SCI FICTION, August 25, 2004

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"Bulldozer" by Laird Barron

ImageLaird Barron's novelette, "Bulldozer," is a convoluted fusion of Lovecraftian horror and Old Western grit, punctuated at regular intervals by stream of consciousness cascades.  It begins with a disjointed, flinch-worthy scene where main character, Jonah Koenig, gets his hand bitten off. I kid you not, that's the very first sentence: "Then he bites off my shooting hand."  The hand mastication segues into a prolonged flashback where we learn that Jonah is a bona fide Pinkerton, a member of the "all seeing eyes" circa mid-nineteenth century (inspiration for the phrase "private eye" that in later years evolved into the modern day FBI).  He's on the trail of a psycho, serial-killing, cannibalistic demon-worshipper—Iron Man Hicks—out to bring him to justice or put him six feet under, whichever is most expedient.

Jonah isn't a Sherlock Holmes type, not by any stretch. He does his detecting and crime fighting brusquely hands-on, with his six-shooter and his fists.  As the reader spends time in his psyche, they discover Jonah is a snarl of contradictions. He's a brutal gunman with enough sentimentalism to bequeath a newly-met prostitute enough cash to get her on a train to a better life with brighter prospects (but not before he avails himself—copiously—of her services).  He's Harvard educated from an extended lineage of New York lawyers, but prefers the bullet variety of justice over the courtroom brand.  And he's a whiskey drinking hard ass whose righteous code prompts him to "bust a guy's jaw" when the jaw bustee jeers at the cherished token of one of Hicks' unfortunate victims—although if asked, Jonah will insist the altercation was a poker quarrel.  In summary, Jonah Koenig is a multi-faceted character, a fascinating medley of duty, fortitude, compassion, and machismo.

The recurring stream of consciousness technique that pops in and out throughout "Bulldozer" makes for an immersive and oftentimes disturbing read.  Barron's tale is chock-full of psychedelic imagery and descriptions of chilling episodes of a deranged mind.  While I wouldn't recommend "Bulldozer" for the faint of heart, it's not gratuitous or sensationalistic. What it is, is brutal, graphic, and unsettling, an excellent read for a stormy night, preferably with lights dimmed and candles burning—perhaps at the points of a pentagram.