Broken Monsters: Horrible Art Lives

Broken Monsters, by Lauren Beukes

Published: 31 July 2014

The serial killer story is one told over and over again. These men and women do the deadly dance multiple times, seemingly for the fun of it. Sure, there are studies that say sociopaths don’t feel certain emotions, or that men are more likely to be serial killers than women, suggesting masculinity has something to do with it, but, when all is said and done, the serial killer kills to satisfy an urge: the urge to kill. And it is that desire that fascinates readers, and attracts authors in need of a device to their dirty work.

In Broken Monsters, author Lauren Beukes places her serial killer in a crumbling Detroit, where art hippies congregate and comment on poverty when they’re not partying and doing drugs. Such an urban ruin is an ample setting for a horror story, with its derelict car factories and carparks of homeless people, and a fitting place in which to lay out her tableaux of increasingly creative murders.

It is the idea that creativity exists where there is death and decay that Beukes puts forward wonderfully. She effortlessly contrasts the killer’s early drafts with more ‘traditional’ artists’ confused abortions. The killer’s final monstrosities have such an effect on the other protagonists, each given a voice by Beukes, that they too feel what the killer and the demon that possess him want them to feel. Chaos does indeed breed creativity.

The killer—a failed and lonely artist—will make no fans. He is a mediocre man possessed by “the dream”, the entity that yearns to open a door to another world by showing its violent creations to as many people as possible. The way in which Beukes moves between the two in her third-person narrative is seamless and a particular treat. The other protagonists—a Detroit homicide detective, her peodophile-bateing daughter, an urban scavenger and a failed journalist—are grieving over their own kinds of death, be it unborn children, mothers or marriages. What lines them up perfectly along side the killer’s passages is their road to recovery, their 12 steps to sobriety that lead them inexorably towards a slightly mishandled final few chapters, in which “the dream” comes to life, and the reader is left wondering whether it happened the way Beukes said it did.

Broken Monsters is how a horror novel should be done. There is horror in seeking out the dying for profit or inspiration, just as the pursuit of instant gratification at the cost of another’s dignity is horrible, as demonstrated by the inclusion of social media activity within the narrative, giving it a semi-epistolary feel, perhaps in homage to the gothic novels of old. Serial killer stories are everywhere, horror stories less so. Bringing the two together to point out reality’s foibles counts as a job well done.

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