Autumn in the Abyss by John Claude SmithWith AUTUMN IN THE ABYSS, John Claude Smith man­ages the rare feat of match­ing a lit­er­ary and, at times, lyri­cal voice with pull-​no-​punches sto­ry­telling and images graphic enough to make the more squea­mish reader shud­der. Make no mis­take, there’s gore here, but there’s also so much more.

The book is a themed col­lec­tion of five sto­ries, loosely linked by the theme of art and its poten­tial as a vehi­cle for both redemp­tion and self-​annihilation. In “La Mia Immor­talita” an ego-​driven sculp­tor for­feits his human­ity for the chance to cre­ate one superb and last­ing work – with hor­ri­fy­ing results. In “Bro­ken Teacup” a pair of depraved young film­mak­ers out to get rich mak­ing snuff flics learn the con­se­quences of their cho­sen path. “Autumn in the Abyss” chron­i­cles the narrator’s obses­sive quest to dis­cover the truth behind a lost beat poet’s mys­te­ri­ous disappearance.

Also link­ing the collection’s cen­tral theme is the engi­matic char­ac­ter of Mr. Liu, who inter­venes to bring bal­ance to a Uni­verse always lurch­ing toward chaos, and who acts as an inter­me­di­ary between the pathetic hubris and deprav­ity of humans and the admit­tedly slim, but still pos­si­ble, chance for redemption.

I enjoyed this book not just for the excel­lent writ­ing and finely crafted sto­ries, but above all for the ques­tions Smith seems to be explor­ing from many dif­fer­ent angles and the feel­ing that, how­ever hor­rific the images he paints, there is an under­ly­ing sense of a Uni­verse both sen­tient and, seem­ingly against all odds, not entirely unbenign.

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