of the Parts (Le sang du monde)” when a genetically engineered, modular teenager is prevented from taking his own life by the removal of his arms and legs. Because it is fine to mail order a tailor-made child, but how dare that child develop free will and consider suicide? It was scary how closely this fantastical story resembled the reality of terminally spoiled, over-medicated children in present day society.
In “Marble Forest, Karstic Heart” a boy avoids sleep for months on end, knowing he will cease to exist should he fall asleep, and it is all down to the selfish choices his parents have made.
Random but apparently justifiable homicide is a recurring theme in the book and I quite enjoyed stories such as “215” (featuring a homicidal house), “Toast, Belladonna, and the Heat Death of the Universe” (where it is perfectly reasonable to dine with one’s ex-spouse before murdering them), and “In the North Woods (or, The War of Art)” (in which children are crystallised and preserved in the name of art).
“Filth and Splendor: A Love Story” is a pretty awesome yet equally sick superhero story featuring some rather detailed descriptions of unwanted body functions and excretions. This story was an obvious example, but there were several occasions while I was reading the book when I had to reread a passage, thinking to myself that I could not believe the author had actually gone there.
There are no lines that Moore is unwilling to cross, as evidenced by the penultimate story of obsession, violation and depravity. “Certain Shades of Blue Look Green, Depending on the Light” is interesting because it makes you check your assumptions. Was Sanjay’s action more acceptable before we realise it is a case of mistaken identity?
My favourite of all the stories was “Town of Thorns” which takes a look at how partners Michael and Wade cope after Michael is the victim of a homophobic hate crime. This story is tender and erotic in parts yet ultimately realistic in terms of the damage the crime does to both Michael’s brain and demeanour and to their relationship.
The Infernal Republic is certainly recommended for readers aged 18 and over as there are some graphic and explicit passages in the book. I really enjoyed it and appreciated the somewhat damning commentary on post-Generation X society. The stories take place in locations around the world including Hong Kong, Amsterdam and San Francisco and together with the mix of stories both realistic and bizarre, The Infernal Republic makes for a really engaging collection of stories.
The Infernal Republic is available at both Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. It is published by Signal 8 Press, the publishing company that Moore founded in Hong Kong. Marshall Moore hopes to release his new novel Bitter Orange in 2013.
I give The Infernal Republic five out of five stars.