There might some obvious reasons to say that Eeyore’s Last Testament, Michael Kamsky’s debut novel, is metal. Much like his screenplay for the 2008 film Chronic Town, it is not completely humorless, but it is still unrelentingly dark. It is violent, both when violence is happening, and when it is not. It is loud and scathing and impossible to ignore, but when you pay attention to it, you’re not completely sure that it isn’t doing something bad to you. That’s what’s on the surface, anyway.
The novel’s narrative rides a fence, quite literally, between a middle-class London household and an institution for juvenile sex offenders. As worlds, that fence divides the two spaces from each other. But the people living on either side of it are more connected to their neighbors than they realize. They are different because of what they have done, or what they have not, because of what has been done to them, or what has been spared them, but inside their souls, before whose depths the prose shows no fear, they are more similar than anyone wants to admit.
And it is that prose, above all else, that distinguishes Eeyore’s Last Testament as an object of metal. The entire text is a frontal assault on our prejudices about intelligibility. It would be possible to say (and some have said) that this book is difficult to understand, but the difference between difficult to understand and difficult to read is one which this book forces us to question. Its language is painful to decipher, but that’s because Kamsky is intentionally holding the language we love up to a mirror and asking us what we love it for.
We construct our language by saying things over and over again, and by not saying other things. Kamsky forces language to say the things it was not meant to, that it is not supposed to. Eeyore’s Last Testament refuses to help you feel safe about it’s content, and because everyday prose has nothing but euphemisms for that content, Kamsky must resort to desperate measures.
Like many contemporary novels, this one is chorus of voices. A boy, his little sister, their barely competent parents, the staff of the juvenile home, the damaged and damaging young men they are trying to help. Kamsky raise each of those voices to death metal growls and black metal screams. Sometimes you have to listen closely to make out what they’re saying, but you always, always know exactly what they mean.
Maybe language can do more than you think it can. More than you would like to let it. It is impossible to read Eeyore’s Last Testament and come away unshaken, and when you come away, part of it may come with you, the part that was always there, whether you like it or not.
Recommended Pairing: Croce by Father Murphy. Not so much of a soundtrack to Eeyore’s Last Testament as it is a companion piece. The subjects are different, but the parallels between the artistic visions which guide them are as disturbing as the visions themselves.