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“BLOOD KISS” (Book Review)

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In J. Daniel Stone’s contribution to the excellent novella collection I CAN TASTE THE BLOOD, a deranged old eccentric filmmaker named Laurenz offers two young artistically-inclined, searching young men a wad of money to perform in what he promises will be an extremely outré motion picture—a negotiation which ultimately leads to the following exchange, worth quoting at some length:

“We trust filmmakers,” Laurenz said. “We surrender ourselves from reality, daring them to affect us. We remain secure in the padded darkness of the theater, hoping that they will not go too far while at the same time craving deviance.”

“Deviance, is it?” Bok asked.

“We feed from their view of reality, if not just to escape our own lives momentarily. Even I do it. Movies are a kind of drug.”

“Don’t I know it.”

“But I ask this of you.” Laurenz ran a long fingernail across his lip. “What do we do when the drug is turned into nefarious art? What happens when we can’t shake the imagery?”

“I’ve no idea.”

“It’s the greatest success! If a film gets inside you, haunts you, then the artist’s work is done. Bok, you have to understand that not all film is entertainment. It can be a cataclysmic message, a ghost waiting to strike…”

It is difficult not to think of this passage while reading Stone’s beguiling sophomore novel BLOOD KISS, which deftly channels both Oscar Wilde and circa-THE DAMNATION GAME Clive Barker as it superimposes Dante’s second circle of hell—that’d be the realm wherein “carnal sinners are condemn’d, in whom reason by lust is sway’d”—onto the New York City underground avant garde arts scene: Which is to say, as the beams of the painter Dorian and spoken word artist Tyra’s poetry cross—thereby unleashing waves of reverberating energy so powerful, so dark, so uncontrollable you will never take a painting or poem lightly again—there is deviance and intoxication and unshakable imagery and cataclysms and no shortage of haunting moments, all delivering on the promise made by the novel’s first lines…

Art is a blade so sharp you don’t feel it penetrate your yielding flesh. Art is escape from this claustrophobic ghost-box we call reality. Art is a holy gift.    

As those two passages likely make clear, Stone’s writing does not skimp on the poetic flourishes, deep philosophical ruminations, or not-so-subtextual subtexts. This is challenging work from an author clearly chomping at the bit to screw with convention and preconceptions. No “streamlining” his vision or bleeding the beauty out of it in pursuit of “lean prose”—a welcome respite from the mania for utilitarianism currently plaguing genre writing.

Even at it’s most brutal—and BLOOD KISS will goddamn bloody well disturb you at times—it is a paradoxically lovely read. Though Stone’s muse from time to time does get a little overheated, the excesses and expansive palette—not to mention the willingness to “go there”—are part and parcel of what makes the prose so special in the first place.

Between I CAN TASTE THE BLOOD and BLOOD KISS, 2016 has proved an auspicious year for Stone. He’s given us plenty of reasons to crave deviance and, judged by these two works, the next ghost waiting to strike will surely be a visitation as harrowing as it is welcome.      

About the author
Shawn Macomber http://www.stopshawnmacomber.com
The ravings of noted South Florida pug wrangler Shawn Macomber have appeared in Decibel, Magnet, Reason, Maxim, Radar, Shroud, and the Wall Street Journal, amongst other fine and middling publications. He also hosts the podcast Into the Depths and pens the metal-lit column Tales From the Metalnomicon for Decibel magazine.
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