Okay, firstly I’m going to come out and admit that I know the author, and though we’ve never met in person, we’ve conversed on a number of occasions and gotten to know each other somewhat. I admit this because I don't want what I have to say about Sezin’s work to be construed as some hidden agenda. I believe that my reviews of films, books and TV shows on various websites require me to be as open and honest about what I critique, even when it’s from my friends.
AMERICAN MONSTERS is many things: open, honest, intelligent, original, harrowing, intriguing. It is *not* shallow, light reading. But it *is* a compelling and thought-provoking work on feminism and the horror genre.
Sezin has divided her work into two parts, of differing formats but still connected once seen as a whole, though you can read each of them, separately and gain something different from them. The first part is fiction, and is headed by The Succubi Sideshow, a dark collection of vignettes introducing a wide, wild range of different but still related characters, people with monstrous natures both within and without, who are both offenders and victims, and the vignettes explore equally monstrous themes such as violence, rape, exploitation, suicide, loneliness. There are unflinching scenes, but nothing is done with exploitation or titillation in mind. Sezin depicts these terrible things for what they are.
The Monsters presented here are assembled together in The Phantastic Carnival, which is presented in a movie script format, which on reading it would make for a heady and satisfying movie experience (I should also make note of the wonderful, stylistic watercolour illustrations throughout, provided by artist Rose Deniz).
Possibly the most difficult part to read was in the second part, The Night the Sky Opened Up, but only because it was so difficult to read the account of events which truly happened to someone I know. It’s an open, honest, distressing autobiographical account of the worst day in Sezin’s life, when in Los Angeles she bore witness to the murder of her best, dearest friend Wendy, to whom this book is dedicated. It was an event which pushed Sezin into a brutal time, full of trauma, depression and distress, but which also spawned her into writing the fictional parts of this book. Her account is rich in detail and minutiae, harrowing and compelling, giving us a glimpse not only into real-life horror, but also the psyche of a fascinating, erudite individual and how this shaped her life and thinking.
The essays which follow are an intelligent, fascinating read, discussing and analyzing a wide variety of topics: The Compiler: On Truth and Synchronicity, for instance, touches on the rave culture, the portrayal of vampires, the unique perspective afforded “Third Culture Kids” like Sezin (and myself) in anthropological discussions, and the dichotomy between male and female psychologies when interpreting horror film and fiction. And What Horror Means – An Essay focuses on women/mothers as the Monster in works such as Stephen King, in particular The Shining, and this one I found a particular eye-opener, allowing me to look on a story I thought I knew with new eyes.
There’s also an Afterword, written more than ten years following the events, and I am grateful for this section, for it was an uplifting coda to the life of a woman who had gone through Hell, had been changed by it, but not destroyed. She has led a fascinating life, and I want more people to know her through this.
(reviewed 22 days after purchase)