Friday, May 19, 2006

Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z. Brite

The term exquisite corpse comes from a Surrealist technique of collaborators writing a sentence/poem/story in a set sequence. Each confederate is only allowed to see the ending of what the previous author wrote. Later on, this technique was applied to paintings, drawings, and collage. Together the collaborators create a work that oftentimes is strange and gruesome.

Poppy Z. Brite has done just that with Exquisite Corpse, her novel. It is an interwoven tale of two serial killers from two different worlds. Andrew Compton is a refined Englishman and a mass murderer of boys. Jay Byrne is a wealthy resident of the famed French Quarter in New Orleans, and a cannibal who lures homeless teenagers into his house for photograph sessions and then proceeds to kill and eat them. The two meet fortuitously in New Orleans after Compton escapes prison, and proceed to swap 'recipes' of murder, cannibalism, and necrophilia.

Incredibly disturbing, Exquisite Corpse still fails to let us see convincingly through a serial killers eyes. There is too much gore, and too little pathology. Such studies have been accomplished signifigantly better by Iain Banks in the Wasp Factory and by Bret Easton Ellis in American Psycho.

That's not to say Exquisite Corpse is without merit; the setting is sweaty and livid, and the secondary characters shine, though the killers do not. If you don't mind a little nausea, vivid descriptions of horrific unnatural acts, and wish to visit a Big Easy far darker than that of Anne Rice, Exquisite Corpse is worth the ride. But don't say I didn't warn you.


Collector's Notes:

Poppy Z. Brite is a somewhat collectible author, a first edition hardcover of Exquisite Corpse (Simon & Shuster, 1996) is worth 50-60 dollars American. Some of her other titles have had limited editions made by Subterranean Press and Gauntlet Press, which are probably more collectible. I imagine that a limited edition of Exquisite Corpse is not that far off.

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