The assumption that reality is a harmonious whole, a logical and rational structure that somehow serves as a mirror to the human mind is one of the gravest illusions we labour under. Yet to shed this illusion forces us to find an accommodation with chaos, meaninglessness, and uncertainty: alone in a hostile and impersonal universe. Embracing this bleak and discomforting proposition without lapsing into childish nihilism, Mark SaFranko has sifted through the wreckage and debris of human existence and by some diseased alchemical process of transformation created a work of hideous beauty.
Set in Hoboken, New Jersey, The Suicide takes place in a transitory zone where factories are being renovated into artists’ studios and plots of rubble denote the construction of yuppie habitats rapidly encroaching into the squalor of the projects. Amidst this shifting landscape police detective Brian Vincenti is assigned to investigate the apparent suicide of one such yuppie, a young female who it seems has thrown herself from the balcony of her apartment, and whose descent forms a juncture with his own collapsed state of mind.
If Georges Simenon’s Three Bedrooms in Manhattan has been compared to an Edward Hopper painting, The Suicide better resembles one of Francis Bacon’s stark interiors where his figures are stripped bare and shown broken and tormented. ‘Things are born, they grow, then they die,’ Vincenti tells his four-year old son at one point. Holding to this, SaFranko later reveals the process taking place all at once:
‘By the time he’d crossed Fourteenth Street into Chelsea the razor-sharp wind had transformed the city into a churning vortex, squalling all the detritus…from the gutters and sidewalks into chaotic flux. It was fitting, decided Vincetti, that he was in the eye of a hurricane.’
American crime fiction in the twenty-first century is presented with something of an uphill battle. After all, surely much of the allure of Raymond Chandler’s novels can be attributed to the manner of his peeling back the radiant skin of 1940s/50s California, that of orange trees and sunshine and Hollywood glamour, in order to reveal its skull (indeed, it may perhaps be for a similar reason that Scandinavian crime fiction is currently en vogue, as if humans lust after pristine vistas only to smear them with blood). Today, however, violence and degradation have been so commoditised by Hollywood that, along with all forms of entertainment, which naturally includes fiction, it must supply ever more extreme forms to stimulate our jaded appetites. It’s therefore testament to SaFranko’s talent that The Suicidehinges exclusively on his ability to tell a story without recourse to cheap shocks.
Among the finest qualities of SaFranko’s writing is that of his refusal to admit teleology; which for the last three centuries has been the dominant mode of thought in the west, and which posits that history has some final purpose rather than being a disorder of unrelated episodes. At the risk of alienating himself from a larger audience, his narrative doesn’t attempt to soothe the mind by assuring us that life follows a pattern towards some ultimate goal where awaits a happy ending. The best SaFranko’s characters can hope for is that they’ll die without making too much of a mess of the lives of those closest to them. Thus, he shows us real people, in all their confusion and anxiety and imperfection. ‘You could never really know another human being,’ Vincetti concludes towards the end of the novel. ‘Maybe, when you got down to it, you never even knew your own self.’
Opening the pages of The Suicide is like tearing off a bandage before the wound has healed. What you engage with is a raw, painful image of both frailty and mortality, but nonetheless it’s hard to look away.
About the author:
Christopher Brownsword was born in Sheffield, England, in the early 1980s. He is the author of two collections of poetry, ‘Icarus was Right!’ (Shearsman Books 2010) & ‘Rise Like Leviathan and Rejoice!’ (Oneiros Books 2014), a novella, ‘Blind-Worm Cycle’ (Oneiros Books 2013), and a novel, ‘The Scorched Highway’ (Oneiros Books 2013). His latest work, ‘Throw Away the Lights’, is forthcoming from Oneiros Books and comprises a novel (‘Liberty’s Old Story’) plus a novella (‘A Transition to Nothingness’).