Ain't Love Grand?
Love is not always a good thing. Sometimes it is a horrific thing. There's the new mom who loves her baby so much that she squeezes it to death. There's possessive love that leads to insane jealousy.
There's the love that makes you protect your loved one at all costs, even murdering anyone you perceive as a threat to your beloved.
And now, there is the all-encompassing desire for love—even if you know that the relationship must end in savage murder.
“Road of Bones” is the story of a serial killer, a man named Xander who kills for love. He deeply loves every woman he kills and he kills her to keep his greatest love, that of the demoness who demands these sacrifices.
OK, that's freaky. But it gets freakier. This is also the story of each of his victims, as they die.
These vignettes of pain and suffering are sometimes presented like poetry, with broken lines with curious formatting, reminiscent of portions of Danielewski's “House of Leaves”. In other places, we have bits of narrative set off from regular text. We also get photographs of scenes from the book (at least in the edition I read).
There are some painful truths about serial killers here, but even more painful are the truths about victims. Xander targets women who are already the broken victims of other men. For the first time in a long time, he makes them happy. Then, like sheep to slaughter, he leads them to their doom.
Xander kills these women brutally. The other men, those who came first, broke them but left them alive. Who's to say which man is the cruelest?
Xander's victims suffer and he is made to suffer along side them, inside their minds and bodies as they die. The reader will suffer as well, let there be no doubt.
John Huber, already known for his quirky writing style, is at his quirkiest here. Consider this: “I broke, the black at my throat, the end and how I knew my skies would fall.” Does that line make any sense? Not a sliver. But, taken in context, it evokes the madness and horror and despair of a lost soul.
But consider this: “She faced me, turned both hands upward, palms out, and rolled her fingers toward her, calling me like a siren breaking sailors against the rocks at her shore, all men drunk and stupid and powerless like me. I followed.”
And this: “Like the scourge and agony of a funeral pyre, (sorrow) purged the blackness across my bones and brought me back to the road, the longest one I had ever known. I stared down the final walk and my greatest ache was that I would walk it alone.”
Around the 75% mark, the book becomes a medical, police, and legal procedural, and ultimately a theological debate. The writing in this part is perhaps more approachable but frankly the story loses energy. But this only shows how the insanity in Xander's life contrasts with any kind of normalcy.
Even so, Huber's writing is powerful, always thoughtful and evocative. His characters are always real, no matter how depraved. And his stories are always like a car crash, fascinating but unpleasant. This book is not an easy read but it is unforgettable.
Quibbles: During the climactic battle towards the end, a character is able to inflict physical pain on a corpse possessed by a ghost. This gives me pause but other readers may not be so picky.
There's an utterly unnecessary preface to the book, unnecessary primarily because it's better for the reader to just drop into the book and accept it as-is. The preface also raises questions about the author's motivations which are more than we need to know. At the least, this same material, placed at the end of the book, would be less intrusive to the reading experience.
Note: This may be one of the few times you'll get to see photographs of a book's author, shirtless, covered in blood, and clutching a murder weapon, used as the front cover and interior art. Then again, it might become the next fad.