I am not a fan of serial killer fiction or even, really, transgressive literature. I find that they tend to be done more for shock and the grotesque than for any larger purpose, be it critical or satirical or academic. And so, though I was excited for Seidlinger’s new novel, I had serious reservations, reservations that he quickly shattered by subverting all expectations and invigorating a topic I thought best left to documentarians and forensic psychologists.
My Pet Serial Killer is a psychological thriller as pickup game as college days romance as media study as violent porn as metahorror as the most bizarre and cruellest master/slave relationship I can remember reading since John Fowles’ The Collector. Claire Wilkinson, a forensics graduate student, plays the pickup game but she searches for a very specific kind of lover: a serial killer. She finds her Gentleman Killer, tears him apart, and rebuilds him, hoping to mold the greatest serial killer ever, causing a media frenzy, and furthering her own academic career. Twisted without being overly violent, haunting without the ghosts, Claire is a narrator and protagonist that we race along with, burning through pages at a dizzying rate only to see what she does next.
As usual, Seidlinger takes modern society’s obsessions and pushes them to the extreme, where homemade internet pornography becomes snuff fetish and even to communicate with one another, to have a sexual experience must be distanced and mitigated and enhanced by webcam and keyboard rather than skin on skin. Our obsession with hookups and finding new sexual partners as we go to clubs and parties we hate just because we may meet someone worth fucking there becomes a cat and mouse powerplay where the seduction is a murderous threat. And over all of this is the film happening on the screen that is the book we are reading, commented on by the viewers.
For me, the best part of this novel is its focus on the sexuality rather than the violence and its reliance on narrative and character rather than on the depiction of murder or sex. Most serial killers are obsessed with the sexuality of murder, whether that is expressed through necrophilia or collecting skin from vaginas or trying to make zombies of their lovers. Seidlinger takes this motif and pushes it to the forefront by combining it with our increasingly digital and dissociated lives. Who we are on the internet becomes the only part of us that can have meaningful sex, and that meaningful sex is separated by walls and space to the point where we sit, alone, masturbating into our laptop.
My Pet Serial Killer is a wild book as inventive as it is subversive, as satirical as it is a psychological study. My only detraction from it comes from the film aspect, which is very interesting, reminding me, at times, of Demon Theory by Stephen Graham Jones, but because the film is so much about the book and the commentary of the film is so obviously a commentary on the book itself, it takes the evaluation out of the reader’s hands and explains the book even as we are reading it. This lessens the fun and excitement of the game we are playing as it forces us to read again the conclusions we came to five or ten or forty pages ago.
But, that one thing aside, this is a book you will love, even if it seems like everything you want to avoid. I read this book in one day, in two sittings, addicted to the prose, its conversational tone at such odds with its wild content.
This is serial killer fiction as it has never been done before. It is maddening and dark and twisted and yet somehow so much fun to read.
Just dive in and enjoy the twisted ride.
About the author:
Edward J. Rathke wrote Ash Cinema [KUBOA Press, 2012] as well as various short stories online and in print. He writes criticism and cultural essays for Manarchy Magazine and edits at The Lit Pub.