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Hurricane Season

By Matt Neil Hill.

Kelby Losack, Hurricane Season (Broken River Books, 2021)

Kelby Losack’s new novel — and more on that classification below — shows him further distilling his work in the hoodrat crime genre with this story of two men waiting out a Book of Revelation-level hurricane in a haunted trailer, with a view to being the only game in town as far as drug supply goes when the other residents all come crawling home. It reads at times like a Joe R. Lansdale or Stephen Graham Jones retelling of Waiting for Godot for Generation Pill, which I mean only as the highest compliment. If I were to run with that comparison, that play’s supporting cast are substituted here by undead animals — specifically a slowly rotting horse and an unkillable raccoon — both of which fit perfectly with internal logic of the apocalyptically indifferent natural world unfolding in these pages.

The style is minimalist, the duration short. By the conventional rules of determining category by word count Hurricane Season would barely be a novelette, but as far as the author is concerned — and I 100% agree with him — this is unquestionably a novel. The narrative and character arcs mark it out as such, in the same way that the concise recent work of contemporaries such as J. David Osborne, Lucas Mangum and Troy James Weaver has done. There is a garage punk aesthetic at work in the wave of writing collectives that Losack advocates for, and there’s a limited print run of signed/numbered copies available before a planned shift to a pay-what-you-want e-book release. Graced by a predictably brilliant Matthew Revert cover, this is a physical artefact for the digital age — something to be treasured.

It’s worth mentioning that the book is dedicated to Isaac Kirkman, a friend of Losack who died at the start of last year. Losack credits Kirkman — a much-loved figure on the US indie lit and poetry scene — with encouraging him to pursue the most off-kilter aspects of his developing voice, a voice heard in its purest incarnation in this book. They bonded through the common experiences of time on the streets and a deep interest in mysticism, and I hope it’s not disrespectful to suggest that Kirkman may be one of the ghosts that haunts Losack’s current work, and maybe whatever he creates going forward as well.

Hurricane Season’s unnamed narrator and his friend Marcel exist on a diet of blunts, pop tarts and X, going about their storm preparations with an unhurried serenity, cleaning their arsenal of guns and discussing philosophy in a shrinking world as the rains get heavier. Marcel playing the sandbox game Red Dead Redemption leads to this early exchange, one which perfectly demonstrates the line Losack walks throughout the book:

I said, “You ever consider Bostrom’s simulation theory?”
He grabbed his crotch and said, “You ever consider these nuts?”

For me there’s a strong correlation in the book between the way the characters approach the coming storm and the presence of ghosts — each with their half-considered motivations and issues with adapting to changes in life circumstances — along with the respawning feature of videogames; the concept of playing out scenarios to see how they go because you can always reset or try again from the last save point. All you’ve ever really lost is a little time, a sliver of an existence you can’t know the length of. As Marcel says:

“The existence of you is the only truth you know… I don’t care if we crawled out the ocean a billion years ago or we just some ones and zeros on the demiurge’s desktop,” he pinched the blunt and held it in my face, “this shit still hit right.”

There are chunks of white space throughout the book, enveloping the shorter snapshots of their lives. These found an echo in a coincidental viewing of John Carpenter’s The Thing, with its repeated and somewhat unusual freeze-framing before fading to black — both had the same feel for me: heavily pregnant dead space designed to sear what went before into your mind’s eye; a bubble of time around small but significant events. It’s in these shorter segments that Losack’s writing is at its most stripped back and carries the greatest weight. Here’s one example, eleven words stranded on the new ocean of the page like flotsam (or is it jetsam? After all, Losack arranged them that way for a reason):

The whole world was islands of rooftops surrounded by muddy water.

As the storm worsens and the situation becomes more desperate, pretty much everything that could go wrong does, but the protagonists take it in their stride — well, kind of. They fall apart by inches, kept as close to sanity as they can be by their favourite hip hop tracks for as long as their phones hold out, and after that by spitting lyrics into the wind and rain while high — medicinally now rather than recreationally (in another weird coincidence, while writing this review I saw an article about the significantly reduced incidence of PTSD symptoms in patients treated with MDMA vs. a placebo). An occasional rapper himself, the genre is important to Losack on and off the page, and going back to the issue of who decides what is and isn’t a novel I think there’s an added relevance his quoting from OmenXIII’s Integrated at the start of the book. There’s hardly a track on the Corrupted album that clocks in at much over two minutes, and while I’d happily listen to them if they were two or three times that length, they don’t need to be: they’re powerful and hypnotic enough as they are, very much like Hurricane Season. All killer, no filler is the name of the game here.

There’s a fragile but ultimately unbroken equilibrium maintained by the protagonists throughout the book in the face of everything nature can throw at them. They can accept the presence of the undead — whether in human or animal form — in the same way they’re happy to consider the beginnings of life on earth being of alien origin. They accept their fate because what else are they going to do? There’s a Ouija board obscured by drug paraphernalia that at one point gets dusted off and used, but we’re not privy to the outcome. It doesn’t matter: the world that’s been created here goes about its business perfectly well without the knowledge. Even if I could articulate how perfect the end is when it comes I wouldn’t — you’ll get there in no time on your own.

If this ends up being your entry point to Kelby Losack’s work, then it’s a great one. If you’ve been with him through Toxic Garbage, Heathenish and The Way We Came In then I’m pretty confident you’ll enjoy this stage in his evolution as a writer. I don’t know where he’s heading next, but I’m definitely along for the ride.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Matt Neil Hill lives in London, where he was a psych nurse for many years. His weird/crime/horror fiction has appeared, or is forthcoming, in various publications including Vastarien, Weirdbook, Syntax & Salt, Splonk and Shotgun Honey, with non-fiction at 3:AM Magazine and Invert/Extant. He is working, glacially, on at least one novel. @mattneilhill

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, June 21st, 2021.