My bookmark falls on the hardwood floor. Loud as a step. Because THE BASTARD HAND’s voice sings so much fear in my bones that I turn hypersensitive to the sound of my own breathing, at my own natural pace. This story is set in one direction: toward pain.
Multi-layered in a disturbing no-way-back demeanor, boldly genre-crossing and refering to the best stuff ( – shut your eyes. Think Jim Thompson, etc etc – ), THE BASTARD HAND revolves around the unhealthy alliance between Charlie Wesley, a psychiatric hospital escapee minus the support of his medication, and Reverend Phineas Childe. The latter is all thorns, no roses: an evil wound somewhere between the flesh and soul of people who get involved with him. No petals can reach and cover this type of damage.
Main character and narrator Charlie appears to be not wicked enough for his own madness. His mind has rooms opening into rooms on the distance, like a museum out of control. Did he emigrate into lunacy as an escape from the so-called ‘social’, the so-called ‘society’? Charlie’s mind jumps: sudden, sharp insights alternate with an almost Frank-Capra-like, innocent dignity, a bitten kid’s cry for help. He seems to slide into the very name of his lost brother Kyle, seems to shake each letter in otherworldly pain, but his brother remains one nightmare away. Charlie constantly makes the reader ready for a deeper kind of tomb: One of the central messages of this tale mirrors the clumsy way human beings do not, cannot own reality. We start dying long before rigor mortis, every page seems to whisper. And we keep dying alone, lost in THE BASTARD HAND’s pitilessness.
Noir. Gothic psycho-noir. Scars. Violence. Old time religion. Wrongdoings in abundance. No-good women who play their parts with pleasure. Subconscious fears – method and content at the same time. A series of events, straightforward and eloquently told, drained of all the wrong colors. Grief is excessive, only skin recovers. What’s in a word? Skin. What’s in a soul: abyss.
Apocalyptic, quick-witted, melancholy and blazing red with mature humor, Heath Lowrance presents a terrifying image of the hurt human soul. THE BASTARD HAND is one long look into very dark corners. We are given an immediate, hard story, a shocking photograph in front of a black background. A bunch of cracked, believable characters. An eerie feeling for the locale, the southeastern State of Tennessee (Memphis; Cuba Landing). As I read, I have it all around me – and also that ‘Other’ that seems to have been lost forever.
Throughout THE BASTARD HAND, Lowrance constantly hints at it, and angrily mocks it as something that ought to justify all the suffering of pain in the first place: a thing like ‘community’ maybe, or a shared meaning and home, a sort of belonging despite hardship, some functioning souls, or relationships not battered beyond repair for a change. And, for those who must, even a religion, or spiritual shelter.
THE BASTARD HAND is plucky enough to address our very desire for redemption. In doing so, it isn’t just a book. It’s a death in the loose rubble – all hope rolls away from us. It’s something dark that hands us a shovel, with a devil on it. There is no beam of light from above, only questions. With this neat psycho-noir, Heath Lowrance has all the grandfather clocks in the world stop short at once. He bombards us with insights we’d rather escape, and the story explodes the framework of a conventional novel in a necessary, very real way. THE BASTARD HAND is part of the best stuff.